Don’t forget the trail of Michael Jordan’s fallen opponents and potential dynasties on their way to six NBA rings


Michael Jordan’s moving documentary “The Last Dance”, now completed, fulfilled his purpose: he brilliantly shone the idea that Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Whether LeBron James may or may not in the coming years further confuse this belief remains to be seen.

But let’s focus for a moment on another interesting reminder of Jordan’s greatness and its consequences for those who were on his way. Let’s go back to all those who have been unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with Jordan and have been diminished accordingly.

Call it the trace of Michael Jordan’s deaths.

Blow after blow. Buzzer-beater after buzzer-beater. Psychological victories, one after the other, the many potential dynasties killed and destroyed before they even materialize. All this was exposed in “The Last Dance”.

We’re going to start with perhaps the most significant victim in Jordan’s history.

Karl Malone

The Mailman’s career should be gilded with enough glory and grandeur that his name could be synonymous with players like Tim Duncan, Kobe, LeBron, Shaq, Magic, Russell, Bird and, yes, Mike. It’s not because Mike’s presence crushed that reality, erasing Malone not only from NBA championship history, but largely from his memory of ultimate heritage and greatness.

Malone rarely makes the cut by weighing the greatest players in NBA history, including our recent 15 best players of all time. I left it on my own list when I voted. I’ve struggled for so long, looking up and down at him, turning his career around this way, trying to fit him somewhere among these other giants of the game.

But Jordan had also done the job with me, degrading Malone so much by depriving him of a victory in one of their confrontations in the final.

Despite Malone’s superb CV.

He was a quintessential double player, one of 13 players in history to have won two or more. He is the second best scorer of all time and the eighth of all time in rebounds.

If Utah Jazz defeated the Chicago Bulls twice, Malone may be considered one of the top five players in history.

Jordan gave him an afterthought.

John Stockton

Malone’s partner in the crime also felt the urge to play against and lose to Jordan.

The resounding grain of Stockton, the taking of pictures and the absurd vision of the court obtained their legitimate moments in “The Last Dance”. As with Malone, landing a single ring would have made Stockton a level of memory and legacy worthy of his massive gifts and accomplishments.

Yes, as you probably know, Stockton is the all-time leader in gaming, having accumulated 15,806 dimes in a 19-year career. That’s a ridiculous number, and 3,715 more than the next closest guy, Jason Kidd.

But Stockton, whose modus operandi was to rely on others by creating for them, was also a great historic shooter. His 51.5% shooting percentage on the field during his career – 51.5%! – is the fourth highest scorer in NBA history, behind only Dave Twardzik, Maurice Cheeks and Magic Johnson.

And he did it for 19 seasons.

If Jazz had beaten the Bulls twice – or Jordan decided in high school to focus on baseball – perhaps Stockton takes Pippen’s place as the biggest underrated player in NBA history.

Or vying as the best playmaker of all time.

Gary Payton once told me that Stockton, not Jordan, was his most daunting defensive challenge in his career.

This notion of someone overtaking Jordan in any category of basketball, like all things that ran up against Mike’s greatness, is hard to believe all these years later.

Gary Payton

Speaking of GP, “The Glove” was one of the greatest defenders of all time, and his Seattle SuperSonics had a chance for their own sparkling moment.

But – there is a theme emerging here – Jordan has arrived.

Yes, Payton got his ring years later as an older but effective veteran player for the Miami Heat. But the stature of the Hall of Fame couldn’t go as far as it could have been.

Reggie miller

In “The Last Dance”, Miller is thoughtful, frank and raw about how he saw the Indiana Pacers team and himself when they pushed the Bulls to seven games in the Conference Conference finals ‘Is from 1998.

The Pacers, he believed, were a better team than the Bulls.

And Miller himself, he told us, was not afraid of Jordan, unlike most other players in the league.

Perhaps. The Pacers were a force, and Miller was a fearless Jordan racer and one of the best clutch shooters of all time – but all that was lost in the incredible final minutes of the conference final, devoured, of course, by the overwhelming power of Michael Jordan Will to win.

Larry Bird

“You b – h, f – you. “

These are Jordan’s starting words for Larry Bird after the Bulls defeated the Pacers in game seven in this series. They said jokingly with friends, but they surely summed up the rage that so many people felt by throwing everything they had against the Bulls and then, in the blink of an eye, finding that they had lost all the same.

The place of birds on this list is the most fascinating for me. Yes, he’s a great player of all time.

But if Jordan hadn’t beaten his Pacers team in 1998, he could now be tied or surpass Jerry West as the greatest basketball force of all time when you combine playing and playing careers. after play.

Yes, West is the architect behind the last five rings of the Los Angeles Lakers (he gets credit for Kobe all along), the man who repaired Memphis and a force to help shape the Golden State Warriors.

Still, if Bird had added a ring as a coach, coupled with the executive of the year award he would add more than a decade later, his place as a standard bearer for the greatness of the NBA. would have transcended his playing days.

No Jordan, and we’re talking about LeBron as the best player in the game and Bird as his most successful overall presence.

Patrick Ewing

In deference to fans of the New York Knicks and what has been unease from generation to generation, we will keep it brief: Ewing and his team have had photos of championships and all the residual benefits that ensue.

Instead, they mark one of the last times the Knicks have come close.

Isiah Thomas

Isiah struck a double blow here: he ran to Jordan on the field in 1991, when the Bulls ended the Detroit Pistons’ run and shot three laps. He also ran into politics that Jordan unleashed on him as a (and still) hated rival.

So no peat. No Dream Team. No warm embrace from an NBA community. And too often, no one remembers Isiah with the level of greatness he has gained.

Thomas told me recently that he was surprised by Jordan’s harsh words in “The Last Dance”.

What is not surprising is that, in retrospect, being on the way to Jordan ended up costing Thomas and those on that list in a way that was then difficult to understand.

Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen

These two were anything but enemies of Jordan, and they were clearly not diminished by their time with him. But the same interesting question applies: if Jordan had not crossed their path, where could they have ended up?

For Phil, it is hard to believe that he would have made the basketball coach jump in Puerto Rico and Canada to lead 11 NBA teams to the championships. Maybe in this alternate universe, Jerry Krause takes him to Chicago anyway, and Phil unlocks in Pippen an alpha leader who pushes the Bulls to greatness without Mike.


And then there is Pippen himself.

His route without Jordan would be fascinating to know. Super like never before? Champion? Wasted talent? Hall of Fame player who was great but never came close? Just a guy?

Impossible to know.

Here’s what’s not: those who ended up dressed in Jordan have found greatness, glory and their place in a part of NBA history that will last.

Those who were on the other side, in the end, were more often than not what they would have been otherwise.


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