If you don’t already know that Michael Jordan is the indisputable GOAT (greatest of all-time), you might be beyond saving. Anyone who knows even a little bit about basketball will tell you that MJ is indeed the greatest player to lace em up and step foot onto the hardwood. If you want to make the argument for Bill Russell or Kareem we can respect that. But you would still be wrong.
Michael Jordan did it all. He was the greatest scorer since Wilt Chamberlain. He’s the best perimeter defender of all time. He’s (debatably) the greatest athlete to play basketball. But most importantly, he’s the greatest winner during an era in which the NBA fielded close to thirty teams. In Russell’s era, there were somewhere between eight and eleven teams.
“His Airness” dominated the NBA as its greatest individual talent and as it’s greatest winner. And he did it year in and year out. Even as his athleticism eroded with age, he added more nuances to his offensive repertoire. For a while, he ran roughshod on the league with his aerial acrobatics and his breathtaking leaping ability. During his 30s, Jordan continued his dominance with a lethal post-game and an unstoppable fade-away. He did whatever he needed to do in order to remain on top of the hill. That’s why year after year Michael Jordan was the man hoisting that Finals MVP trophy. It’s why he’s the GOAT. Well that and these 15 other reasons.
15. 1988-89 Regular Season Stat-Line
It doesn’t get talked about much, but “His Airness” owns the greatest regular season stat-line since the NBA and the ABA merged in 1976. During the 1988-89 season, Michael Jordan averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.9 steals per game. If MJ put up those numbers last season, he would have led the league in scoring and steals. He would’ve led all shooting guards in rebounds per game (by two rebounds) and assists. There’s a good chance he would’ve won the MVP award, the scoring title, and defensive player of the year.
If you’re impressed by stat-sheet-stuffers like Curry, LeBron, and Westbrook, take a look at the numbers MJ put up during the mid-to-late 80s. Michael could do it all. Yes, he is remembered most fondly for his high-wire acrobatics and his incredible scoring ability, but MJ was truly the most complete player of his generation and perhaps of all-time.
14. Steals and Blocks
The most potent offensive threat since Wilt Chamberlain was also the most devastating perimeter defender in the NBA during his heyday. In only 15 seasons of play, MJ accumulated enough steals to rank third on the all-time steals list. John Stockton and Jason Kidd are the only players with more steals and they played for 19 seasons. Jordan’s 2.35 steals per game is good for third all-time as well.
He didn’t just get steals though. In the ’86-’87 and ’87-’88 seasons, he averaged 1.5 and 1.6 blocks, respectively. Air Jordan is the all-time blocks leader for guards and holds the single-season record for blocks by a guard (131). He is also the only guard to post 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, which he did twice.
Other than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the only NBA players who can say they won three straight championships twice are members of the 60s Boston Celtics. And there were only nine teams back then. What’s most impressive is that he retired, came back and did exactly the same thing he did the three seasons before he retired. And he did it with a very different supporting cast the second time around. As long as his wingman Scottie was there, Jordan just had to be Jordan and a championship was all but set in stone.
Talk to Bill Russell or Michael Jordan and they will tell you that they measured themselves by their repeats. Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Duncan, LeBron—they never managed to three-peat. Bird, Duncan and Chamberlain never even repeated as champions. Reaching the top is hard. Staying there is even harder.
When it comes to scoring, Jordan and Chamberlain occupy a level no one else is on. No one even comes close actually. But forget about Wilt for a moment. The guy was great, but he got to do his thing in a league that featured no other seven-footers for the better part of his career. Since Chamberlain, the game has seen several prolific scorers. George Gervin, Allen Iverson, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, to name a few. But none of them garnered more than four scoring titles in their career (so far for KD). Air Jordan accumulated ten scoring titles during his thirteen-season tenure with Chicago. Seven of those titles came in consecutive seasons.
Basically, from 1986 to 1998, if Michael Jordan was playing professional basketball, he was leading the league in scoring. The best word to describe his scoring mentality is ‘relentlessness’. The league has seen some great scorers, and will see plenty more, but the thought of someone being a better scorer than MJ is unfathomable.
11. 1998 MVP Season, Age 34
Air Jordan entered the ’98 season looking more like” just-slightly-above-the-floor Jordan.” His hops were nearly nonexistent and his breakaway speed was gone. One would think that would have a hugely negative impact on a player’s game, but that’s not the case with Michael.
In his final season with Chicago, his GOATness was the League MVP, Finals MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and the NBA’s leading scorer. The man was 34 years old (and turned 35 in February). Oh, and he was named to his ninth All-Defensive First Team. In the last game of his final season (with the Bulls) he poured in 45 points, had the game-winning steal and game-winning shot, and won his sixth championship.
In a league so reliant on youthful athleticism, it’s incredible that a 34-year old could be so dominant.
Michael Jordan is remembered for so many things. His clutch shots, his iconic dunks, his gravity-defying mid-air acrobatics, his gargantuan and unprecedented celebrity, and for needing two hands to wear all his rings.
One thing that people don’t talk about enough is his durability. Players today take off three games when they stub their toe. Not Mike. You would need to hit him with a train to keep him from playing. Even then, there’s no guarantee.
“Air Jordan” was grounded for most of the ’85-86′ season with a fractured foot. He only played eighteen games during the regular season. Barring that one-time injury, Michael Jordan missed a total of seven games during his entire tenure with the Bulls.
But, the most impressive statistic of all is this; during his final NBA season with the Washington Wizards, at the age of 39, “His Airness” played all 82 games, averaging 37 minutes per game, no less. In fact, he was the only member of the Wizards to not miss a single game that season.
9. 40-Point Playoff Games
A real superstar elevates his game during the playoffs. We just witnessed LeBron do exactly that, after an average regular season. Similarly, Jordan raised his level of play for the postseason, but even more so than anyone else. MJ has almost double the amount of 40+ playoff games in comparison to the second player on the list. Jerry West reached the 40+ mark during the playoffs on twenty different occasions. MJ? 38.
To put that in a more contemporary perspective, LeBron has done it seventeen times. Kobe has done it thirteen times. And Iverson did it ten times. Even the “Big Dipper,” Wilt Chamberlain, only surpassed 40 points on 13 occasions. The NBA was also at its most physical era, in terms of play, during the 80s and 90s. Defenses and defenders would get away with fouls all the time and defenders were also allowed to hand-check their opponent. If MJ was 28 and in his prime today—with the new rules that allow James Harden to flail into the lane and get a call every time—he would be flirting with a 40 PPG season.
8. 1986 Playoffs – Round One
Every basketball fan knows about Michael Jordan’s 63-point scoring barrage in Boston Garden against the mighty Celtics. It’s the highest scoring output in NBA Playoffs history. (Can you believe Wilt didn’t even do it once?). But 63 points is only part of the bigger picture. The Bulls were going up against what is arguably the greatest NBA team ever assembled. They went on to win the championship that year in commanding fashion. Michael Jordan single handedly forced Game Two into overtime, before they eventually succumbed to the greatness of Larry Bird’s Celtics.
What is also forgotten is Game One. Not as exciting, not as close, but almost every bit as indicative of what Michael Jordan was going to become in the NBA. MJ dropped 49 points in that game. He came one point shy of being the only player to put up back-to-back 50-point games in the playoffs. 112 points in two games against maybe the greatest team of all time is absolutely incredible. He attacked the Celtics front line relentlessly and punished their perimeter defenders with a silky jump-shot.
It truly was the coming out party for the GOAT.
7. Scoring Average in 1993 NBA Finals
Heading into the 1993 NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns owned the better record, the deeper team, and, the League MVP, Charles Barkley. But the Bulls had Michael Jordan. MJ torched the Suns, breaking Jerry West’s record for scoring average in the Finals by dropping 41.0 points per game. That includes Game Four, in which he cremated the Suns defense with a 55-point performance.
Before the series began, Charles Barkley claimed that God told him he was going to win the NBA Championship. After the series, he said he didn’t realize God was on the other team, wearing number 23. We guess that’s what happens when you steal an MVP award from Mike.
The world went bananas when LeBron dropped two straight 41-point games in Games Five and Six of the Finals. Impressive? Absolutely, but in 1993. Michael Jordan AVERAGED 41 points in the Finals! That is beyond impressive.
6. Triple-Double Tear
In 2015, the Oklahoma City Thunder just missed the playoffs as a result of Kevin Durant’s injury problems. “The Durantula” only played 27 games that season, allowing Russell Westbrook to run amok and throw up triple-doubles, seemingly on a nightly basis. Westbrook posted eleven triple-doubles during the 2015-16 season, including eight in his last 26 games.
As impressive as that was, it’s chump change compared to what Jordan did in the 1988-89 season. MJ was briefly moved to the point guard position by Doug Collins, who was experimenting with different lineups. MJ responded by tossing up ten triple-doubles in eleven games. If that happened today it would’ve set the internet on fire and sent ESPN into a frenzy.
Michael’s 80s highlight reel is awe-inspiring. Visually and statistically.
5. 40+ & 50+ point Games
In the NBA, the 40-point mark for a player is a great accomplishment. Superstars make it look easy at times, but scoring more than forty points in forty-eight minutes is very hard to do. 50 points is an exclusive club that is made up of some of the greatest players and, also, the occasional flash-in-the-pan player (Brandon Jennings) who went off once in his career.
Michael Jordan’s list of 40 and 50 point games is longer than Manute Bol’s legs. Since the NBA-ABA merger, only Kobe has come within shouting distance of Michael’s scoring records. “Air Jordan” scored 40 or more points in a game a staggering 173 times. That’s 56 more times than second place, Kobe. Jordan also has seven more 50-point games than anyone else (excluding Wilt).
It should be no surprise that MJ also holds records for most 30+, 40+, 50+, and 60+ playoff games. His eight 50-point playoff games is far beyond any other player, post-merger. Allen Iverson did it three times to Jordan’s eight.
4. 1986-87 3,000-point Season
In the seventy years since the NBA’s conception, only twice has a player surpassed 3,000 points in a season. The first time was when Wilt Chamberlain averaged a legendary 50.4 points per game in the 1961-62 season. The feat would go untouched for 25 seasons.
Then, during the 1986-87 season Michael Jordan passed the 3,000 point mark, averaging 37.1 points per game along the way. And as amazing as Chamberlain’s 50-point season is, there is no way that is happening in the “Post-Merger NBA.”
Air Jordan averaged 37 points per game during the mid-to-late-80s—the toughest, most talented and competitive era of NBA basketball. The closest anyone has come since was the 2005-06 season when Kobe averaged 35.4 points per game—the same season in which he scored 81 points against Toronto and 62 points in three quarters against Dallas. He still fell 168 points short of 3,000.
3. Win Shares
Stat geeks have come up with dozens of new statistics for measuring a player’s performance. One of these new-fangled statistics is “Win Shares.” Win Shares is defined as a player statistic which attempts to divide credit for team success among the individuals on the team. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Michael Jordan is the all-time leader in Win Shares per 48 minutes.
In other words, no player has meant more to his team’s success than Michael Jordan. The record is an ode to Jordan’s all-around basketball skills. Win Shares incorporates offensive and defensive stats equally which means that a player’s defensive value is taken into consideration just as much as his offensive value (sorry, James Harden). It only makes sense that the all-time Win Shares percentage leader also be basketball’s most complete player.
2. Old Man Scoring
Most people likely remember MJ’s stint with the Washington Wizards with little-to-no fondness. Understandable. It was tough watching the greatest player to ever lace ’em up struggle to keep players in front of him on the defensive end and fail to shoot even 45% from the field. But who cares. He was 38-40 when he played with the Wizards. Plus, he hadn’t kept himself in NBA shape since he retired from the Bulls. And in retrospect, what he did at that age was incredible. He was still the best player on his team and, when he got his shot going, he could look just like the Michael of old.
He holds two old-man records in the NBA; he is the only player 38 or older to score 50 or more points in a game. He poured in 51 during a game against Charlotte in his first season with Washington. Toward the end of his tenure with the Wizards, he became the only player over 40 to score 40 when he dropped in 43 points against the Nets.
1. Best PER in NBA history
Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is used to measure a player’s output as well as his efficiency and present in one statistic. For example, Russell Westbrook had the most impressive stat-line of the 2014-15 season, but his PER was second-best in the league behind Anthony Davis. This is because Westbrook only converted 42.6% of his field goal attempts.
Michael Jordan has the highest career PER of any player to ever play professional basketball. He also owns the third-highest single-season PER, which he accomplished during the 1987-88 season. Only Wilt Chamberlain posted seasons (two) with a better PER than MJ’s ’87-88 season and Wilt got to do it back when the second-tallest center in the league was 6’9″. This record should belong to a big man. Guards are usually less efficient than (good) big men because they shoot more shots from the outside. One would think a legendary big man like Kareem or Olajuwon would own the best PER in NBA history. But no, it’s a six and a half-foot tall guard who, simply, could everything. It’s just one more reason Michael Jordan is the GOAT.
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