Bulls

Michael Jordan: Comparing across eras 'unfair' in GOAT debate

Bulls

On Oct. 14, Cigar Aficionado released a one-hour, uncut interview with Michael Jordan, which was conducted for the publication's 25-year anniversary.

The first issue of Cigar Aficionado was printed in 1992, which makes the interview roughly three years old. Regardless, it set the internet ablaze to the tune of 1.2 million views (and counting) in just 12 days, despite some of its contents being fairly outdated.

Among a handful of evergreen bites, though, was Jordan's take on the nature of the GOAT debate across sports. This comes in a back-and-forth with interviewer Marvin Shanken, after Shanken posits that the debate for the greatest golfer of all time between Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus has been decided in the eyes of many. 

First of all, you're never gonna say, 'Who's the greatest of all time?' to me. I think that's more for PR and more for selling stories and getting hype. Jack and Tiger never played against each other. They never played in the same tournament, they never played with the same equipment, they never played with the same length of golf course. I never played against Wilt Chamberlain, I never played against Jerry West. To now say that one's greater than the other is being a little bit unfair...

This is one way you can judge the two: How much impact did each change or evolve the game? Jack during his time when he played or Tiger during his time. Now, obviously Jack won more during the time that he played. Tiger evolved it to where it crossed a lot of different boundaries, where it's not just a white guy's sport. Black guys, Afro-Americans, all the minorities played the game. And you play it at a level to where it generated so much interest financially that it grew the game from a financial standpoint.

Now does that constitute him being the greatest or does that mean that he's any less than Jack I think is unfair. Yeah, Jack has 18 majors and Tiger's got 14. And that's how people are judging certain things. I won six championships, Bill Russell won 11. Does that make Bill Russell better than me or make me better than him? No. Because we played in different eras. So when you try to equate who's the greatest of all time, it's an unfair parallel, it's an unfair choice... For me, I think they're both great. I would never say one is greater than the other.

Michael Jordan, Cigar Aficionado

Notice any parallels there? Jordan lays out a few, with the comparison to the conversation around him and Bill Russell the most compelling. But the recent swell in the basketball GOAT debate after LeBron James secured his fourth title with the Los Angeles Lakers is what makes the sentiment especially timely.

In the same interview, roughly 20 minutes prior, Jordan deflected a question about being voted the most popular athlete in American history, saying, "It's all [based] on who's watching now. If you ask 20 years from now, I'm pretty sure LeBron might beat me." 

"That's one thing my parents taught me very well," Jordan said in the build-up to that line, "don't wear your reputation, don't wear your accolades, don't wear your personality on your sleeve. Let it happen, let it be you, it is who you are, don't hide from it. But don't wear it and rub it in other people's faces."

 

Whether Jordan in his heart of hearts doesn't see the value in comparing his greatness to that of other basketball players, or he sees himself as the unquestioned GOAT, is almost immaterial. The framing grows his legend without him having to make his own case. As he noted, the conversation is a public relations game.

And Jordan has enough zealots in his corner that he doesn't have to campaign for himself. The summer of "The Last Dance" and a conveniently timed interview drop — three days after the Finals? After three years? — only add to their ranks.

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