Somewhere, in some lavish living room, decked out with MVP trophies, a few title rings and a pair of $200 sneakers by his side, Michael Jordan is laughingly shaking his head. “What else do they want from me?” he’s probably thinking, slow roasting over the latest stone thrown at his throne. If it’s not Harold Miner then it’s Jerry Stackhouse or Vince Carter. If it’s not Grant Hill then it’s Penny Hardaway or Tracy McGrady. And most of today’s one track-minded media are still trying to force-feed us Kobe Bryant and LeBron James into our memory banks, as if we forgot or something.

For those that didn’t forget those incredible shots, those memorable commercials, those undisputable titles and those mockable Marv Albert rants, we all know better: There will never be another Michael Jordan. Amazingly, it’s strange how a guy like me, a simple college graduate and possessor of cable TV, can just write off Scottie Pippen’s latest endorsement of James over Jordan as raging riff raff. Pippen, a simple Hall of Famer and possessor of six NBA championships, struck a nerve when he appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show a day after Miami’s series-clinching Game Five victory over Chicago last week and said: “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game. But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will but he keeps everybody involved.”

During his prime, Pippen was lauded for his unselfishness, his signature defense and his ability to simply do any and everything on the basketball court, so it’s no surprise as to why Pippen can toot James’ horn so loudly. But, did he forget or something? Was he not there for Jordan’s fourth year in the league, when he averaged 35 points and three steals per night? Was Pippen playing with his eyes closed during ’89, when Jordan was pumping in 33 points, seven rebounds, six assists and another three steals a game? I can only excuse Pippen for ’87, he was still in college when Jordan was averaging 37 a game to go along with three steals and just over a block per night, in only his third year.

But allow me to sidestep the simplified statistical trap—that’s too easy. It’s child’s play to just spew a bunch of stats and averages, but those alone aren’t what made Jordan so great. It was the competitiveness, the leadership and the transcending of the game that helped label Jordan as a G.O.A.T. Where would Gatorade be without Jordan? Nike? Kobe? LeBron? Hell, the NBA? Where would the game be today without Jordan’s impact? Nobody knows but yet, it continues: the fascination to find the “Next Jordan.”

It’s becoming mythical at this point; almost like finding gold at the end of a rainbow or riding on the back of a unicorn. We should all stop waiting and wishing and just start watching. After seeing so many superstars crash and burn in their chase of No. 23, the best we can hope for at this point is just branding a guy: “the Jordan of his era.” And even that wouldn’t be enough to make us forget the best basketball player that ever lived.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO