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April 18, 2003

by Bill Hogan


What if I told you that Johnny Unitas was the best football player ever? What if I said that nobody was more capable of leading his team down the field on a Championship-winning drive? Would you agree? Maybe, maybe not.

How about this: Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player of all time. He could do it all like no other before or since. He's the man I'd want at the plate when the World Series is on the line. What do you say, am I right?


Here's another one: pound for pound, Sugar Ray Robinson was, is and always will be the world's greatest boxer.

Everything I've written up to this point – with the exception of the by-line and the title - is debatable. You can certainly make a great case for Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Joe Montana among dozens of other Hall of Fame football stars.

What about Ruth and Aaron and Williams and DiMaggio and Mantle and Koufax and Ryan and – need I go on?

Sugar Ray? They don't call Ali the Greatest for nothing. Did I forget about Marciano, Louis and Dempsey?

In barrooms, bedrooms, living rooms and bathrooms (what, you've never had the Montana or Marino debate standing in front of a urinal?) across the country, every day, the question of "who's the best ever" rages on – and there will never be a unanimous, definitive answer.

So for you sportsfans who insist that everything is either black or white; who can't sleep at night without some form of closure; who maintain that for every question there must be an absolute response, I say, stick to basketball.

When the NBA Championship is on the line and you have to pick one basketball player in the history of great basketball players to take the game-winning shot – it's Michael Jordan. Every time. No argument. End of discussion. How's that for closure.

MJ is the best basketball player ever. Not because he led the Bulls to six Championships – Bill Russell led the Celtics to 11. And not because he could seemingly score at will – Abdul-Jabbar has more career points, so does Karl Malone. (But I don't drive my car tapping the steering wheel while humming the words to the catchy jingle "I want to be like Kareem".)

Michael did so many things on a basketball court that were so amazing, so awe inspiring and so unutterable that play-by-play announcers finally came up with the word Jordanesque to describe his otherwise indescribable feats.

There goes my spell-checker. It wants me to change Jordanesque to either Jordanian, statuesque or Jordanaires. Apparently, my spell-checker thinks Jordanesque is a tall, shapely, country music quartet from Amman. The folks at Webster need to watch a little more basketball.

And not only does MJ have his own adverb, he has his own line of cologne. So even if I can't be like Mike, at least I can smell like Mike. Not to mention that me and Mike wear the same brand of underwear. I won't go into the whole boxers vs. briefs issue, let's just say they're Haines, and leave it at that.

I've owned my share of Air-Jordan high tops – even though I could never find a pair that didn't pinch my pinky toe. I've consumed a river of Gatorade without ever producing green or orange sweat (I don't think peeing yellow counts). And I've eaten so many Big Macs and fries that I'm considering filing a law suit. That guy must be one heck of a pitch man.

But more than that he was one heck of a basketball player. Fun to watch even when he was knocking my team out of the playoffs (time and again). These so-called experts who think his last two years with the struggling Wizards will somehow tarnish his legacy are nuts.

His whole career – his play on the court, his commercial appeal, his commitment to many charitable organizations - has been "nothing but net".

You can make a strong argument against Unitas, Mays and Robinson, but I think you'll have a hard time convincing me that Michael Jordan isn't the greatest basketball player of all time.

I don't really want to be like Mike, I'm pretty darn happy with who I am. But maybe, someday, I'll do something extraordinary. Something that can only be described as Jordanesque. That would be cool.


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