Let me make something very clear: As of the publication of this article, Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever to play the game of basketball.
Let me make something else very clear: I am sick and tired of hearing the name Michael Jordan.
Now that the week-long love fest for the man's 50th birthday is over, I have a few things to get off my chest and some food for thought that I'm hoping ignites some serious debate.
1) The fact that Jordan has to consistently keep re-inserting himself in the "the greatest of all time" debate means he's probably uncomfortable with the fact that someone might actually be better at the game of basketball than him.
2) I'm very convinced Jordan has never looked at the All-Time Championship Rings by player list. Because if he did, he'd realize his "five is bigger than one" argument is stupid. Using Jordan's logic, Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Tom "Scratch" Sanders, John Havlicek, Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey and Robert Horry are all better than him—because they have more rings. One could attempt to make an argument that Russell is better than Jordan, but good luck. By a show of hands, who would take Luke Walton, Will Perdue, John Salley, Kurt Rambis or Michael Cooper over LeBron James when starting a team? None of you? Why not? They all have more rings than LeBron.
I'm not here to take a side on who's the "best of all time," I'm simply here to propose an idea, and to air my grievances with Michael Jordan. Every time Jordan opens his big mouth, I'm forced to sit and listen to the likes of ESPN and TNT dive into a 30-minute debate about him being the best ever and that's it.
But LeBron is the best athlete! Nope. He has one ring, and if LeBron and Jordan played 10 games one-on-one, Jordan would be 10-0.
But Kobe is a cold-blooded killer! Nope. He's still one less than Jordan, and he needed Shaq for three of those titles, and wouldn't have won the other two if Phil Jackson hadn't come back to coach.
Shut up. These debates are nonsense. I could sit here and rip Jordan for failing to win a championship in his first seven years, or how he never would've won one of them if it wasn't for Phil Jackson, too, or Scottie Pippen, or Dennis Rodman and Tony Kukoc in his later years, or how he only has one more MVP in the same amount of time as LeBron. It's nit-picky, and it's ridiculous.
How come you don't hear these types of debates in football? At least not to the extent that basketball goes. Or hockey?
Because those sports are smart enough to appreciate the game today rather than shooting down any accomplishment a modern-day player has and saying something absurd like "Well, Peyton Manning shatters every single quarterback record, but he's no Montana or Bradshaw because they have four rings and he has one."
I'd pick Dan Marino over Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Joe Flacco or Jeff Hostetler any day of the week. But according to Michael Jordan's logic, and seemingly anyone that ever defends this logic, they'd all pick Dilfer, Johnson, Flacco and Hostetler over Marino because they all have a Super Bowl ring.
I wish basketball took the hockey approach in debates; appreciate the best players in their respective eras instead of trying to find a definitive "Best of All Time." It's widely understood that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest of all time, but wouldn't be nearly the player he was if he played today. Ask any real hockey fan and they'd agree with that statement. No way does Gretzky get 92 goals in 2013, 2012 or 2011—or any time in the modern era.
Games change way too much from decade-to-decade. So why does the NBA world have to consistently lead the charge to shoot down LeBron or Kobe rather than appreciating what they're doing right now?
Allow me to introduce a theory...hold on, Jordan Lovers, I don't want you to freak out.
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the greatest players in the Infant Age of the NBA (1950s to the early 1970s).
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest player in the Cocaine Age of the NBA (1970s). I'm really sorry, I couldn't come up with a better era name.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are the greatest players in the 1980s.
Michael Jordan is the greatest player of the 1990s.
Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of the 2000s.
LeBron James is the greatest player of the 2010s.
It's clear the players from the '50s to the '70s wouldn't fare well in the '80s, and the '80s wouldn't do so hot in the '90s, and the '90s wouldn't do well in today's NBA. The game has changed way too much that the task of finding a definitive "best of all time" is impossible. The NBA has gone from a predominately white league, to expansion, to more expansion, to changing game styles, all the way to today's game where players are just flat out better athletes—it's absolutely impossible to find "the best."
Jordan won six NBA Championships in eight years, an incredible accomplishment. But Jordan also played in an era where six expansion teams joined the NBA from the time of his rookie year to his 1998 retirement, and players played most of their careers with one team. Sure, Jordan played against Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, John Stockton, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone in their primes, but the way the NBA is today—we're talking about world class athletes who could probably dominate in that era.
Shouldn't the old school guys want the league to continue to prosper? Why is it that every time Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley or Michael Jordan get an opportunity they're spewing on and on about the best of all time?
First off, you can't judge something until it's finished. The careers of Bryant and James aren't finished. And how about the guys I haven't mentioned like Tim Duncan, who has four rings, or Tony Parker, three rings? Doesn't Bryant and James have to play in the same league as them?
Where were the multiple ring winners when Jordan played? Ewing never won one, and neither did Barkley. The only legitimate argument you can make is Magic Johnson, as Jordan beat his Lakers for his first Championship. Other than that, who exactly did Jordan beat with multiple rings to get his six? Oh, I know what you're saying right now, "well Jordan was winning all of them." Fair. But why? Was it all Jordan? Or was Pippen chopped liver? Does Phil Jackson—who has 11 championship rings as a coach—not deserve credit? No, it was all Jordan. I get it.
My point is simply this, the NBA and its fans need to give credit where credit is due. Jordan is a phenomenal basketball player, but instead of stroking his own ego and saying "he's the best ever," and "rings matter most," you never hear him praise Bryant or especially James. What I fear is James and Bryant hanging up the sneakers for the last time, hypothetically Bryant with five rings and James with three, and they can't even enter the conversation because they didn't get six rings or more. When in actuality, the real number should be 11.
And that belongs to Bill Russell. Not Michael Jordan.