MJ @ 50

michael_jordan_statue

Once a moment has passed, it’s gone forever, never to return.

There will never be another Ali, another Aretha, another Larry Bird, another James Brown, another Earth, Wind & Fire, another Magic, another Martin Luther King, Jr, another Oprah and there won’t be another Michael Jordan.

Michael Jeffrey Jordan turns 50 this Sunday (the 17th) and no one will ever come into the NBA with his pedigree because unlike Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis who won NCAA titles as freshmen and promptly turned pro, Jordan went back to school for TWO more years after doing so. And unlike Davis who was just on the 2012 gold medal winning Olympic team, Jordan was the star of the 1984 team.

Think of the Hall of Fame coaches he played for: Dean Smith at Carolina, Bobby Knight and Chuck Daly in the Olympics and of course, Phil Jackson with the Bulls. He helped Smith get his first NCAA title, Knight and Daly their Olympic championships and it’s safe (and fair) to say that he made Jackson’s illustrious NBA coaching career possible.

When Jordan entered the NBA, the talent was staggering – go back and look at the teams when he played and look at the all-time greats he played against – and he dominated from the moment he played his first game. And then he got better.

Michael Jordan changed the way the game was played, how players looked and played, how they wore their uniforms and how America viewed the NBA. And he did it not playing in either New York or Los Angeles, the nation’s two biggest cities and media centers. No, he did it from Chicago and laugh if you will, but I dare say that without Jordan’s blueprint for success from a Midwestern city, we may not know Oprah Winfrey today. Following in his footsteps, Peyton Manning later became the face of the NFL while playing in Indianapolis, Indiana of all places.

But, he didn’t do it alone. No, Jordan had the good fortune of entering the NBA at a time of transition after Magic and Bird “saved the league.” Cable TV was just beginning to boom and because WGN was a “superstation” available on over 90% of basic cable packages and offered almost every Bulls game, home and away that wasn’t on CBS’ national schedule, for the first time in sports history, a player’s games became a television series that everybody could see. Add in the blossoming of ESPN who repeated his highlights ad naseum after games and the undeniable appeal and power of NIKE and voila, “the age of Jordan” was upon us. Then, just as the Bulls were going for their first three-peat, NBC took over the league’s national TV package, the league created NBA Entertainment and Ahmad Rashad became Jordan’s personal mouthpiece in the media and both Magic and Bird exited the league.

Greatest of All-Time? Hard to say when you realize how difficult it is to compare players from different eras. And no one, not even Jordan, played against more Hall of Famers and great players at his position than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in their career and dominated as he did. But here’s what sets Jordan apart from everyone else: he hasn’t played in the league in 10 years and we’re still talking about him with awe, envy and downright reverence. And then there’s this simple irrefutable fact: no one, not Kobe, not LeBron, not Kevin Durant; no one, sells as many sneakers or inspires as many words and tributes as Michael Jeffrey Jordan does.

And none of them ever will.

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