SLAMOnline: The Blueprint
There will never be another Michael Jordan. Sometimes it’s best to get the obvious out of the way right out front, and this feels like one of those times. So, there. “The Best there Ever Was, The Best there Ever Will Be”? Yep. It’s right there on his statue in front of the United Center, literally carved in literal stone, and thus inarguable. So that’s that. Right?
Maybe. Michael Jordan wasn’t the best at everything, and he didn’t do everything first. Bill Russell finished with double fistfuls of rings, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points a game, Dr. J dunked from the free-throw line. In a sense, Jordan was the ultimate aggregator-he took the best of everyone who came before and rolled it up into a ready-for-prime-time package. He threw down ridiculous dunks, scored bucketloads of points and won championships. Even played defense and practiced. And fortunately for him (and for us), his rise coincided with the NBA’s. They lifted each other to heights never before reached. Jordan was the right player at the right time, and the world conspired to make him a god.
Not to say it was all manufactured. Far from it. Jordan’s unedited NBA career spooled out like the most implausible of movies, from dropping 63 points on the 1986 Celtics (in their house, no less) to that last, hanging jumper over Bryon Russell. Even the Wizards epilogue, jarring in its entirety, provided moments to savor. Scoring 50 as a gimpy 40-year-old? Who does that? Not to mention two more All-Star Games and the priceless gift of allowing countless more fans to say they saw him play live. In the meantime-even while the real Jordan was still in his prime-a fruitless search for the next Jordan went on.
Paradoxically, there has been no next Jordan, there can be no next Jordan, for the simple reason that there was a first Jordan. “If I could be like Mike”? No chance. His career was structured in such a way that it can never be duplicated, only imitated. It wasn’t perfect-after all, his teams did get taken to two Game 7s (which they, um, won)-but it was so close that it may as well have been. The comparisons will always be there, and everyone who strives will always fall short. Fall too short, and you’re Harold Miner. Come too close, and you’re Kobe Bryant. The greatest tragedy of Kobe’s career-if you can find tragedy in a five-times-and-counting NBA Champion and certain first-ballot Hall of Famer-is that it cannot be viewed except through the Jordan filter. (It doesn’t help that his championships were all won playing for Michael’s old coach.) Five rings? Sure, but he’s only been Finals MVP twice. And he was only regular-season MVP once. Better than Jordan? Yeah, right.