COMMENTARY by Dean Schabner:
Maybe it’s fitting that Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday happens to fall on the NBA’s All-Star Sunday, because he is still the ultimate measure of basketball greatness.
Unlike the great stars playing in today’s game – likely future hall of famers Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Kevin Durant and others – Jordan was more than the sum of his fantastic numbers.
And what numbers those were:
- 10-time scoring champ
- Five-time MVP
- Six-time NBA champion
- 10-time All-NBA First Team
- Nine-time All-Defensive First Team
- 14-time All-Star
- Three-time All-Star MVP
- Two-time Olympic gold medalist
- Career averages of 30.1 points, 5.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game
But Jordan was more than that because he was something else: He was unbeatable, like nobody else in NBA history.
Yes, I know. There’s a two-word comeback to that: Bill Russell. But when Russell was winning 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, he had something that Jordan didn’t – a team stacked with other great players.
Russell played alongside Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and John Havlicek, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Aside from Scottie Pippen, Jordan played with a cast of journeymen and role players – yes, solid players like Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright, but who else?
The other name that of course comes to mind is Dennis Rodman, whose rebounding proficiency alone got him into the Hall of Fame, but who on a team without a personality as strong and as focused on winning as Jordan (and without a coach as creative as Phil Jackson), would have been more disruption than help.
Jordan allowed no disruptions, even those he might have created himself.
When reporters questioned him about gambling in Atlantic City until 2:30 a.m. the night before Game Two of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks in New York — a game the Bulls lost, Jordan looked astonished that his commitment to winning could be challenged. The Bulls, of course, did not lose another game in the series, and went on to win the NBA Finals.
It is that commitment to winning that doesn’t quite show in the all the astonishing highlight clips airing everywhere today – the various “50 Greatest Moments” compilations to celebrate Jordan’s birthday. Where you see it is not in the way he handles the ball like it’s a grapefruit, the way he spins and soars and changes direction in midair, the way he fakes defenders out of their sneakers but in the relentless focus, the steady burning fire in his eyes.
Again, Jordan was more than the sum of his highlight reels. The NBA is full of players capable of astounding feats of flight.
But there is still only one Jordan. There plenty of players seemingly capable of scoring at will. Jordan took that to another level. He won at will.