Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, Michael

After spending most of my childhood obsessing over Michael Jordan and the Bulls, it really hits home that MJ turns 50 today. It seems like just yesterday he was winning championships, draining memorable shots, dominating the NBA, and formulating my own love for sports in his own way. I'll forever tie every moment I see of his to a memory in my own childhood, and for that reason alone he's my favorite athlete of all time. Even more than that though, Michael turning 50 has given the media the dual opportunity to both reflect on his amazing career and examine and compare it to other greats, especially LeBron James. It says a lot about MJ that his 50th birthday has drawn such an enormous celebration not only from local media, but national outlets like ESPN. 

In my not-so-unbiased opinion, there is absolutely no question that MJ is the greatest basketball player who has ever, and will ever, live. I've mentioned several times on this blog how much I personally detest LeBron James, even though I do acknowledge his status as an all time great and his overall dominance over the modern game, not to mention his apparent maturation over the past couple years. LeBron still has his moments where he drives me crazy, like refusing to participate in the slam dunk contest like most great players of his stature have before him. But all told, he seems to have finally embraced his position atop the basketball world; we'll see if the same is true for him come playoff time. 

That being said, though, the laundry list of reasons of why MJ is the greatest of all time, and thus a better player than LBJ, is exhaustive. I'll include a short version of mine here. First, Michael played in a much, much more difficult era to play in. Not only did he have to deal with several Hall of Famers, but these elite players were more concentrated because the NBA had fewer teams. The league was also more competitive and difficult to play in because of how physical it was. Just go back and watch any Bulls series against Detroit to see how rough the game was and how prevalent handchecking was on every possession. For Jordan, it was more difficult to succeed; if he was in the modern NBA many analysts think he could potentially average 40 PPG. 

Moreover, when MJ came into prominence the NBA was just exiting the dark ages of the league's existence. People don't realize this, but the league still played a ton of its games on tape delay, and the NBA was actually quite low in the pecking order of American sports. MJ changed everything, exploding the NBA not only into the American sports world in a major way, but turning the sport global. 

In the same way, modern sports marketing like we see it now wouldn't exist without MJ. He took a fledgling sports apparel company and made it into a titan of the industry. The world around him wanted to simply "be like Mike." The modern NBA, where every athlete has a shoe deal, would simply not exist in any way, shape, or form like it is now without MJ's success. 

When he was in his prime, MJ was sports. He was a mainstay in pop culture unlike any modern athlete on the planet, and really, he still is. Commercial breaks on prime time TV would have actual advertisements for the next Bulls game featuring Michael Jordan, and those shows themselves would actually have mentions of Michael. He permeated the world of entertainment unlike any athlete we'd seen then or since. Now, LeBron may dominate in the NBA universe, but he certainly isn't the cultural icon like Michael was, and it's not even close. 

And then there was the numbers. His sheer dominance in the playoffs, when it mattered most. His undeniable and unquenchable thirst for winning, and a competitive spirit that most athletes can only dream of. He had, and still does have, the unequaled respect of his peers and the reporters who followed him. Just think about this for a minute - this hubbub is all for an ex-player's BIRTHDAY. It's obvious just how important MJ was to the game. And just have a look at his accomplishments:

  • 6 Time NBA Champion
  • 6 Time NBA Finals MVP
  • 9 Time NBA All-Defensive First Team
  • NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 (as a guard!!)
  • 3 Time NBA Steals Leader (1988, 1990, 1993)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1985, averaging 28 ppg)
  • 10 Time All-NBA First Team
  • 5 Time MVP (1988, 1991-92, 1996, 1998, and really should be more than that)
  • 14 Time NBA All Star
  • 3 Time NBA All Star MVP
  • 10 Time NBA Scoring Champion, including NBA record 7 seasons in a row
  • 1988-89 season, one of the best in basketball history: 32.5 PPG, 8 RPG, 8 APG, 2.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 85% FT, 53.8% FG
  • 50 Sports Illustrated Covers
  • McDonald's All American
  • NCAA Champion
  • 2 Time Slam Dunk Champion
  • 2 Time Olympic Gold Medal Winner - 1984, 1992
  • Scored 40+ points in 212 games, including 38 in the playoffs and 1 in an All Star game
  • Scored 50+ points in 39 games, including 8 in the playoffs
  • Led NBA in total points 11 times, including his rookie season
  • All time NBA leader in Player Efficiency at 27.91
  • Highest career scoring average of any player in NBA History, 30.12 PPG
  • Scored 10 or more points in 866 career games, from March 25, 1986 to December 26, 2001
  • Oldest player in NBA history to lead league in scoring - 1997-98 season, 35 years old, 28.7 PPG
  • Oldest player in NBA history to score over 50 points in a game - 38 years, 315 days old on December 29, 2001
  • Scored 40 points in a game at age 40
  • Highest scoring average of any player in NBA Playoff history - 33.4 PPG
  • Jordan scored under 20 points in only 6 out of his 179 career playoff games
  • Jordan has 5 of the top 10 scoring games of any player in NBA playoff history
  • Averaged 41 PPG in 1993 NBA Finals
  • Michael Jordan scored over 20 points in every single game in his NBA Finals career, a total of 35 games
  • Most career blocks by any guard in NBA history with 893
  • One of two players to score over 3,000 points in a single season (Wilt Chamberlain) - 1986-87 season, averaging 37.1 PPG, scored 3,041 points
  • Only player in NBA history to lead league in scoring, win the MVP, and win defensive player of the year in the same season 
  • Only player in NBA history to win all of the following in a career: Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, All Star MVP, and NBA Finals MVP
  • Led 1995-96 Bulls to NBA record 72 wins
  • MJ was named MVP in every Finals appearance. He averaged 33.6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game for his Finals career

I personally think it's obvious that there has never been nor will there ever be anyone like him. And on a more personal level, he WAS my childhood. More than any of these accomplishments, Michael was the reason my Dad would let me stay up late when they were on the West Coast. Michael was the reason we'd skip a day to head downtown for the championship celebrations. I will never, ever forget the memories and happiness he provided me and millions of others.

For me, then, the only fitting way to say happy birthday to the Greatest Of All Time is to celebrate those common memories. Sit back, relax, and watch only a few of the highlights of the greatest to ever play the game. Happy birthday, Michael.

2:58-3:40 mark


Katy Korth said...

This article really captures the impact MJ has had on the sports world and with his fans...especially you, Dave. Over the years, you've shown me how truly meaningful and entertaining sports/athletes are to so many people. It's super fans like you who have kept (and will keep) MJ's career and legacy alive. How special it will be to share old MJ clips with the next generation of fans... ;)

Dave Johnsen said...

Absolutely. It's hard for me to exhibit and recreate the emotions that I get when I read about it, and more visually, see clips of it. It brings back incredible memories, not just of Michael's incredible success, but what the success did for me, my family, my community, and my city. I have so many moments of joy linked to his career, and really, it also represents the innocence of nostalgia that so often permeates our emotions.

I can only hope that continuing to talk about it and illustrate these very same things will help recreate these emotions for others.