“I watched two Jordan playoff games on NBA TV last night — his 45-point evisceration of the ’90 Sixers (Game 4), and the night he rammed a stake into the hearts of the Bad Boy Pistons (Game 3 of the eventual 1991 sweep) — and came away wondering if Jordan was actually underrated. A strange takeaway from someone who already believed Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever, and that we’d never see anyone like him again. But that’s how I felt. When will I see the league’s best athlete, hardest worker, smartest player and most ruthless competitor in the same body again?” – Bill Simmons 9.12.2011
The countless debates I’ve had over the past 5 years with seemingly knowledgeable fans, who firmly believe Lebron is a better player than Michael Jordan, serves as my primary evidence for Jordan’s status as an underrated player. Most people 25 and under have no memory of watching Michael play in a Bulls uniform. Sports personalities like Nick Wright, born in Jordan’s rookie year of 1984, espouse moronic arguments on Lebron’s superiority. Nick doesn’t have real memories of Jordan at his apex, which were the years from 1987-1993. Many commentators do not remember 1987-88, when Michael averaged 35 points, 3.2 steals and 1.6 Blocks, all numbers LBJ never achieved. Few remember 1988-89, when Michael averaged 32.5 PPG, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
There’s one simple but significant difference between LBJ and Michael. Michael was ready to win titles in 1986, but his teammates were not. LBJ’s teammates were ready to win titles in 2011, but LeBron was not. James shrunk on the NBA’s greatest stage and was outplayed by Dirk and his inferior Dallas team. This fact cannot be erased or ignored. In 6 games vs the Mavericks in 2011, LBJ never led his team in scoring. Contrast that stat with Jordan, who was the highest scorer on the court for every game against the Suns (Barkley tied him with 42 once) in 1993, and for the majority of games he played in his Finals career.
Jordan was the greatest member of the Red Leviathan, who took the vast majority of often average teammates by the collar, and dragged them up mountains of achievement. Whenever the Bulls faced a moment of truth, all eyes turned to Michael. No player, LeBron included, had more weight on his shoulders. Even his greatest teammate, Pippen, couldn’t consistently step up against the feared Pistons teams until 1991. I don’t believe Scottie could have achieved his status as one of the best of all time without Michael providing cover and propulsion during Pippen’s formative years.
Michael never deferred, as Lebron did in the 2011 Finals. While succumbing to Dirk, LeBron deferred to Wade. He became insignificant on a national stage. And he did this over the course of a series, not just in one game. Everyone can point an occasional bad game, but the greatest will never fail over an entire series, and that never happened to Jordan.
Michael’s impact on our city is also underrated outside of basketball. There was a time when the most famous Chicagoan was the gangster Al Capone, according to many who remember our city before Michael’s arrival. Today, Jordan, Oprah, and President Obama are the names most often associated with Chicago, and we should all take solace in that fact.
It’s also hard for younger fans to comprehend the “loser” reputation Chicago once held in the world of major sports. None of our teams produced a champion from 1963 until 1985. Even the 85 Bears, undoubtedly great, left a sea of disappointment in their wake, with all of those legendary players failing to achieve another trip to the Super Bowl. There was still a palpable attitude that Chicago was nowhere near New York, Boston, or LA in terms of “winning sports towns”. Jordan took that albatross and smashed it forever. Chicago went from “second city” status to a metropolis synonymous with greatness within a few years, almost entirely due to the feats of Jordan.
LeBron is the second best I’ve ever seen. He’s a fantastic athlete, an incredible basketball player, and a good guy. But when it comes to ranking the best ever, it’s Michael Jordan and a Grand Canyon between one and two. There will never be another basketball player as great and life-changing as Michael Jordan. All attempts to describe his impact and importance on Chicago fall short. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player and Chicago athlete of all-time, and as is the case in most debates, he’s somehow still underrated.
“See Red Fred” Pfeiffer