Undoubtedly, the great Michael Jordan is considered by most fans the greatest basketball player of all time. Even the NBA official website claims that: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time”. A complete player, offensively and defensively, legendary in the clutch, winner of all 6 finals he has played in, global icon; worthy of being called the king of basketball.
Despite agreeing that Jordan was the greatest, I think that many folks forget that there are other players worthy of that crown. It would not be absurd to say that others athletes were just as good or even better than MJ, people like: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Bill Russell (incredible 11 titles in 13 years in the NBA and arguably the best defensive player ever); Wilt Chamberlain (50.4 points per game in the 61-62 season – 18.8 more than the second place player – and all time NBA leader in rebounds); Magic Johnson (9 NBA finals in 13 seasons and all time leader in assists per game); Larry Bird (3 MVP’s and 3 titles in the 80’s, the most competitive and exciting NBA era); Kobe Bryant (the closest player to Jordan in terms of style – recently passed the Bull’s legend in total points); and Lebron James (4 MVP’s at age 30, only one less that Jordan in his entire career).
For example, one can make a case for Kareem over jordan Jordan with the following arguments: superior longevity (final’s MVP at 38); winning the same 6 titles as Jordan; NBA all time leading scorer; most MVP’s in NBA history (6, one more than MJ); had the skyhook in his arsenal, the most effective and unguardable shot in basketball’s history (not perfectly emulated to this day; even a great shooter and legendary player like Dirk Nowitzki has stated how tough the skyhook is to master).
Bird – Probably Jordan.
In 1985, Bird called the rookie Jordan the best ever. When MJ retired in 1998, he said: “Is he the greatest? He’s in the top two.” Recently he said that“and obviously everyone thinks that [Michael] Jordan was the best player ever”.
Magic Johnson – Jordan
According to Magic, Jordan is the greatest player and Bill Russell, the greatest winner in NBA history.
Bill Russell – Jordan.
Oscar Robertson – Did not pick one. He thinks several players are in the conversation. Does not think Jordan was the greatest.
Oscar Robertson does not think Jordan was the greatest:
“Everybody looks at what you’ve done. Sure he won six championships, Russell won eleven. There are other players on these teams when they play. They don’t play by themselves. Michael Jordan is a great player. Was he the greatest? Ask Kobe that. Ask Bill Russell. Ask Oscar Robertson. Ask Wilt Chamberlain. Ask Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, ask those guys.”
“The media now has anointed Michael Jordan the greatest of all time. Is he greatest of all time? No, I don’t think he is. I think he is a great player. There have been other great players as well, great players before I played.”
Oscar probably has Lebron over Jordan, because when asked about them, he said that “Lebron is in a class of his own”.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – He does not say one player in particular, but he thinks Oscar Robertson was superior to both Jordan and Lebron, and he has Wilt Chamberlain as undoubtedly the greatest scorer ever.
Isiah Thomas – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Thomas has changed his mind. He used to consider Jordan the best ever. Today, he has Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the top spot:
“If they say the numbers don’t lie, then Kareem is the greatest ever to play the game,” Thomas said. “And I’m a big proponent of that. … No disrespect to Jordan, but he won in the ’90s. And if the ’80s are the golden era, then the person who dominated the NBA in the ’80s and the ’70s was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
Karl Malone – Wilt Chamberlain.
John Stockton: Can’t pick just one.
Thinks that are a lot of players that fits in the conversation for best ever like Jordan, Chamberlain, Bird, Magic and Elgin Baylor.
Charles Barkley – Jordan
Barkley argues that Jordan was the greatest, since he was the best offensively and also the best defensive player of his era.
Elgin Baylor – Jordan
“Not only do I admire Jordan’s accomplishments and his phenomenal basketball ability, but also the way he has conducted himself on and off the court. I don’t think there will ever be another player to have the same impact on the game of basketball as Michael Jordan. If you look up the definition of greatness in the dictionary, it will say Michael Jordan.”
Bob Cousy – Jordan
“He’s by far the best since Naismith hung up the basket. He touches every base. He could play three, maybe four positions and maybe even center, too. He has no discernible weakness. The keys to basketball, despite the emphasis on big men, is still speed and quickness. He has them in abundance. When I jumped as high as I could, I got to the bottom of the net. When he jumps as high as he can, he’s over the backboard. He’s the best, without question.”
Shaquille O’Neal – Jordan
Julius Erving, Dr. J – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
” For him to that (being the best ever). for me, he (Lebron) has to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is the best to ever play the game.”
Jerry West – Jordan
“I have to think he’s the greatest player ever. Not because of his ability to score, but because of his total game. To me he’s the best offensive player and the best defensive player in the league for a number of years. To be the defensive player of the year with all the other things he had to do, to me, he’s a marvel. He has separated himself from the rest of the good players as far as I’m concerned. He’s the modern day Babe Ruth.”
Scottie Pippen – Jordan
Bill Walton – Kareem Abdul Jabbar
“Without question, no hesitation, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the best player I ever played against. Not just the best center, he was the best player, period. He was better than Magic (Johnson), better than Larry, better than Michael (Jordan). He was my source of motivation. Everything I did was to try to beat this guy. I lived to play against him, and I played my best ball against him. No matter what I threw at him, though, it seemed like he’d score 50 against me. His left leg belongs in the Smithsonian. And it wasn’t just offense. He was a great defender and rebounder, a great passer, a wonderful leader. He was phenomenal.”
Hakeem Olajuwon – Probably Jordan.
Bob Pettit – Bill Russell
“I think he’s the greatest player who ever walked on the court. There are a lot of guys you could say that about, but in my mind, I would start my team with Bill. In his prime, he was the best I’ve ever seen. He had a great desire to win and to destroy you. And his defense and his rebounding – his defense was incredible. They say [with 11 championship rings] he’s the great winner of all time. Why don’t they just say he’s the greatest player of all time? That’s what the game is about.”
George Gervin – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In a recent interview of Bill Simmons, Gervin claimed Kareem is the greatest ever. Sadly, I could not find the video.
Ricky Barry – Maybe Wilt Chamberlain.
He thinks it is impossible to compare players of different positions, but thinks you have to start a team with the big men, that’s why he would choose Wilt.
“I keep hearing he’s the greatest and that upsets me. It’s not fair to other players. You can’t compare a 2-guard to a center. There are five different and distinct positions. He’s the greatest 2-guard I ever saw and the most exciting player.”
Out of the 21 legends, 11 (if you count Bird and Olajuwon) have Jordan as the greatest. Kareem ends up in second place with 4 votes. Third is Wilt Chamberlain with 2 (if you count Rick Barry) and Bill Russel fourth with 1. Other players were mentioned (like Lebron, Oscar, Magic, Kobe, Bird, West and Baylor), but not really voted as best ever.
Therefore, most legends seem to agree with fans that Jordan was the greatest ever.
If you find a legend’s opinion that is not here (specially by top 20 and 30 all time greats), please leave a comment and the link to the statement.
Walt Frazier (added in this post on 02/19/2016) – Wilt Chamberlain.
“If I had to pick a guy it would be Wilt Chamberlain, because if you look at his records, it’s hilarious, nobody will approach any of his records. So he would be my guy. Bill Russell would be behind him. A guy who is always overlooked is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the leading scorer in the history of the game. The skyhook is the most lethal weapon the game has ever seen, but when people talk about the greatest player he’s not even in the top five.”
Wilt Chamberlain (added here in 09/03/2016, thanks to a comment by reader Marcel Pilatti) – Meadowlark Lemon
“In one of the last interviews of his life, Wilt Chamberlain spoke of regrets, his history with women and the man he thought was the best basketball player of all time.Believe it or not, Meadowlark Lemon. ‘Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,’ Chamberlain said. ‘People would say it would be Dr. J or even (Michael) Jordan. For me it would be Meadowlark Lemon’.