Jordan, Bird: the Real GOATs?

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Many argued Michael Jordan is the Greatest Of All Time cager. I agree with them, while also adding that Larry Bird would be a close second in my list.

Before the also many who argue the cases of Lebron James, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell howl in protest, let me explain why I have this stand.

The never-ending debate on this topic will never see an end simply because each opinion will have different criteria to measure greatness. It’s a title that will be bestowed using several conditions and standards. All will surely have different favorites and preferences when taking sides in this issue.

In my case, I also use several categories in determining the GOAT. I would like to factor in team success, the playoffs appearances and championships won; individual success, the awards earned; the career stats accumulated and the ability to carry a team.

Of these categories, the criteria I will put most premium into is one’s ability to carry a team on his back, which Jordan and Bird repeatedly showed time and time again in their respective playing careers, of having an overflowing supply of.

#1. Jordan; #2 Bird

Jordan is a five-time NBA MVP, six-time NBA Finals MVP, one-time defensive player of the year. Bird a three consecutive NBA MVP awardee, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and the 1980 Rookie of the Year.

Jordan hoisted the NBA championship six times while Bird did it three times.

Jordan has the highest scoring average in NBA history with 30.12, his totals of 32,292 is good for fourth overall, is third in steals with 2,514, and adds 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.7 steals a game on 49.7% field goal shooting.

Bird is 12th in career free throw shooting at 88.57% and is one among the few who could do so many things on the floor as evidenced by his 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 49.6% field goal shooting, and 37.6% three point shooting career averages.

Both Jordan and Bird’s career stats can speak for themselves. While these numbers can be ranked objectively, their owners will always be at the echelon of the greatest ever. No question, these figures can stack up against the best of the best.

But the most I give them credit for is their ability to carry and will their team to victories, even through the greatest adversities.

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NBA fans will surely remember the “flu game” where Jordan supposedly shrugged off high fever to torch the Jazz in the Finals, or the “Steal and Assist” where Bird stole an inbounds pass and feeds Dennis Johnson for a lay-up against the Pistons.

These are just one of the many times these two men carried the Bulls and the Celtics to victory under the most difficult circumstances.

Undoubtedly, Jordan was the main offensive weapon of the Bulls towards their success.

He once dropped 63 on Bird and the Celtics at the Boston Garden solely carrying the load for the Bulls in a playoff game. He also dropped a career-high 69 at Cleveland, 55 against the Suns in the finals and 51 at age 38.

He also scored 35 in the first half of Game 1 of the 1992 finals, still an NBA record, that includes six triples, then an NBA record until Ray Allen came along. Who could forget the killer shots he had over Byron Russell, Craig Ehlo, and the steal against Karl Malone off a double team from the blind side.

Bird had to return from a hard fall on the floor against the Pacers in a playoff game because the Celtics are being manhandled. He turned the tide in the Celtics’ favor upon his return. In today’s game, he would have been prevented from coming back due to the concussion protocol.

When the Celtics were down 1-2, after splitting the Boston games in the 1984 NBA Finals, the second finals appearance in the Bird era, against the Lakers, Bird willed them to comeback with the “we played like sissies” speech that resulted to his teammates responding to the challenge, best evidenced by the Kevin Mchale clothesline on Kurt Rambis.

Both Jordan and Bird will brashly ask for the ball in crunch time and generally deliver baskets under duress. Opponents knew where the ball is going but cannot do anything about it. Bird will even blatantly tell who is guarding him where and how he is going to get the shot off and still his defender couldn’t stop him.

These are the qualities that makes these men the GOATs in my book.

#3. Kobe, #4. Lebron

This slides down Lebron James, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and company down a bit in my rankings. James in particular disappears in crunch time, intentionally or unintentionally, too many times in his career so far, even as of late when he opted to pass to a wide open Kyle Korver in the dying seconds of the championship game when the Cavs needed a basket.

I got it that Korver is one of the greatest shooters ever and that pass is aptly the “correct” basketball play at that time. But there is also a time when he has to accept the role of the shot maker as a leader of the team, and this is one of those times where it doesn’t matter what kind of play is to be made, it just has to be at the hands of the closers, a role which he refused to take on at a crucial moment.

Here’s a scene of one of my favorite Lakers for you to consider. In one of the games Rick Fox was playing, he got a possession of the ball and opted to hold it for a last shot at the trey area for the game closing shot. In the background was Bryant vehemently clapping and asking for the ball.

Fox made the basket for the Lakers win but, I’m assuming, Kobe was still upset over the turn of events.

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That’s what James lack. Willingness to ask for chances to swing the game in their favor and living up to whatever consequences it might have.

He was reported too many times to have also insinuated for more line-up help from the front office, something Jordan and Bird may had never done and probably wouldn’t do. He did not have the same success when he didn’t have the guys he wished for. I have James fourth on my list, though.

Bryant did have this “killer instinct” character. I actually have him third in my list. The main criticism for his championships is that he showed no success when he did not have dominant bigs who can recover the ball. He only won championships with Shaquile O’Neal and the Andrew Bynum – Pau Gasol combination in the line-up.

Magic and Kareem are a duo, more of a Batman-Superman tandem. Time Duncan is more of the All-for-One, total team effort type, where the Spurs thrived with.

Chamberlain did have the most impressive career stats but has little team success. Russell had the most team success and is a proven team leader but had his teammates take care of the offensive needs of the Celtics and shared the achievement of success by excelling more in the defensive aspect.

#5. Russell 

Russell is fifth in my list, mainly because he is in the middle and anchor of the greatest sustained success of all-time.

This is why I consider Jordan and Bird the GOATs. Both can carry a team on their back, can deliver clutch shots, will the team to win, and did have considerable team and individual successes.

Bird is the better outside shooter, slightly better in the clutch, and more efficient free throw shooter but Jordan is the better defender, more athletic and is way ahead in the rings count. It’s why he is ahead in my list.


See second part: Jordan, Bird: Hypothetical Trades prove they’re the Real GOATs

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