By Dr. Herman M. Lagon
IN THE REALM of sports, the debate over the greatest athlete of all time generates endless discussions and passionate arguments. While each sport has its legends and iconic figures, one athlete stands above them, transcending boundaries and redefining excellence: Michael Jordan. As someone who has witnessed MJ’s rise to greatness from their teenage years to their young professional life, the evidence overwhelmingly points to Jordan as not just the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) of basketball but the GOAT of all athletes.
This year, a poll conducted by Morning Consult, a reputable business intelligence company, sought to determine the greatest athlete of all time across all major sports. The result was unsurprising to many: Michael Jordan emerged victorious, garnering 19% of the votes. Following Jordan were quarterback Tom Brady, boxer Muhammad Ali, and slugger Babe Ruth with 12%, 8%, and 7% of the votes, while LeBron James did not even crack the top of the list.
While it is often tempting to compare MJ and LBJ in the context of the GOAT debate, it is crucial to recognize that this discussion extends beyond individual comparisons. To truly understand why Jordan is considered the GOAT of all athletes, we must look beyond basketball and acknowledge his impact on the sporting world as a whole.
One key factor that sets Jordan apart is his unparalleled offensive production in his sport. Having a career average per game of 30.1 points, Jordan holds the highest scoring average in NBA history. This statistic alone puts him above iconic figures like Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. Jordan’s scoring prowess is even more remarkable when he achieved these numbers in just over 15 seasons, consistently outshining his competitors.
Moreover, Jordan led the league in scoring an astonishing ten times, including a record-breaking seven consecutive scoring titles. His dominance on the court was unmatched during his era, and even in the present, his career average would have placed him at the top or near the top of scoring leaders in many recent seasons. In addition, Jordan’s defensive skills are equally extraordinary, earning him numerous accolades and solidifying his status as the greatest two-way player in basketball history. The level of competition he faced, including renowned players like Hall-of-Famers Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Regie Miller, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, and even his own teammate Scottie Pippen, further solidified his status as the GOAT.
Beyond his offensive prowess, Jordan’s impact on the game extends to his iconic moments and unrivaled competitiveness. His ability to rise to the occasion in clutch situations is legendary, with numerous game-winning shots and memorable performances in basketball history. The Black Jesus’ unwavering determination to succeed and ceaseless quest for all-around perfection drove him to secure six championships immaculately, claim five MVP awards, attain six Finals MVP titles, flawlessly seal two Olympics golds, achieve three All-Star MVP honors, garner 14 All-Star selections, secure ten scoring titles, achieve ten All-First Team placements, earn nine All-Defensive team honors, obtain three steals trophies, and even capture the prestigious DPOY and ROTY trophies in just 15 NBA years. His solid leadership, winning mindset, unparalleled athleticism, relentless work ethics, and the other intangibles he brought to the game set him apart from other athletes.
Yet the title of the greatest athlete of all time cannot be determined solely based on statistics, longevity, and achievements but rather on the profound impact an athlete has on their sport, cultural influence, and ability to captivate and inspire fans worldwide.
His Airness’ impact stretches far beyond basketball, imprinting on popular culture. The Air Jordan brand symbolizes its remarkable cultural significance, captivating society and leaving an unforgettable mark. His last pair of Air Jordan XIII Breds (short for black and red) was recently sold at $2.2M, the most expensive sneaker ever sold; while his final season jersey fetched last year at $10.1M making it the most valuable game-worn sports memorabilia in the world.
With his iconic tongue-out high-flying dunks, fadeaways, and legendary shoes, this hall-of-famer’s legacy holds a strong resonance, transcending time and extending well beyond his playing days. Notably, his status as the wealthiest athlete in the world, with a recent net worth of $3.5 billion follwing the sale of his controlling stake in the Charlotte Hornets, further cements his unmatched success. His name is now synonymous to Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Ball Park Franks, Wheaties, Rayovac, and Upper Deck.
The renaming of the NBA MVP award to The Michael Jordan Trophy is a testament to his extraordinary contributions and enduring influence on the world of sports. Additionally, he has been chosen as an Olympics, FIBA, and Naismith Memorial hall of famer, UN Goodwill Ambassador, honored with the BET Humanitarian Award, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year (twice; featured 50 times, more than any other athlete), NBA Executive of the Year, AP Athlete of the Year, and recognized as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN’s SportsCentury.
As someone who has witnessed Michael Jordan’s journey firsthand, from their teenage years to their young professional life, I can attest to the transformative effect he had on the game of basketball and sports as a whole. His legacy as the greatest athlete of all time (GOAT) of all athletes is firmly cemented, and his influence will continue to inspire generations to come.
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.