Best There Ever Was, Best There Ever Will Be
Michael Jordan headlines the greatest class in the history of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, to be inducted on Friday night in Springfield, Mass. We've really enjoyed all the excellent Jordan coverage leading up to the induction ceremony, whether it's been the smart and beautiful special editions produced by SLAM and ESPN Magazine, or countdowns of MJ's greatest moments, or our personal favorite, Sam Smith's detailed season-by-season descriptions of Jordan's Bulls career on Bulls.com.
Add that on top of definitive books like The Jordan Rules, Playing for Keeps, Blood on the Horns, When Nothing Else Matters, Jordan's own For the Love of the Game, and much, much more superlative prose through the years, and we're not sure we have anything else meaningful to say about his NBA years.
As an old guy, perhaps I'm more qualified to comment on his Carolina years. Let me just say that, during his sophomore and junior years, Jordan was downright awesome, one of the best college players ever, and don't let anyone ever tell you different. He had this rocker-step move, in which he would move his right foot over above his left, and then swing it back and drive right, in a manner that was so lightning-quick that not only was it impossible to stop, but also ACC refs initially whistled it for traveling because it seemed impossible to do legally. He would roam menacingly on D as a centerfielder, a devastating team defender, who once memorably blocked the shot of Virginia's 7-4 Ralph Sampson. The jaw-dropping athleticism, the ferocious competitiveness which fueled some incredible last-minute comebacks - all of the elements were there. I'm still bummed that N.C. was upset by Indiana in the 1984 NCAA Sweet Sixteen, because a Carolina-Georgetown matchup in 1984 had the chance to be one of the best ever.
In any event, we just wanted to tip our hats to the greatest basketball player we have ever seen, the greatest basketball player of all time, the greatest athlete of the 20th century, on the occasion of his induction into the Hall of Fame. As basketball fans, we are thrilled that we were able to experience his entire career from his first games at North Carolina in 1981 to the glorious final shot in 1998 (What's that you say? He played longer than that? Sorry, can't hear you.)
As the inscription on the statue outside the United Center reads:
"The Best There Ever Was, The Best There Ever Will Be".
You know, rationally, one could quibble with the idea of definitively extending MJ's preeminence indefinitely into the future, but tonight, you know what, it sounds pretty damn good to us. Thanks for the memories, Mike. Thanks for expanding our imagination of what's possible in this game we love.
As far as the two other all-time great players being inducted on Friday, I think that we expressed what we had to say about David Robinson pretty thoroughly in our post on Wednesday.
Regarding John Stockton, we simply offer what we think is possibly the greatest pass we've ever seen, from Game 4 of the 1997 Finals:
Utah trailed 73-72 with about a minute to go, Stock grabbed a rebound and had the testicular fortitude to immediately rifle a full-court one-handed pass which had a narrow window to travel over Michael Jordan, but not fly out of bounds. With the game on the line, Stockton pinpointed it right smack on Karl Malone's big mitt, fittingly, and the Jazz had a 74-73 lead and would soon tie the series 2-2.
At the :36 mark here, you get the play as it happened on NBC, with the natural angle that lets you see where MJ was, as well as hear the crowd noise and Marv's call, both of which increase the chill factor:
After the game, Jerry Sloan said: "John Stockton made some sensational plays. The pass he made is probably one you'll never forget in basketball. Because I don't know how he made it and got it past Pippen the way he did, and Karl being able to catch it."
Malone said: "I know you guys get tired of hearing all the Malone-Stockton stuff. But out of all the great passes John has thrown me, I'll remember this one for the rest of my life. It had to be the perfect pass."
Vision, guts, court awareness, accuracy, clutchiness - all on display. Maybe it's not the "best" pass in basketball history - that's more than a little hard to define, I'd say - but it is our favorite.
Enjoy the induction ceremony, and congratulations to Michael Jordan, John Stockton and David Robinson - three of the best basketball players we've ever seen - as well as to Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer.
Also on The Painted Area today:
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