I’m sure there is some alternate universe where MJ retired from basketball for good in 1993. In that universe, the conversation about who the greatest basketball player of all time is goes quite differently. Or does it? Is Michael Jordan still the G.O.A.T. if he doesn’t come back for the second 3 peat? While those three formative years are extremely important to Jordan’s legacy, they were honestly just icing on the cake. His place in basketball history was cemented in the first 9 years of his career as he dominated at a level that no one had ever done before him.
From the moment he entered the NBA he was one of the best players in the league and after a few years, it was obvious that he was in a stratosphere all by himself. While a 9 year career would have been relatively short, Mike still accomplished enough in that brief period of time to solidify himself as the game’s greatest player. He covered all the bases. He displayed an elite skill level and garnered enough accolades to appease those whose parameters for greatness are more superficial. While his ring count would be cut in half he’d still have a 3 peat, 7 scoring titles (this has to be discussed further), DPOY, Rookie of the Year, Olympic Gold Medal, 3 Finals MVPs, 3 regular season MVPs, 7 All NBA First Team nods, 9 All Star selections, 1 All Star Game MVP, 6 NBA All Defensive First Team selections, 2 Slam Dunk titles and career averages of 32-6-6. And I’m sure I’m missing something but I’m not looking it up. This will suffice. If that doesn’t read like a G.O.A.T. resume’ you just can’t read.
There’s no denying that ’96-’98 added significantly to MJ’s mystique. Those years gave us 72-10, a second 3 peat, 3 scoring titles, 2 MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, “The Flu Game”, “The Last Shot” and a host of other accolades. All that did was reinforce what was already proven. While the second stanza of his career certainly provided us with some of the most lasting images in the history of the game, Mike didn’t need them to secure his place in basketball folklore. When he hung it up in ’93, he was already heralded as the greatest to ever play. He was added to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list in ’96 and was the game’s most recognizable face. He changed basketball as we knew it. Before him, pretty much every great team was anchored by a great Center. He changed the way we viewed winning. The league was all about great teams. MJ was an individual phenomenon. Imagine a player so good that everyone after him who played with good teammates got ridiculed for it.
Even beyond the stats and awards, from ’84-’93 Mike gave us legendary moments that are etched into our memories and shown on highlight reels until the end of time. 63 pts in the Boston Garden, “The Shot”, Free Throw line dunk, switching hands in mid air on the Lakers, “The Shrug”, going baseline and dunking on Pat Ewing, 55 pts in the ’93 Finals. Moments like these combined with sustained dominance is what transcends a person from great player to mythological legend.
This really should put all arguments to rest about who the greatest basketball player of all time is. Even with about half his legacy removed, Michael Jordan would still be the G.O.A.T. For him to even legitimately be in the conversation using only the first 9 years of his career is evidence enough.