Before Michael Jordan, there were Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. And those who watched them during their prime moved along, although the Magic-Michael era was pretty close. Still, players’ legacy are only as good as the memory of the dominating media members. At some point, Jordan won’t be the one mentioned as all-time greatest in the NBA.
Because at some point, the kids who follow the NBA closely today, and know that Jordan is a terrible owner and used to be a legendary basketball player will start to dominate ESPN, SI, TNT and whatever. Players who never played next to Jordan, but did with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, will start taking over the Mic and maybe the mighty pen and the keyboard.
It won’t be about the numbers – titles, points, MVPs. There is no such thing as the greatest player ever, not in any sport. It’s all about the dominance during a certain period of time. Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles, but is mentioned rarely, if at all, when it comes to the G.O.A.T discussions. Kareem won more MVP awards and scored more points than anyone else, but good luck finding anyone who thinks he’s the greatest player of all time, let alone the best Center in history.
Wilt Chamberlain was an athletic freak compared to the NBA in those days, and averaged 50.4 points per game during a certain season; he scored 100 points in a single game. That doesn’t really help him. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double during a season, and spent most of his career on a crappy team, hurting his G.O.A.T credentials. Magic Johnson was probably the popular choice for greatest ever even after Jordan won his second NBA title. But in 1993 things changed, and the 1996-1998 comeback, the second three-peat, but it out of the ball park. Jordan was untouchable, and still is, when it comes to the discussion. Regardless of his MVP awards, in the Finals and the regular season, scoring titles and what not.
You just need to watch his final game as a Chicago Bulls player, the 1998 Finals series, Game 6 in Utah. No one on the Bulls team touches the ball for the final five-six possessions. No one on the Jazz team thinks someone else but Jordan is going to touch the ball. And still, there’s nothing they can do. There’s no one who is going to try and change the fate and destiny; a conclusion and ending everyone saw coming. Jordan stripping the ball from Karl Malone, dribbling down the clock, giving Russell that little nudge and pointing six to the sky.
It’s been 15 years, and it’s still not considered a reasonable gesture to compare anyone to Jordan. Bryant fans don’t understand why Bryant isn’t on the same level – why playing next to Shaq, Gasol, Odom and others makes you less of a player then playing next to Pippen, Kukoc, Grant and Rodman.
LeBron James fans know that with only one NBA title, it’s still too soon, but the day will come. When people who were more exposed to James, Kobe and possibly Durant (too soon to tell) will be the dominant voices on the internet and mainstream media. There will come a day when Jordan will be a lot of pretty numbers, but no longer a taboo matter of discussion. There will come a day when it’ll be OK to mention a different name. It’s only natural.