Given LeBron James’ epic performances in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, the debate about who is the greatest basketball player of all time has really heated up of late.
Michael Jordan versus LeBron James.
It would have been sacrilegious to even suggest MJ had a competitor to his throne just a few years ago, but it is undeniably a legitimate debate now. You can make a very strong case for either player to be named the GOAT.
Yet while such debates are fun fodder at the pub, they are ultimately somewhat silly arguments; especially when fans refuse to admit the greatness of whomever they don’t deem to be the greatest. That’s the point at which I check out, and actually start to question those fans’ basketball intelligence.
It has, however, been interesting to hear many people proclaim that Jordan is the right answer because he was “universally loved”.
It’s a flawed point to begin with, as popularity should have little impact on deciding who was a better player, but the real issue with using it as validation of Jordan’s superiority is that it’s simply not true. Jordan was most certainly not universally loved. At all.
Trust me, I was following basketball passionately during Jordan’s career – particularly at the height of his dominance – and there were plenty of people that disliked MJ, along with many who even questioned his basketball greatness.
The difference is, said people didn’t have the internet – especially Twitter – to enable their voice to be heard. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not, but it does bring me nicely to a hypothetical question: what if Twitter was around during Jordan’s era?
It was such a fun premise to think about that I came up with a series of tweets that I assure you would have been seen on Twitter and widely discussed as topics on sports shows in MJ’s day.
After Jordan was drafted third in the 1984 NBA Draft: 19/6/84
After Jordan wore a gold necklace in the 1985 All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest: 10/2/85
After Jordan broke his ankle in his second season: 1/4/86
After the Chicago Bulls were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1986 playoffs: 26/4/86
After Jordan’s historic 1986-87 season: 20/4/87
After Chicago were swept by the Celtics again in the first round of the 1987 playoffs: 28/4/87
After the Detroit Pistons eliminated the Bulls in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals: 18/5/88
After Jordan’s triple-double run in 1989: 14/4/89
After the Pistons once again eliminated the Bulls from the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals – 6/5/90
After the Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Finals: 12/6/91
After Scottie Pippen and four reserves led the Chicago Bulls’ fourth-quarter comeback against the Portland Trailblazers in Game 6 of the 1992 Finals: 14/6/92
After the New York Knicks beat Chicago in Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals: 25/5/93
After it was revealed Jordan was out gambling the night before the Bulls’ Game 2 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Knicks: 28/5/93
After the Knicks’ Charles Smith was blocked four times in the waning seconds of Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals: 2/6/93
After Jordan announced his retirement: 6/10/93
After the 1993-94 regular season: 29/4/94
During Jordan’s minor league baseball career: 10/3/95
When MJ announced his comeback: 18/3/95
After Jordan’s first game back versus the Indiana Pacers: 19/3/95
After the Bulls lost Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semi-finals: 7/5/95
After ‘The Flu Game’, Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals: 11/6/97
After winning the 1998 NBA Championship against the Utah Jazz: 14/6/98
After Jordan announced his second retirement: 13/1/99
After Jordan announced he was returning to basketball with the Washington Wizards: 25/9/01
After Jordan announced his retirement after two season with the Wizards: 16/4/03
After some of Jordan’s gambling stories came to light: 21/10/05
After it was revealed Jordan had punched – and been punched by – teammates: 4/2/06
After Jordan began running the Charlotte Bobcats NBA franchise: 8/6/07
Ergh. I feel like a shower and stiff drink after writing those imaginary hot take tweets. Yet I’d be lying if I said a small part of me didn’t enjoy being a blowhard for a little while!
The point here – trust me, I do have one – is that as much as recency bias is a real thing, so too is nostalgia bias.
Any sense that LeBron gets an unfair advantage in the debate because his exploits are fresh in the mind, are negating by those that look back at Jordan’s career with rose-tinted glasses, and the convenience of forgetting some details.
By all means, celebrate Jordan’s greatness and even rate him at the undisputed GOAT, but don’t try to tell me he was universally loved, had no detractors, or never had moments of imperfection on (and off) the court.
More importantly and pertinently, don’t pretend he wouldn’t have copped exactly the same crap on social media that LeBron currently does. Jordan was certainly subjected to his own barrage of hot takes in his day – though the term hadn’t been invented yet – but he would have copped even more if he played in today’s era.