What Does It Mean To Be The Greatest Of All Time? (Michael Jordan Tribute Edition)
G.O.A.T. It’s a term that gets thrown around now and then, but what does it really mean? How can anyone measure something like “The Greatest of all Time”? With the induction of Michael Jordan into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the question arises again. Jordan revolutionized his position, the role of the guard, the game of basketball, and the international brand of the NBA. He changed basketball more than anyone in history, aside from Dr. James Naismith and his famous peach basket perhaps. But does this make him the greatest of all time?
I’m only 26, and a large portion of our readers haven’t even cleared 30. In our time there have been some extraordinary players: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. All of those players were talented in their own way, Larry and Magic having their decade-long rivalry at the top, Shaq dominating the post as well as anyone in history, and Kobe and LeBron continuing MJ’s tradition of controlling games from the wing.
And what about the great legends of yesteryear, the ones about which our fathers keep saying “well, I don’t know, Jordan was great, but you never saw Oscar Robertson average a triple-double in a season and Bill Russell win 11 rings.” Dad makes a good point, in that we never saw those guys do the tremendous things they did. And although there are concrete arguments for why Jordan is better anyways, like the level of competition he faced in a league with 30 teams instead of 15, those arguments are not necessary. Dad is having trouble grasping something that goes far beyond the number of rings or amazing numbers (although MJ still measures up pretty favorably in statistics and rings, by the way).
But talent, rivalry, statistics and dominance were only a part of MJ’s arsenal. Michael brought a new element. Not only was he more skilled than anyone in our generation, but he had a will to succeed that lit a fire in his eyes which the media, fans, opposing players, and even teammates couldn’t help but see. That fire inspired a planet in a way no other athlete has ever been able to do.
Have you ever been to a foreign country, any country on the globe, and had someone ask you where you were from? Even if that person does not know a word of English, as soon as you say Chicago, the eyes of the foreigner light up and the first words out of their mouth are “Chicago Bulls! Michael Jordan!” And this is 2009! He hasn’t even played in half a decade and hasn’t played for the Bulls in over 11 years. Maybe in our new technological age of the 21st century, this might seem somewhat unremarkable, but think back to when you were a kid. No internet, the global economy was really in its infancy compared to its state today. And yet Michael Jordan was still everywhere.
Everything he touched turned to gold. His impact on our culture only starts with his fadeaway jumper, spectacular dunks, and myriad on-court awards. Wearing baggier shorts, shaving one’s head and the entire sneaker culture were all made possible by Michael Jordan. Jordan’s success, however, was based on more than mere fashion trends. His achievements in the business world and using endorsements to become a brand in himself opened the door and empowered the black athlete to take control of their own image and destiny. With all these great things, he wasn’t without faults. But somehow those faults made him more human, endearing him to the world that loved him even more.
So is Michael the Greatest of all Time? Well if you say that G.O.A.T. means the greatest on the court, then yes, his numbers and gameplay speak for itself, even though there is stiff competition from the likes of Robertson, Chamberlain and Russell. But if G.O.A.T. encompasses more than just ability with a ball, but ability to raise the entire game of basketball, and all sports, to another level in the public consciousness and change how the game is played, then MJ is the runaway favorite. What he has done for basketball in his lifetime has never been accomplished by any athlete for any sport.
So to Michael, we should all say congratulations on his induction into the Hall of Fame tomorrow. But we should also say thank you, not just for being the Greatest of all Time, but for redefining it as he has redefined so many other things along the way.
[Obviously if you are a Knicks, Pacers, Jazz, Magic, Sonics, Trailblazers, Suns or Cavs fan, you are excused from thanking him for ruining your chances at a championship]
And on that note, here is my favorite MJ commercial of all-time.