Part Five: The Fable of the Two GOATs

The combined history of the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Asssociation is littered with phenomenal athletes, fierce competitors, inspiring leaders, technical wizards and legends who will never be forgotten. Cases can be made for countless of past and present players as to who belongs on a Mt Rushmore for basketball stars and – for many people – personal preference will at the end of the day be the deciding factor over pragmatic analysis.

For Jordan and James, their individual and team achievements have them in most people’s “Top 5” if not in either the one or two spot. What makes these two men stand out is the ability to capture the imagination of the public on a consistent basis. Fans of other teams have tuned into their games in the hope of seeing the seemingly impossible happen, those moments and performances of magic that very few can conceive of let alone execute.

When you’re using the word “greatest” it is singling out an individual as that “-est” represents being above all others. It is more than a simple comparison between two or three options but a statement that there is no comparison. There are plenty of greats in basketball but at the end of the day there can be only one “greatest” so this installment will look at the moments and numbers that have many placing these two athletes above all others.

A Spectacular Move

People often cite Jordan’s fierce competitve nature as being his greatest asset of many outstanding strings to his bow. His will to win has been said by many teammates, rivals and those that have followed the game to be peerless. It is something that is hard to measure because without the tools to get the job done, you can want something as much as anyone but it won’t happen. Jordan did get a lot done in his career but where to start is a conundrum.

Let’s start from the end and work our way back. Many look at Jordan’s time playing with the Wizards as a black mark on an almost spotless career but everything considered it proved how good he really was. He came out of retirement at 38 years of age to help boost a struggling Wizards organisation both on and off the court.

The season before Jordan suited up, the Wizards had a record of 19-63 and an average attendance of 15,577 which was 18th highest in the league. In Jordan’s first season their record improved to 37-45 and their home attendance rose to an average of 20,674 which was second behind only the San Antonio Spurs.

The Wizards got off to a slow start going 2-9 in the first 11 games of the 2001/02 of the season. They were soon to turn it around as the 38 year old – after three years out – began to find his rhythm. In the first half of the season there was a legitimate case for MVP calls as he was matching it with the league’s best before his knee injury. In the first 46 games of the season, a fit and firing Jordan led the Wizards to a 26-20 record with wins over top 5 opposition in both Conferences including Sacramento Kings and New Jersey Nets (a 22-point home win) who had the best records in their respective conferences as well as Boston who finished Eastern Conference runners-up.

That season’s MVP went to the Spurs main man, Tim Duncan who did have an impressive 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists for his team which finished 58-24, the second best record in the league behind the Kings. The season before they had an identical record but were top seeds in the NBA so it wasn’t as though Duncan propelled his team to new heights but more maintained a very high standard.

Jason Kidd, Shaquille O’Neal, Tracey McGrady and Kobe Bryant rounded out the top 5 voting for the MVP with only Kidd joining a losing team and seeing them improve dramatically. The Lakers improved on the season before by 2 wins but Bryant and O’Neal steal votes from each other while Orlando improved by 1 win on the season before. McGrady was the only player to have a 25-6-5 season (25.6ppg, 7.9rpg, 5.3apg) but whether it drastically improved his side is questionable.

Kidd did join a losing team this season which saw them go from 26-56 the season before to an amazing 52-30 season in 2001/02. Kidd with 14.7ppg, 7.3rpg, and 9.9apg was the main factor behind this but he did have help with Kittles returning from a year out and MacCulloch and Jefferson being regular starters who weren’t there the year before.

When you look at Washington, it is hard to argue that the transformation from 19 wins to 37 was largely down to Jordan. Of all the players who started more than 10 games, all apart from Jordan played in the 19 win season.