Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time…to me. And that’s all that matters. Russell won more championships. Kareem scored more points. Wilt changed the rules of the game. Oscar had more triple doubles. I don’t care about any of this.
That’s not because I don’t care about basketball history or am not a student of the game. I appreciate their greatness. Debating who is the best ever provides heated bar room banter and arguments between generations, but ultimately doesn’t matter at all. There is no special place for the G.O.A.T. in Springfield or any extra endorsement opportunities for being the unequivocal best ever. None of these players affected MY life in any way. But Jordan did. I feel like I know him. My life would be different without him. That’s why he’s the best ever…to me.
My first Jordan memory that really stands out was my fifth birthday. As a surprise, my dad picked me up from kindergarten and took me to the old Chicago stadium to see Mike for the first time. He soared through the air and caught a sick fast-break alley-oop from Scottie Pippen and the Bulls dominated the Washington Bullets. Best present ever.
Space Jam made me believe anything was possible. Mike honing his jumper in the dark with I Believe I Can Fly playing in the background right at the beginning. Still gives me goose bumps.
And the shoes. Mars Blackmon. Boyz II Men wearing the 11’s with tuxedos. I still remember my first pair. White and Black 13’s with the hologram. They didn’t have my size left when I got to the store so I bought a bigger size and grew into them. It didn’t help my quickness on the court, but I would’ve killed somebody for those shoes. (And people did)
My fifth grade teacher postponed class for an entire day to listen to his first retirement news conference. “This is American history,” she told us. I defended Mike like Cochran when Iverson crossed him over (obviously a carry). My neighbors hated the fake crowd noises I made after pretending to hit the game-winner that propelled the Bulls to another title in my driveway. After the Jordan-Bird H.O.R.S.E. commercials I thought to myself, Mike could probably make those shots if he practiced. When Mariah Carey wore that Jordan jersey-skirt at Mike’s farewell all-star game, I found true love for the first time. I used to psych myself up for high school basketball games by watching the NBC intro segments they played right as they came on the air in the Finals. Marv Albert holds a special place in my heart because of MJ. The dunk on Ewing. The shot over Ehlo. Taking off from the foul line. The six threes and 35 points in the first half against Portland in ‘92. I could go on forever.
Although Luc Longly hops and overall lack of height ended my hoop dreams after high school, lessons Mike taught me and qualities he demonstrated still apply to my daily life. I still take the smallest insults and use them as motivation. I am not afraid to fail. I love challenges. I recognize being a leader doesn’t always mean being liked, but means being respected. I try damndest not to take sick days. I can’t name another athlete in my life that has come even close to this sort of impact.
What’s special about Mike is the impact, the memories, are not just special to me. Everyone has these memories. Everyone can tell you where they when Jordan crossed Russell over. Or about their first pair of Air Jordans. And this applies to people across the globe.
Undoubtedly, a new player will come along that generations after me will believe is the greatest basketball player who ever lived. Some already are talking about Kobe and Lebron. I look forward to feverishly arguing with these generations. This next player might even be better than Mike. That’s ok. I just hope the next great one can provide half the memories and unbelievable moments MJ gave me.