With all the sports media focused lately on the Chicago Bulls documentary from the 1997-98 season, it got us thinking about Michael Jordan in historical context, especially in light of the recent over-glorification of Kobe Bryant.
Jordan may be the NBA’s greatest player of all time; we’re not here to comment on that right now. What we can do is look at his achievements in modern-day, sabermetric context, as we are wont to do in this space.
He led the league in scoring in 10 straight full seasons that he played, not counting the 1993-94 NBA season when he was playing minor-league baseball (and poorly at that, with a .556 OPS in Double-A ball) or the 1994-95 NBA season when he played just 17 games.
Jordan also topped the NBA in steals three times before his first retirement, while overall shooting 49.7 percent from the floor. If he hadn’t made his silly comeback with the Washington Wizards at age 38, Jordan would have finished with a shooting percentage over 50 percent.
He also finished first in postseason scoring average in 10 of the 13 playoff years he participated, which is impressive. Twice, Jordan also led postseason players in steals as well. He pulled off the unique feat of leading the league in scoring while also being named Defensive Player of the Year (1987-88). That’s a tough double to achieve.
But, where does he rank sabermetrically? Here are some highlights:
- No. 1 in all-time Player Efficiency Rating (27.91)
- No. 5 in all-time Win Shares (214.02)
- No. 1 in all-time WS per 48 minutes (.2505)
- No. 1 in all-time usage (33.26%)
It’s improbable anyone will be able to surpass Jordan’s overall status here, in truth. LeBron James is a close second in PER, third in WS, sixth in WS/48, and sixth in usage. That is just a comparative modern player for context, and James is pretty amazing.
(For overrated measurement, Bryant is 27th in PER, 19th in WS, 60th [!] in WS/48, and 3rd in usage. See the difference? Comparing the two players “favorably” is an insult to Jordan.)
Toss in five MVP awards (and we will see if those were deserved, eventually, in our NBA Tuesdays series), and Jordan generally is going to be viewed favorably in any comparison to any NBA player from any time period. He carried the load, and he did it more effectively and efficiently more than any other player ever.
It would be hard to argue that he isn’t the best player of all time in professional basketball history. Keep that in mind when you read the Jordan superlatives in the press coverage of The Last Dance—and compare the facts when people want to praise Bryant, too, undeservedly, as some successor to Jordan’s greatness.
Nothing could be further from the truth.