It’s Time To Stop Chasing Jordan
Michael Jordan isn’t a basketball player anymore. He’s an owner, and a meme, and most of all a legend.
He’s more myth than man. He’s untouchable, and uncrushable. Michael Jordan is to the NBA what The Beatles are to music — a former powerhouse top player who has now become something much more.
That almost sounds ludicrous at first. How could Michael Jordan be anything more than what he was during his career, at the height of his powers?
The truth is that the height of Jordan’s powers didn’t happen during his first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth title run. It’s happening, right now, and it’ll only grow higher as the years go on and more great players fail to measure up to a soaring balloon of a standard he left behind.
Michael Jordan did more than just win six titles, of course. He revitalized a then-struggling NBA, his visage became the face of the most recognizable and respected sneaker company the world has ever known, and he did it all by being a ruthless competitor and champion.
There’s a reason he’s a legend now. But there’s no reason every single great player since him must be compared to him.
How much time has to pass before it’s recognized that Jordan’s era is over? The NBA is so different now, yet stars are held to a standard that’s 20 years old.
Michael Jordan didn’t face off with a super team in any of his six NBA Finals victories. The closest approximation was probably the 1997 Utah Jazz, who won 64 games in the regular season and had John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek.
The Golden State Warriors won 73 games last year — breaking a Jordan-set record, for whatever it’s worth — and now feature Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
Does Michael Jordan go undefeated in the NBA Finals if he runs into that team? The more important question, though, is why does it matter?
Michael Jordan didn’t run into the 2016–17 Golden State Warriors. He ran into the ‘91 Lakers, the ‘92 Trail Blazers, the ‘93 Suns, the ‘96 SuperSonics, and the ‘97 and ‘98 Jazz. And he beat them all.
Maybe some of those teams would win the NBA Title next season, and smack around the Warriors in the process. Maybe some of them wouldn’t reach the Conference Finals after meeting today’s tall, athletic, jump-shooting, and often-stacked teams.
Again — none of it matters, because none of it is happening. Thinking about what would’ve happened if the Oklahoma City Thunder met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals is fun — because it almost happened. It makes sense.
Comparing a team from 20 years ago to a modern team doesn’t. The rules are different, the culture is different, the play-styles are vastly different. Most importantly, the players are different. Forget apples and oranges — comparing Michael Jordan to LeBron James is comparing apples to mangoes.
It’s long since been established that comparing modern players to Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain is a pointless exercise. After all, they played in a different era: nobody can win 13 titles or average 50 points and 25 rebounds for an entire season these days.
Maybe nobody can win three consecutive titles two different times these days, either. Maybe nobody can lead the NBA in scoring for ten seasons, considering no one has lead it for more than four since.
Maybe nobody can revitalize the NBA these days, considering it’s reached mammoth heights and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Maybe nobody can create a new shoe company that can eclipse Air Jordan in 2016, considering literally billions of dollars worth of Jordans get sold every year.
So much has changed both on and off of the NBA floor. Michael Jordan was undeniably great — there’s no taking that away from him. But he surfaced at the perfect time to take hold of the NBA and never let go, tongue-wagging at everyone who’s since tried to scale his Everest-sized legacy.
If it’s unfair to compare modern players to Russell and Wilt, then it’s also unfair to compare them to MJ. His era is over and done with —NBA curmudgeons reinforce that with constant allusions to how today’s stars couldn’t hold up in the hard-nosed era of hand-checking.
Well, maybe those tough players couldn’t keep up in the pace-and-space era of three-point shooting and ball movement.
Maybe none of it matters, and NBA fans should learn to appreciate both current and former players without feeling the need to measure them up against each other.