Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How the Jordan era transformed the NBA

The greatest.  That's how most fans and those involved with the NBA from 1984-1998 describe Michael Jordan.  His brilliant run in the 90's of 6 NBA Titles and 6 Finals MVP's set a new standard for superstars in the NBA.  But it wasn't just that he had a great run that changed the way people look at this league now.  It was how he acted along the way that had the most impact.

If you try and remember all of Jordan's great moments you'll certainly leave out some of the best ones.  He's most remembered for the "Flu Game," the shot on Craig Ehlo, hugging the Larry O'Brien trophy, and his dunk contest greatness.  But like most, I'm sure I left out some memorable moments.  But there's one image of Jordan that has had quite a lasting effect, and that's the one of the greatest hoisting 6 fingers in the air and screaming "Six!"

Those fingers reminded the world that he had led his Chicago Bulls team to 6 titles, not the most of all-time, but more than Jordan's peers from his era, Magic and Bird.  It was a signal that he had passed his rivals in terms of championship rings and thus set the standard that someone with more rings is better than any of his peers who have less.

Players with no championship rings who also played before Jordan's gesture were lauded as all-time greats without having the media and fans wondering aloud why they couldn't get a ring.  Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, and Dominique Wilkins do not have rings, and while they surely wish they had won one in their careers, it did not hinder their reputation as an All-Time great.

Nowadays, you always see players doing the finger hoisting just as Jordan did when The Finals ends as a way to show the world what your "Ring Count" is.  Even Jordan came out earlier this year with a statement about LeBron vs Kobe and that "If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it."  So, according to Jordan, comparing these 2 peers is simple.  Who has won more championships.

According to this line of thinking, Kobe is rewarded with 3 "rings" for being a part of the 2000-2002 Lakers 3-Peat where he played 2nd fiddle to the most dominating player of the 2000's in Shaquille O'Neal.  Don't get me wrong, Kobe was really good during that stretch, but the reason for the 3-Peat was the 3 time Finals MVP O'Neal who was averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds a game and owning the paint on both ends of the floor.

On the flip side, LeBron's career is worsened by taking the 06-07 Cavs to the finals before falling to the Spurs?  A 22 year old averaging 22-8-8 during 20 playoff games and leading a team whose 2nd best player was Zydrunas Ilgauskas?  Maybe Drew Gooden?  Larry Hughes?  Please.

LeBron's run in 06-07 is far and away more impressive than anything Kobe did in 00-02.  But it's all about the rings now, and you have to hoist more fingers than your rivals to have any argument that you are a better player.

But when you are not the "Guy" on a team, like Kobe was in 09-10, or LeBron was in 12-13, or Jordan was 6 times, you don't get to hoist fingers.  Dwyane Wade threw up his 3 fingers just last month after the Heat won their 2nd straight title, but he's a 15 points per game guy now that puts up negative plus/minus numbers.  I'm OK with him putting up 1 finger as he carried the Heat in 06, but you don't get to count these last 2.

Even if we allow Wade to use the 3-finger gesture to show his ring count, does that mean that he's not as good a player as Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, who have 4?  Because 4 beats 3 every time I look at it.  Wade is ahead of LeBron on the greatness scale?  I don't think so...

The Jordan 6 finger hoist was a sign of one thing, that 6 times I was the best player on the best team and I have now passed my rivals in terms of championship rings.  Let's make a rule, you can show your "Ring Count" on your fingers after the Finals, but only if you win Finals MVP.   Michael Jordan was the greatest.  Copying his gestures should be reserved for only the truly great.

It's a new era in the NBA now with the "Ring Count" being such a hot topic among sports debaters,  radio talk shows, and social media.  But let's agree to look at more of a bigger picture when it comes to comparing players careers, because accurately identifying greatness can't be done using simple math. 

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