Who is the most dominant athlete in the history of sports? This question is more or less impossible to answer because of the tremendous range of accomplishment and competition across everything that we consider to be sport. In a recent article, one writer for The Collegian said that Tiger Woods, if he won the 2009 Masters, "would establish himself as the most dominant athlete in any sport. Ever." He went on to give his reasons, and even though I initially disagreed with his statement, I was actually very impressed with his article and respected his arguments.
But I still disagree with the idea that Tiger Woods is the most dominant athlete ever. I could talk about the accomplishments and tremendous versatility of Jim Thorpe, who won two gold medals in addition to playing football, basketball and baseball professionally. But that was a different era. I could talk about Wayne Gretzky, but I am not a big hockey guy, so I'll leave him to someone who knows more about the sport.
I have a few athletes who I could argue could be more dominant than Woods, but my area of expertise is the NBA so I'll keep my thoughts there.
The athlete is the obvious one, one who was mentioned in the previous article: Michael Jordan. Jordan was undoubtedly the best basketball player of all time, and anyone who says otherwise doesn't know anything about the NBA.
That's a very blunt statement, but that's how good Jordan was. Bird, Magic, Kareem and Wilt - none of them ever reached Jordan's level. Think about his accomplishments for a minute. Five MVPs, six championships with a finals MVP in each of those championship series and 10 scoring titles. Take a moment to take in those numbers.
Jordan led his team to six NBA titles, and if he hadn't ventured into baseball for two seasons during the mid-1990s, he probably would have won eight. Even more, if the Bulls' brass hadn't forced out Phil Jackson, no one knows how many they could have won. You have to write them down for the '99 championship (you can't honestly tell me the '99 Spurs team would have beaten Jordan's Bulls), and then the next couple of years of the Kobe/Shaq Lakers taking on those Bulls would have been epic.
What Jordan brought to a team was immeasurable. Sure, the numbers are staggering, but the attitude and the fact that if he decided they were going to win a game, the other team might as well have just quit then and there.
Then there's Kobe. Everyone loves to look at Kobe and hope he's as good as Jordan. But the idea that Kobe is surpassing Jordan is absolutely ridiculous for two reasons. First, Kobe averages five points fewer per game during his career than Jordan did. Yes, Kobe has won three championships and may be poised for one or two more. But for the three he actually has won, he was second fiddle to Shaq.
The columnist also mentioned the fact that Jordan had Scottie Pippen to help him and Jackson to coach him. Yes, Jackson is a great coach, and yes, Pippen is a top-50 player of all time.
But the pieces around Kobe were completely ignored. When he won his three championships, Kobe had Shaq. Kobe was the Pippen on those teams. There's a reason Shaq was finals MVP in all three championships. I'll say it again, Kobe had Shaq. And who was the coach of that team?
That's right, Jackson. Until Kobe wins championships as the main man, how can he even be considered to be at Jordan's level?
The previous column also mentioned LeBron James. No championships, no MVPs and only one scoring title. Call me when he's accomplished something other than being the youngest player to do something.
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The other thing that gets lost with Jordan is the way the game was officiated when he played. When you watch the NBA now, the defenders are put in defenseless positions because of the defensive rules that were instituted after the Pistons won the championship in 2004.
When Jordan played, a hand-check was a standard defensive procedure and a hard foul at the basket was expected. Have you ever seen a Charles Oakley foul from the early '90s? Even Chris Brown thinks they're rough. The fact is if Jordan played today, with the new rules that put the offensive players at an advantage, he would have brought about rule changes that would have made the NBA completely different from the game you see today.
Yes, he had help, but it's a team sport. That's the nature of the beast. You can't punish Jordan because he played a sport that involved teammates. Jordan is clearly the best player in the history of the NBA and is easily my pick for the most dominant player in the history of sports.
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