HOUSTON – The No. 23 can be worn by many athletes in their respective sports but most would agree there was only one No. 23, and on this day he is turning 50.
Michael Jordan changed the landscape of professional sports. He was a phenomenal basketball player, but his sneakers and smile were equally well-known worldwide.
Ten years removed from playing in the NBA, Jordan’s legacy has not diminished, not one bit.
“The impact he has had on this league I mean he is immortal,” Kobe Bryant said. “Everything he has done from a business aspect to professionalism to work ethic to the global appeal of the game is something that carries on from generation to generation.”
Bryant has been compared to Jordan because he is a fierce competitor. He too has scored more then 30,000 points and won championships, though Bryant’s five are one less than Jordan's six. However, Michael was first and those who come after are trying only to measure up.
“Kobe has been remarkable in his career and is still doing it," Dominique Wilkins said. "LeBron James has raised his level of play and is probably the best player in the league right now, no question. But Michael Jordan is on a platform by himself. For me I don’t like comparisons but there will never be another Michael Jordan, there just won’t. I don’t care what anybody says but it just won’t happen.
“He is probably the biggest reason the league is where it is at right now. There is no question about that, it is not even debatable,” Wilkins continued. “He is the face of basketball in today’s world because you look at his imprint not just on basketball but the marketing side of the sport. The shoes, the commercials, you can’t talk about basketball shoes without talking about Michael Jordan.”
Anybody who played with or against Jordan has a story that epitomizes the fierce competitor that Michael was, let alone the talent that he embodied.
“I was playing for the New Jersey Nets and we were playing them in the playoffs,” said Sam Cassell, who is now an assistant coach in Washington for the Wizards. “And in Game 1 he had a not-so-Michael Jordan night. Game 2 he had another not-so Michael night, like 23 points which is not–so Michael Jordan night. In Game 3 he walked on the court and he is shaking everyone’s hand before the game and he comes up to me and says 'you all in trouble tonight.'
“And I didn’t know he meant the first quarter. He had 21 points in the first quarter and it was over right there,” Cassell remembered vividly. “It was tough that night but he gave me fair warning it was over. They swept us. He is the best ever.”
“The way he approached the game; the way he competed night in and night out,” said Mugsy Bogues, who played in the NBA from 1988-2001, many of the years Jordan was showing the world what greatness is.
“The class of that and the big moments he had and he never wavered from that,” he continued. “The way he conducted himself on the court and how he was able to accumulate all the accolades as an individual as well as putting a team on his shoulders and watching him through that era, you can really respect a guy for being able to stay on top for so long. There are a lot of mega stars out there to compete against but he was always on top.”
Doug Collins coached Jordan not once, but twice in his career. Collins we know is a passionate and intense man. Understandably, he related to those very qualities he saw in No. 23.
“It didn't take long,” Collins said when asked if he knew he was coaching one of the greatest of all time. “That guy devoured anything on the basketball court. He loved practice; he won every drill. He won every game; he won every scrimmage. It was funny we had some good three-point shooters and Michael after every practice challenged either Craig Hodges, John Paxson or BJ Armstrong, all the guys who can really shoot the ball.
“I mean failure was not an option for him,” Collins explained. “How many players would put themselves in the three-point shooting contest knowing that wasn't his thing. That’s why I say are you a selected competitor or do you compete at everything?”
Jordan competed at everything and he made sure the world knew it.
Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday is only 22 years old, which means he was just coming into the world when Jordan was winning his second of six NBA championships. But any student of the game from now to eternity will know the accomplishments of one Michael Jordan.
“Jordan is going to be known forever,” Holiday said. “I feel like the greatest games ever played; he was in those games. The greatest moments, the greatest game winners, the greatest dunk on others, the greatest moves, he pretty much is at the top of every category. He will be known by every basketball player always.”