Michael Jordan turned 59 last week, hasn’t played professional basketball since 2003, made that winning shot against Utah Jazz nearly 25 years ago, and the NBA is still his.
In this COVID world of the 2020s, the NBA’s 75th anniversary—and can we please stop with these Cleveland landmark celebrations—wouldn’t be as big an event as the league had hoped when the city was awarded to Lake Erie. the game of 2018.
On top of the pandemic, it was the week after the Super Bowl returned to Los Angeles, and with the addition of the 18th week to the regular season, the Big Game was shifted to a week before the NBA All Star Game. With the media and the rest of America still coming back from that event, and many of the NBA’s living members named after the 75 greatest players of all time who didn’t attend—along with perhaps the worst slam dunk game of all time – the weekend felt like winter.
Dan Ja Morant’s back alley oops brought some life to the Rocket Mortgage arena, and finally there was the resting ceremony to honor the 75 greatest. It was a much longer ceremony than the top 50 team in 1997 with 25 additional players, some augmented reality diamonds overhead, and celebrities speaking before announcing each position.
One of the beauties of the NBA is that many of the celebrities are still alive. During the competition’s 50th anniversary, Pete Maravich was the only player to have died. We watched Bill Russell help George Mikan into the stands as the last player introduced. None of us currently alive have even seen an Honus Wagner in-game highlight.
The ceremony was a little sadder this time around, with more early days players like Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain, along with more contemporary players like Moses Malone and Kobe Bryant. There were also many more players not showing up for this ceremony than the NBA at age 50, but we have still seen players like Oscar Robertson take the stage with Allen Iverson and Giannis Antentokounmpo.
Then at the end of the ceremony, “By god, that’s Michael Jordan’s music.”
Jordan was in Florida for Team 23XI’s second Daytona 500. That’s why he wasn’t in Cleveland for the pre-game mix and photos with the top 75th team members before the start of the all-star game. However, he showed up before the resting ceremony, and when he did, the audience gave Jordan the opposite answer they’d given Steph Curry during the lineup’s introduction, even though, like Curry, he spent much of his career finishing Cleveland’s postseason runs.
As great as the game was, with social media in 2022, it turned into the Michael Jordan show. He surprised Luka Dončić with a bear hug, because he mold with Dennis Rodman, challenging Magic to one-on-one games, and spending some time with LeBron James who, although he believes he is the NBA’s GOAT, responded with the same respect just like all the other current players when we talk about spending some time in conversation with Jordan.
Part of Jordan stealing the show was that he was so nice. He was clearly enjoying himself and was in the company of his NBA brethren at this milestone. But it was also clear that wherever there is an NBA logo is the home of Jordan. With all the videos on social media, we’ve seen him grab all the attention even in an arena filled with the best, past and present. He entered the league just before the 40th season and surprised Jerry West with the same hug he did to Dončić, because to this day there is still no one like Mike.
For every mistake hyper researched about Jordan going all the way back to the Harvey Gantt and Jesse Helms senate race in 1990, looking closer to the 60-year-old than ever, a 60-point game, when Jordan enters a room that belongs to him. It’s the biggest difference between him and James.
Personally, I will always believe that Jordan is a better player. Jordan has a better variety of offensive moves, more effective jump shots, empirically a much better shooter on the free throw, a technically more solid defensive player and also a great playmaker when he decided to be. However, for those who argue that James is the greatest athletic exemplar in NBA history with a court vision like an undersea radar that Jordan wouldn’t be able to wield in a court of law, I can’t prove you wrong. The difference between the greatness of the two on the field is wafer thin.
But the magnitude of Jordan was clear when James spoke to the press about their discussion.
“We’re not often in the same building,” James told the media. “I haven’t been in the same building much in my career and it meant something to me.”
There’s a reason the greatest player in NBA history wore the number 23 for most of his career. James feels it just like everyone else – Jordan’s power of presence. It’s like Michael Jackson is on stage and the audience goes crazy as soon as he moves his head. Some people just got it, and we saw it on Sunday, with Jordan being one of the greatest players today and yesterday.
In the youngest of the major American sports leagues, that was so much made up of personality as dunks and three pointers, Jordan was above them all just walking across that carpet to center court. That, much more than his game, is how he won the competition and why it will be his forever.