“Like Mike:” the basketball GOAT


Lucas Milgrim, Staff Writer

In most sports, there is an undisputed Greatest Of All Time, or “GOAT.”  In hockey, it’s clearly Wayne Gretzky; in football, Tom Brady holds the title, while baseball has the Babe.  This leaves basketball, which has had its fair share of greats.  However, the debate revolves around the greatest, most influential, and most successful players in history: Michael Jordan and Lebron James.

Lebron James was drafted first in 2003 out of high school by the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers.  As a rookie, Lebron lived up to expectations, winning Rookie of The Year.  He’d win Most Valuable Player and was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2009, but they’d be eliminated before the Finals.  A season later, he became a free agent and moved on to the Miami Heat with all-stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, which was highly scrutinized.  They’d lose the finals and James underperformed.  His Miami career was successful, with two MVPs and Finals MVPs, leading them to two championships in three years before returning to Cleveland.  

The second stint began when James led the Cavs to the finals, but they’d fall short to the Warriors.  They returned in 2016 to face them, but lost three of the first four games, putting them on the brink of elimination.  Lebron scored 41 in the next two games, and had a legendary block to seal the championship in the final game.  In 2018, James became a Laker, another criticized decision.  The Lakers missed the playoffs in his first year, though he triumphed this season, as the Lakers won the NBA championship and Lebron his fourth Finals MVP.

Although his career is certainly outstanding, Lebron has been imperfect.  One of the flaws has been defense: can he be the greatest without a DPOY award?  James shows little effort, not hustling back on defense.  His finals performances have been subpar compared to Jordan’s.  His record is 4-6, but two were buoyed by a “superteam.”  If Michael Jordan had never picked up a basketball, Lebron would be the GOAT; however, His Airness did.

Jordan began at UNC, leading them to an NCAA championship as a freshman, sealing the title with a game-winning jumper.  The Bulls drafted him two years later.  Jordan exhibited elite scoring abilities, winning ROTY.  The following season, Jordan broke his foot.  After healing for the playoffs, he set the record for most points in a postseason game with 63.  Chicago still lost that game and series, giving their star time more time to rest.  

MJ’s 1986-87 season was legendary.  He led the league in scoring, and was the first with 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, but the team lost in the first round.  Jordan clearly wanted to push through round one the next year; he won MVP and DPOY for the season, but the Bulls were eliminated.  In 1988-89, Jordan came back with a vengeance, leading the league in scoring.  His Airness proved to be a clutch performer in the first round, where Jordan scored a buzzer-beating jumper to send the team through.  The Bulls advanced, facing the Pistons in the Conference finals.  They knew their opponents, and employed the Jordan Rules: every time he came down the court, multiple players covered him, forcing him to pass.  Chicago’s offense went to shambles, and they lost in six.

After years of postseason struggles, Michael Jordan and the Bulls broke through in 1991.  Jordan won his second MVP award, swept the Pistons in the Conference Finals, and reached the championship and won in five.  Jordan acquired a Finals MVP award.  The ‘92 season was almost identical; Mike earned MVP honors again, moved on to the finals, and faced the Trail Blazers.  After guard Clyde Drexler was compared to Jordan, he scored nearly 36 points per game, won the series, and Finals MVP for the second straight year.  

In ‘93, Jordan finished second in MVP and DPOY voting, meeting MVP Charles Barkley in the finals.  He showed the world he was superior, averaging 41 points per game in the championship, a record, and led the Bulls to a third consecutive title and his own Finals MVP.  After the season, Jordan shocked the world and retired after his father’s death.  However, after watching his team struggle, he returned.  Jordan joined a reeling Bulls on the outskirts of the playoffs.  His passion, leadership, and talent turned their season around, and they reached the postseason despite a horrific start.

“MJ is the GOAT.  No questions asked.  He influenced and revolutionized the game of basketball.  Growing up, everyone wanted to be like Mike.  Great players including Kobe and even KD model their game after Jordan.  He impacted the game like no other,” said junior Jasper Abrahams.  

Michael Jordan’s next three years showed he truly was the GOAT.  It began in 1995, when he led the Bulls to a 72-10 record, the second best of all time.  He won his fourth MVP, as well as ASG MVP.  Once they reached the playoffs, though, Air Jordan flew.  Chicago lost three games throughout the postseason.  Jordan again was Finals MVP, making him the second to win all three MVP awards in one season.  The subsequent year, Jordan was MVP-runner up to Karl Malone, and faced him in the Finals.  In game one, Jordan won the game on a buzzer-beating jumpshot.  Four games later, he fell ill, yet was still unstoppable.  By the end of the series, Chicago emerged victorious and Jordan won his fourth Finals MVP.  

A year later, the GOAT found himself against Malone’s Jazz after winning a fifth MVP.  They led the series 3-2, and game six came down to the wire.  With 41 seconds left, trailing by three, Jordan scored to cut the lead.  Malone missed the next shot, and the ball went to Jordan.  He hunted down his defender, crossed over, stepped back, and drained a beautiful jump shot to put Chicago ahead.  Jordan and the Bulls completed their second three-peat, and Jordan’s finals record improved to 6-0, and won his sixth finals MVP, a record yet to be broken.

MJ retired a second time, but returned in 2001.  Jordan was 38, yet was one of the better scorers in the NBA for the final three years of his career, and retired for a final time at the conclusion of the 2003 season.

Jordan’s career was flawless.  Jordan had 5 MVPs, and 6 Finals MVPs to go along with his 6-0 record.  He also won a DPOY, which had only been done by bigger, taller players before him.  His 9 All-Defensive team appearances outpace Lebron’s 6, along with a 9-year advantage in scoring titles.  When their accomplishments are compared, Jordan is clearly greater: he has a better finals record, more finals wins, MVPs, scoring titles, DPOYs, all-defensive teams, and led the league in steals 3 times.  However, some argue Lebron is better.

Let’s focus on impact.  Prior to Jordan, no guard had led their team to the finals.  Every dynasty was headed by a big man, usually a center, and guards were regarded as less valuable than centers.  Jordan changed that.  He revolutionized the game of basketball by showing the world that shorter players can be far better than tall ones, and should be valued as such.  People around the world wanted to be “Like Mike,” and greats like Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, and even Lebron have said that His Airness was their idol.  

“He impacted me because he is a true example of hard work paying off and that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard for it.  He is inspiring to me because it pushes me to work harder to achieve my goals,” said junior Julia Mody. 

Jordan’s stats, impact, and influence speak for themselves, but I’ll spell it out for you one more time: Michael Jordan is the greatest human being to ever pick up a basketball.