Basketball has been my favorite sport since childhood. Growing up in a racially diverse area by American standards, it was adorned by those black and often shunned by those white in favor of baseball. Although many of my younger years were spent playing in little league, I loathed it. Baseball just wasn’t engaging, but my mom forced me to play. Half of my neighborhood friends were black and they idolized NBA players. One of them who lived about 15 houses down the street from me was the son of a Harlem Globetrotter. I would often visit his house to play basketball since he had a hoop in his driveway. He was much better than me, and also bigger. I could give him some competition though. Following his older brother who had been a top scorer on the state championship team, he went on to play high school basketball.

My Big Brother and my mom’s close friends who also had a son my age enjoyed watching live sports. I was very lucky because they would take me to watch professional baseball and basketball games. Similar to playing little league baseball, I thought professional baseball games were boring and quickly lost my attention. An inning could last for more than 30 minutes and each game had nine of them, at least. I got bored watching basketball too – I was a kid and we were usually seated in the upper level where players were the size of action figures, but it was much more engaging. I can still remember my home team’s player names being called every time points were scored during a game and feeling sick when the 76ers were in-town forcing us to leave during the first quarter as Charles Barkley was at the free throw line. That was disappointing for my Big Brother because it wasn’t easy to attend an NBA game since the arena was 70 minutes away.

I really became a big NBA fan in the early 1990s’. My Dad and I would watch the games on TV, especially during the playoffs, and my Big Brother would buy me a pack of NBA trading cards each weekend. They were my holy grail. I would spend far more time reading, and trying to memorize, player details and statistics on the back of each card than on schoolwork. Tearing them open was always exhilarating. I would hope, pray and cross my fingers that it’d have an insert card of one of my favorite players, every time.

My favorite team was the home team, but it sucked year-after-year. My other favorite team was the Orlando Magic as soon as it had drafted Anfernee Hardaway, who was my favorite player. I’d try to watch all of my home team’s games on TV since they aired locally. On weekends and holidays, NBC would air double or tripleheaders. That’s when I got to see Anfernee play.

The Bulls were the best team, hands-down. When my teams weren’t playing the Bulls, I’d always root for the other team, the underdog. And I was always disappointed come the playoffs, except for that one game when the Suns had beat them in triple overtime. Triple overtime, we couldn’t believe it! I remember watching that game with my Dad in the kitchen on his 20” Magnavox TV. It had rabbit ears sitting atop since he didn’t have cable and the picture was a bit grainy but tolerable. The Bulls played some really good teams over the coming years. The Knicks and Pacers were both formidable opponents. Tough teams with solid, all-around games. But the 1996-1997’ and 1997-1998 Jazz teams were the best of them. Whereas other teams might have got to the championship series being the top team in the Western Conference, those Jazz teams belonged there. They were the second best team in the league.

Looking at the series’ records alone, doesn’t do that rivalry any justice. The Bulls beat the Jazz in Game 6 each year, but not without a showdown. The Jazz looked to Malone, like the Bulls did to Jordan, as its leader. For a 6’9’’ power forward – emphasis on “power”, Malone had a deadly turn-around, fade away jump shot. Assisted by Stockton and surrounded by scorers, the Jazz’s offensive strategy gave them the ability to spread the floor. Malone and Jordan would hit strings of back-to-back shots that kept their teams in contention. Only a basket or two separated the score into the final minutes. Had Jordan missed just one key shot down the stretch in a pivotal game, the Jazz could have won. Rather than the Jazz fouling to stop the clock, leave the free throws to chance and get possession, it would have been the Bulls fighting desperately for the win. I rooted for the Jazz to win the 97’ NBA Finals. After Game 4, the series was tied 2-2, each team won its home games. But the Bulls took Game 5 in Utah by just two points and then closed out the series at home to win their 5th title. I couldn’t root against that team anymore. I already knew Michael Jordan’s Bulls were a great team, but it had finally gained my endorsement. The following year, I had even won a Gatorade promotion by guessing it would win the 1998 NBA title in six games.

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. There’s no competition. His determination to be the best at his craft, and his ability to execute during game time, overcome adversity and win is unmatched. Most of us can only dream of being a professional basketball player. Many more people don’t even like basketball. But everyone should be able to respect a person who pursues greatness at their profession and admire the few who achieve it.

Two episodes remain in The Last Dance, the documentary about Michael Jordan’s career and the Chicago Bulls. It’s interesting to watch, just to hear the backstories that I hadn’t heard before but for those who followed Michael Jordan during his playing days already knew the gist of it. People will argue that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James is the greatest basketball player of all time and then likely cite their statistics. Sure, Kareem was a dominant force over two decades, Kobe was a lights-out scorer during his prime and Lebron is athletically gifted for his size; but, Kareem’s Lakers were beatable, Kobe was historically ineffective and benefited from the post-Jordan era when the NBA was losing popularity and Lebron is soft. Statistics and accolades aside, I believe Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time because he earned my respect.

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