Michael Jordan Or Pele: Who Had The Greatest Impact?

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJune 19, 2008

In an article I published earlier, I took a beating for insinuating that Pele had a greater impact on world sports than Michael Jordan.

Jordan has a lot going for him, most of which doesn't need to be rehashed. He has the most recognizable silhouette in the world, rewrote the NBA record book and brought basketball to the world stage. He may be the most dominant athlete of all time, though Tiger Woods may steal that title from him when all is said and done.

Even in the face of Jordan's incredible accomplishments, I'm standing by Pele; there are two major reasons why.

First, Pele had a more difficult job than Jordan did in establishing himself as the world's premier player.

While Jordan became the face of basketball worldwide, for all intents and purposes he was bringing a new and different sport. At the very least, he was bringing to the fore what most of the world was ignoring.

Pele broke onto the world stage at just 17. He came from humble roots playing Joga Bonito and stole the spotlight. Even though everyone who saw him play already had preconceived notions on how football should be played. He overcame these stodgy fans and turned heads.

Pele was the consensus best player in the world even as he was reinventing the world's game; His name is synonymous with style and grace. He even was voted the Athlete of the Century by the IOC.

But Pele didn't simply fade into oblivion when he left the game he loved.

The second reason Pele's impact on world sports is greater than Michael Jordan's is what Pele did after he could no longer make opposing defenders look like they were wearing lead boots.

Since his football career ended, a career which included nearly saving the NASL, Pele has won lifetime achievement awards, been knighted, and been appointed to an ambassadorship by the UN.

Sir Edison Arantes do Nascimento KBE has also been appointed to a post in the Brazilian government and has actually cracked down on corruption in the domestic leagues.

Its no knock on Jordan that he hasn't done much since retiring besides kill the Wizards and Bobcats, and I mean that. Athletes spend so much of their life in the public eye, if they want to step out of it when they retire, more power to them.

Pele's decision to use his fame for causes to which he is committed is just another piece of his legend.

And even get me started on their movie careers. Victory or Space Jam? No question.

I've got nothing against Jordan, I grew up watching him and being amazed at everything he did. The man is one of the most mentally tough people to ever play any sport, he had a competitive fire like no one else, to say nothing of his unparalleled talent.

However, Pele matched him in skill level, completely redefined his game, and stayed active in the world long after he quit football.

I'm willing to hear why Jordan is the best player in sports ever, but it'll take some serious skill to pull me off Pele's side.


Just a note: don't bring up the 1992 Dream Team. Yes, Jordan featured heavily on that squad, but the gold was in the bag long before he signed up. Its like being the point guard on the Harlem Globetrotters: its important, but the team is going to win regardless.