Let me get this out there first and foremost: I think Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players to ever play the game.  In my opinion, he is the second-best player in NBA history behind LeBron James, and the greatest scorer ever.  I respect him and appreciate everything he has done for the game.  I understand that he made the game a global phenomenon and has built his brand to a point that may never be reached by anyone in sports.  We may never see another athlete who was bigger than Michael Jordan.  

But let’s get real.

ESPN has blessed us with the launching of the Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance” a couple of months early due to the COVID-19 pandemic so us sports fans can finally look forward to something every Sunday and every middle-aged Jordan fan can relive their peak glory days as a basketball fan.  So far the doc has been amazing, giving us great footage of Jordan’s career, specifically of his final season in a Bulls uniform.  But it has also brought back a lot of irrationality surrounding Jordan’s legacy, giving people immense nostalgia and primarily denying the obvious: Evolution in sports is real.

Last week, ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon went on “Get Up!” and said an absolutely absurd statement.

“There’s no one now who would have dominated the 80’s and 90’s.  No one.  Not even as great as KD or LeBron are… They’re not dominating anybody back then.”

This might be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard a professional basketball analyst say… at least I thought it was until Jalen Rose followed it with saying that Michael Jordan would average 47.5 points per game in today’s game.  

Don’t get me wrong, do I believe Jordan, the greatest scorer of all time, could average around 30-35?  Sure.  But 40-50 points per game is a prediction based on an unrealistic and exaggerated bias that has surrounded Jordan fans since LeBron has threatened his legacy.  The dying need to protect Jordan’s legacy has been fueled by outlandish statements from the media along with a number of “Jordan would haves” that cannot be proven at all.  If Rose and Wilbon are allowed to say these things, then I can say LeBron and Durant would have averaged 50 in the 80s-90s.  There’s just no way to prove it.

Along with Wilbon and Rose, many older fans I know that witnessed the 80s and 90s eras insist that basketball was better back then.  Stop lying to yourselves.  Sure there was less isolation and maybe teams played better together, but the talent gap between now and then is too extraordinary to possibly believe this.  Before you drop the “How would you know, you never watched them play!” or “You didn’t live through it”, I would say you’re right; but thanks to YouTube, NBA League Pass Rewind, NBA Hardwood Classics, Bill Simmons Book of Basketball and yes, Sam Smith’s book, The Jordan Rules that was revisited in the documentary; I have gained a large amount of knowledge of the 80s and 90s era.  Over this time of quarantine and throughout my life I have also watched a large handful of Michael Jordan’s best and worst games.  Although the 80s and 90s were tremendous eras for basketball, there are a lot of myths about those eras that I have been told by numerous media members and older fans that should be confronted.

Here is a fact people might not like to hear or accept, but it is simply a fact: the athletes, the competition, the skill, and the defense in the NBA today is the HIGHEST level it’s ever been.  The game is HARDER to play than it has ever been, players are BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER, and defensive schemes are BETTER.  Is the game more physical?  No.  But physical basketball is not necessarily better basketball.  Throughout my time studying the era, I watched a number of Pistons-Bulls games from the ‘88-’89 playoffs.  That type of basketball is not fun to watch at all.  The fact that MJ survived those series and made it out in one piece is remarkable.  But overly physical basketball that the Pistons and Knicks used to play is overrated and just annoying.

 Jordan's highest PPG scoring year was in the '86-'87 season when he averaged 37.1 a game.  The game has changed and the three-point shot is crucial today.  Not saying Jordan would be a terrible three-point shooter, but in his final season as a Bull, MJ shot 23% from beyond the arc.  As the game evolved, I'm sure Jordan would have as well, but I refuse to believe he would magically step in and be a deadly three-point threat.  If the game and overall competition has gotten better, how would the number 37.1 rise?  This mythology that somehow basketball has been the one sport that has gotten worse over time is really defying all logical reasoning.  

Don’t get me wrong, Michael Jordan would be a great player in any era.  In today’s game, I see him as a better James Harden-type player that can create a shot for himself whenever he wants.  Plug him into the NBA today and he is easily one of the best players in the world.  Jordan’s resumé is one of the most impressive we have ever seen, but sometimes what the older folks tell you isn’t always correct.

If you don’t want to hear it from me, hear it from an all-time great, Larry Bird by watching the video below.

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