Michael Jordan turns 50 today.
The greatest basketball player ever is half a century old. And calling him the best to ever play the game is no hyperbole…no one compares.
So why do we constantly debate whether any current or former players are his equal?
The most common comparison to Jordan is LeBron James. No slight to LeBron – who may end up the second best player of all time when his career is over – but he’s not in Jordan’s class. That’s because no player is. Jordan is, and always will be, in a class of his own.
On the court, no one did what Jordan can do. In his prime, he was unstoppable, capable of scoring 50, shutting down the opponent’s best player, and willing his team to victory every game. He took no nights off. Every game, he played with a maniacal rage, and forced his team to bring maximum effort from games one to 82.
What James is doing this year has been incredible. His latest record shows that he has no real equal in today’s game. But he wasn’t on Jordan’s level.
We compare James, and before him Kobe Bryant, to Jordan because it makes fun debate. It drives television ratings, stirs reaction on sports talk radio, and draws eyes to stories. But we’re kidding ourselves if we really believe anyone will ever measure up to Jordan.
Jordan helped make the game what it is today. The reason the NBA is a global brand now is a direct reflection of Jordan’s impact. There would be no LeBron or Kobe if Jordan didn’t come first, as they emulated him growing up. There’d be no Dirk Nowitzki or Tony Parker if not for Jordan showcasing his talents on the international stage during the Olympics.
Jordan has given so much to the game and to basketball fans. For his 50th birthday, lets all give his Airness a birthday present. Let’s stop comparing others to him.
His resume includes six championships, five MVPs, 14 all-star appearances, and a slew of other accomplishments. At 50, he can still compete with the best players on the planet. He had Scottie Pippen, a gifted Robin to his Batman. But he never had a top 3 NBA player on his team like Dwayne Wade, or one of the most dominant big men in the game like Shaquille O’Neil. He wasn’t built like a linebacker. He was a 6-6 shooting guard, who could go around, over, or through any player in his way.
Kobe’s got five rings. He plays the same position as Jordan. Many believe he has the similar driving desire to be the best like Jordan did. But he isn’t revered the way Jordan is. Jordan’s teammates played well because they were terrified of him. Bryant’s teammates aren’t terrified him, they just don’t like him. They play well in spite of him, rather than because they admire his greatness.
LeBron is a specimen. Talent-wise, he can do the same things that Jordan could. His size, speed, and finesse make him equally unstoppable. But he doesn’t have the fire to be the best that Jordan did. Frankly, no one in the world does. Wright Thompson of ESPN.com wrote about Jordan on Friday, and the story showed just how insanely competitive Jordan still is:
There’s no way to measure these things, but there’s a strong case to be made that Jordan is the most intense competitor on the planet. He’s in the conversation, at the very least…
“It’s consumed me so much,” [Jordan] says. “I’m my own worst enemy. I drove myself so much that I’m still living with some of those drives. I’m living with that. I don’t know how to get rid of it. I don’t know if I could.
And Jordan’s greatest achievements may be off the court, where he showcased just how lucrative an athlete pitchman can be. He changed the way brands use athletes to market their product, and is the reason that superstars can command multi-million dollar endorsement deals.
He’s been retired for 10 years, and his ability to move product is still unmatched. His Jordan Brand still has 58 percent market share of the U.S. basketball shoe market. This year his shoes outsold LeBron’s by a six to one margin.
There will never be another Jordan. There’s a reason people think he should be the NBA’s logo. He’s the greatest ever and no one will ever compare to him.
So for his 50th birthday, let’s once and for all stop comparing.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace