If you measure the greatest in the NBA by championships, then there is no argument that Bill Russell is the best of the best. There are also those that will tell you today that LeBron James is the best that ever played the game. Others might say names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Kobe Bryant. The arguments go on like those placing bets on games on sites like Bodog that is sure to be a busy site again once the season gets underway. As a Knick fan since before I was born, I hated Jordan, but I had the utmost respect for him. The Last Dance just reminded me of the greatness of Jordan.
I have always measured greatness as a player that makes everyone else around him or her better. One that takes what is considered role players to heights they never imagined themselves. In my humble opinion, nobody has ever done that better than Michael Jordan. Just take a look at some of the names that may have never had any type of NBA career if they did not play alongside him. Guys like John Paxson, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, B.J. Armstrong, Jud Buechler, just to name a few. Each of the names mentioned won three NBA championships and I am sure we can all agree that is about three more than they would have won without Jordan leading the way for them.
There were storylines within the story that showed how Jordan pushed his teammates to and beyond their limits. Dennis Rodman was a character, to say the least. We saw how at one point, Rodman told head coach, Phil Jackson, he needed a break. He wanted to take a few days off and went to Las Vegas but did not return in the agreed time. This prompted Jordan to go to Vegas and personally bring Rodman back to play. This was a telling moment for me as it showed that Jordan was willing to allow Rodman the space he needed because he knew how valuable he was to the team. Rodman also found a new respect for his leader knowing that Jordan trusted in him and what he brought to the team.
There was the time that Kerr and Jordan got into it and Kerr became a better man and player. The stories about how Jordan rode Scott Burrell, though Burrell would not buckle. How members of the Bulls acknowledged that Jordan was the biggest pain in the ass they have ever known, but how they respected him and understood WHY he did what he did. We got to see how Jordan pushed and pushed his team no matter the cost to him or the rest of them. Winning was the only thing that mattered and he was going to get that no matter who got in his way.
Back in 1982, I was a huge Georgetown Hoyas and Patrick Ewing fan. It was my dream that Ewing would one day play for my team, the New York Knicks. A dream that would come true three years later. As a freshman for the Tar Heels, Jordan improved with every game, and by the time the National Championship game was played, he had already shown Dean Smith and the entire state of North Carolina what was to come.
Once in the NBA, he would learn the rigors of playing against the likes of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and others that would eventually be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. You got to see the toll that his injury had on him and how hard it was to sit and watch games. How, even though the doctors wanted him to sit out the season, he pushed himself beyond his limits to make it back to the team. This was a season that the Bulls figured they would miss the playoffs. But for Jordan, that was not an option. He would return and will his team into the postseason giving us the first real glimpse of the man that would become the G.O.A.T.
Then came the Detroit Pistons and Jordan got a taste of how brutal a team could be on him as the leader of the team. The Bad Boys pushed him around and knocked him down every chance they got. It dawned on him that in order to beat this team he would have to get stronger and not just physically. When he attained that goal, the Pistons were embarrassed by Jordan and the Bulls in a four-game Eastern Conference Finals sweep in 1991. He and the Bulls would go on the beat Magic Johnson and the Lakers for the first of six NBA titles.
Once they were champions, we saw how Jordan pushed his teammates even harder so that they could be prepared to defend their title. For three straight years he got better and better and not just offensively. Jordan made sure he had an all-around game and was a fierce defender for years. We saw how he was the most competitive of competitors as he wanted to win at everything from basketball to golf, to even playing cards.
In the 1997 NBA Finals we got the infamous Game 5 and another look at what greatness does in the face of adversity. We all know that game as the “flu game”. It turns out it was actually the “pizza game” because the night before Jordan was hungry and ordered a pizza that was delivered by five guys in Utah. At about 2:30 am, the story tells, Jordan became seriously ill. He would stay in bed all day and the question was would he be able to play. Well, he showed us that great players always play no matter the circumstances. Sickness and all, Jordan would play 44 minutes and finish with 38 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. In the post-game press conference Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan, would tell us he did not even know Jordan was sick. But it wasn’t what he said that showed another sign of the greatness of Michael Jordan. It was the look on his face when he was told Jordan was sick. It was the look of a man the finally understood the greatness of the man that would eliminate his team two days later.
In 1998, the Bulls played what could be the toughest series they had to play in the run of championships. They played the Indiana Pacers led by Reggie Miller. But that team was loaded as well with the likes of Mark Jackson, Rik Smits, the Davis boys and offensive weapon in Chris Mullin. Jordan had no problem giving the Pacers their just due and admitted how hard that team was. They matched up well with the Bulls too. But in the end, Jordan and the Bulls would prevail again to make it to their sixth Finals.
At the end of the series, we see Jordan sitting alone in his South Florida mansion, thinking about the journey that took him from a little kid from Wilmington, N.C. to the greatest player the NBA has ever and may ever see. The journey that showed that winning comes at all costs no matter that sacrifices to you and others. I bet if you ask every player that played with Jordan how they felt about him today, they would tell you to a man how much they respect him and how grateful they are he pushed them to unimaginable heights.
The arguments will continue for a lifetime. For me, it was never an issue. Michael Jefferey Jordan is the greatest winner I have ever seen in my lifetime. He killed my dreams of watching my Ewing-led Knicks to a few titles, but lord above, he is the G.O.A.T.