As LeBron is crowned, a retrospect on No. 23

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Valentine’s Day three months ago at the sprawling and expansive Asturias farm of Frederic Chiongbian, seated around the dining table were Chris Aldeguer, Meyrick Jacalan, Frederic and myself. We debated. The topic? Who, among the billions of earthlings who have inhabited this planet, is the greatest athlete of all time.

“Lance Armstrong!” I said. As rapid as our Pambansang Kamao’s left punch, my trio of friends—all ardent bikers and devotees of Lance—quickly shot down my proposal and, in unanimous decision, echoed with one answer: No. 23.

I soon retreated. And concurred. It’s MJ. Think about it: In the 1990s decade and the 15 years that we’ve been blessed with his soaring presence dribbling that orange ball, weren’t those weeks and months the best in sports? Don’t those mental photos—of an identifiable black object flying inside the United Center skyline—bring back joyous memories?

Remember the tongue-wagging? The shiny scalp? Those baggy shorts? The Air Jordans? The diamond earring? Those dunks that slam. The red Chicago Bulls jersey with the most famous number in sports, 23? Remember those contests between Bird and Magic? The two Olympic gold rings? Space Jam? Best of all, remember the smile?

Looking back, has there ever been a smile as sunny as Jordan’s? Did you not, when he beamed from ear-to-ear, smile in return? Feel light-hearted and jovial when he curled his mouth and flashed his teeth?

I’ll answer for you: Yes. For that’s what I recall the most about Michael. He wasn’t only the best player ever to wear basketball shorts, he was also the one we liked most. The only athlete today whose charisma reminds me most of Jordan? Politics is his game and he’s the president of the United States.

Sure, MJ wasn’t perfect. No one is. That’s why we’re human. He gambled. He parted ways after 12 years with his wife, Juanita. He smoked cigars—not exactly the picture you’d want your 13-year-old to see of the most revered role model on earth. But, on the court, he’s incomparable.

Why all this MJ talk? Because, as the cliche goes, “better late than never.” And, when the Basketball Hall of Fame announced their top honoree last month (he’ll be inducted in September), I promised myself a retrospect on Michael Jeffrey Jordan. So this is it. Also, when word leaked out last week that LeBron James is this season’s MVP, thoughts of Jordan—a five-time MVP—dribbled back.

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To put in proper scope his achievements, here are some astonishing MJ numbers: 10 scoring titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards, 10 All-NBA First Team designations, 9 All-Defensive First Team honors, 14 NBA All-Star Game appearances and 3 All-Star MVPs, three steals titles, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA record for averaging 33.4 PPG in the playoffs. And, here’s one more: MJ’s regular season scoring average of 30.12 PPG is an NBA record, narrowly beating Wilt Chamberlain’s 30.07.

Above all, Jordan achieved what LeBron is trying this year—an NBA title. Six times he led the Bulls to NBA rings and, once before that, a collegiate trophy when he led North Carolina.

Reminiscing back on MJ, what’s best in this Internet Age is this site called YouTube. When I typed his name, a staggering number of videos can be accessed: 97,600. In one hour, I relished clicking “Michael Jordan Top 10 Slam Dunks” (3.4 million hits), “Top 10 Amazing Michael Jordan” (5 million hits), and “Slam Dunk Contest vs. Dominique Wilkins.” I also viewed “MJ Shattering The Backboard” where, true enough, he flew over a hapless opponent, dunked and fragmented the board. No wonder he’s called His Airness.

Plus, when you talk of TV advertisements, two of my all-time favorites were Jordan’s: with Larry Bird in McDonald’s and the one named “Failure.”

And so, while Mr. James looks ahead to his first NBA trophy, I suggest we also reminisce. For, as Magic Johnson once said, “There’s Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.”

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