I am sitting in LAX waiting for my redeye. I have two hours and 67% phone charge to tell you why not Magic, not Duncan, not LeBron, Kareem or Wilt, but Michael Jordan, is the greatest NBA player of all-time. I have limited ability to access Advanced Stats due to working on my phone, so I will have to go off the top of my head for some stuff.
First - Michael was always the best player on his team. LeBron is 30, but everyone else in the top 6 had stretches where someone else on the team was the better player. Michael always carried his team. How do I know that? He had 6 titles and 6 finals MVPs. He scored 63. The Pistons double, triple, quadruple teamed him. Once he got a coach and enough around him - look whose reigns ended: the Pistons, the Celtics, Magic Johnson And who never got to the top due to Michael - clearly Barkley. Shaq as a Magic got to the Finals through #45 Michael's club. Once Michael was back as #23 the Magic never got a sniff. He beat Magic, Drexler, Barkley, Payton and Kemp, and Stockton and Malone twice.
It was said that Michael won because he wanted it more. I prefer to believe Jeff Van Gundy who said "I coached a lot of guys who wanted it as much or more than Michael. Michael was just way, way better." The young Jordan was freakishly fast, could leap 40 inches, was 6'6" and built with long, lean features perfect for a basketball player. He moved differently than the other 9 guys on the floor.
One story - a young Kevin Garnett was just impossible to score on. 7 foot tall, fast as a deer, gasoline hose arms, played at 100 percent. Jordan was killing the Wolves one night at Target Center in 1996, 97 or 98 and the Wolves put Garnett on him. Jordan catches the ball at the three point line, foul line extended, left side. Garnett pushes way up and gets in a stance almost touching the ground. Jordan looks at him, takes one dribble and lays it in with his right hand on the left side. No contest.
Jordan regularly shot 50 percent. Jordan regularly had a usage rate around 35. So he was hogging it like there was no tomorrow and yet you couldn't stop him even 50 percent of the time. He had a season of like 32-8-8. Again, shooting a high percentage. Imagine how demoralizing that is to an opponent. You literally cannot stop the guy and he just goes and goes and goes.
From 1988 through 1998, Jordan was the best player in the league when he played. Some other guys were given the MVP, but it was more due to voter fatigue than anything else. Michael is #1 in career MVP shares at like 8.1. LeBron might get enough votes this year to pass Kareem's 6.2 for second. Now think about that - Michael got screwed out of the MVP 2-3 times. He STILL kills everyone else in MVP Award Shares. This is akin to going back to Wilt's 100 point game and finding out he had 14 points wrongfully disallowed.
Michael left the Bulls as 3x champs to (wink wink nod nod) "play baseball". Within a year and a half, the Bulls were a .500 team. They were going nowhere and Jordan returned as #45 for some number of games. (17 sticks in my mind). He finished 11th in the MVP race. Within 2 years the Bulls won 72 games. This, I suppose, should not be surprising since Michael once had an 11 Value Over Replacment season (multiply by 2.7 to get wins over replacement). He was worth 30 wins. Both statistically and literally.
Three seasons over 20 win shares. The last man to clear 21 win shares. Career WS/48 as a Bull was .277. Career. LeBron is .240 Plug in any amazing Win Shares number you want - 17, 19. He and Wilt are always at the top. He had two rather embarrassing seasons (for him) with the Wizards. They dropped his overall stats. Career WS/48 - still first. Career PER - still first. Career playoff Win Shares - still first. Career playoff points - same. Career PPG regular season. And playoffs. The best of anyone with any resume.
Jordan was the greates defensive guard I ever saw. Period. Garnett was great, Duncan great. Kirilenko great. Chris Paul, David Robinson, Hakeem, all great. Jordan was as good as any of the big guys, and he was a guard. Defensive player of the year. Basically invented the "chase down block". Find a montage of Michael's blocks. A young Michael appeared out of nowhere and was vicious. Any loose ball was his. No one could score regularly on Michael. And playing at that sick defensive level had absolutely no impact on his offensive effort or his offensive efficiency.
Examples of greatness - the belief of some that Scottie Pippen was a better player than Michael was quickly put to rest and Pippen sans Jordan is remembered for his inconvenient headache and his failures in Portland and Houston. Second - Kobe. Look, I despise Kobe but he has had a great career. I ranked him the 18th best player of all-time. I now want to vomit for bringing that up again, but.,,,,,moving on. Look at Kobe's stats and Jordan's stats. Go to basketball-reference.com and use their player comparison tool (use the full site not the mobile one). Jordan is significantly better than Kobe at every single important phase of the game. Look at their playoff stats. Jordan is the all-time greatest and Kobe is, well, not. I can SAY that Tim Tebow is the next Steve Young, that does not make it so.
Finally on this issue - LeBron. LeBron is the #4 player of all-time per my analysis. And I am WAY pro-LeBron. I would LIKE to say he is better than Jordan. Sorry, there is no comparison. Jordan is a better scorer, shot a higher percentage. Better Advanced Stats. Better in the playoffs. Better in Finals. Jordan is a better defender and maintained his defensive. greatness on a game by game basis. LeBron is bigger and heavier. It is not his fault that he was built that way, but it impacts his stamina and his ability to maintain the highest level of excellence as a defender. If LeBron passes Jordan on the playoff lists it will be because LeBron plays more games and more minutes.
This is not to say that LeBron sucks. He is the closest thing to a Magic-Jordan hybrid we have ever seen. Take Magic at his absolute, absolute best. Not as good as LeBron's best. LeBron has more 20-5-5 games and more 30-9-7 games. He is more reliably an "all three stats" guy. He is great. But Jordan? Look at 30 and 40 point games. Look at shooting percentage, look at defensive win shares on a yearly basis. There just aren't many guards who ever have 5 DWS seasons. Jordan did.
He went to the Finals 6 times. Won 6. MVP 6. I am sure, without even looking that he was the Bulls' top scorer in all 6. No one else can say that. Who are the supposed great winners since Mikan? Russell ? I think he was generally 4th or so in Celtics scoring. Wilt? 2 for 7. Kareem? 1 for 2 pre-Magic. Magic? Had Kareem. Worthy won an MVP. Duncan? Nope. LeBron beat him and other Spurs have won MVP and scored more. Bird? 1981 MVP was Cornbread Maxwell. Shaq and Kobe? Shaq had 1995, 2004 as losses. Kobe can add in 2008. Shaq had 3 straight Jordans but not 6.
LeBron - had been the best guy and top scorer 5 times but only won twice.
When you add it all up, Jordan was the best. The guys with an argument are Wilt (Jordan didn't score 50 a night with 27 boards, have a 20-20-20 game or lead the league in assists just on a bet. Jordan did not defeat Magic when Magic had the Showtime Lakers while Wilt did beat both Russell at his peak in 1967 and Kareem at his peak in 1972) And Kareem (has 6 titles and had a ton of MVP awards and played longer. Holds the all-time season mark for WS at 25.4).
But Wilt and Kareem both had moments they'd rather forget at key times (Wilt with the bad knee in Game 7 and the loss to a crippled Willis Reed - Kareem getting toasted by Moses Malone in 1981 and 1983 and, if I recall correctly, begging out of a game of the 1983 sweep due to "migraines" which most believed could have been cured had all players named Moses been suspended for the series). Jordan has playoff failures as a younger man, but none that stand as a scar on an otherwise stellar career.
I don't believe the 1990s Bulls were the greatest team of all-time, but I do believe that Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all time.