“Sometimes I dream that he is me… Like Mike, if I could be like Mike—I wanna be, I wanna be like Mike. Like Mike, if I could be like Mike…” went the theme song of a popular Gatorade commercial in the 90s featuring Michael “Air” Jordan.
As a young kid growing up in the mountains of Appalachia in eastern Kentucky with dreams of playing in the NBA, Michael Jordan was my idol and inspiration. His story motivated me and many kids like me in my small town.
He came from humble beginnings. He grew up in a small rural town in North Carolina, and he worked relentlessly hard to overcome many challenges so that he could become the best basketball player he could be.
His God-given talent and his hard work propelled him into the spotlight at the University of North Carolina and then in the NBA. His accomplishments on the basketball court, his competitive drive, his willingness to make numerous sacrifices to win and to be the best basketball player in the world, and both his individual and team accomplishments make him (in my humble, but accurate, opinion!) the greatest basketball player of all time! His name is synonymous with greatness!
Growing up in the 90s, I was glued to the TV each night to watch his Chicago Bulls play. The next day, on the dirt courts of my small community when I played by myself or with my friends, I would imitate Jordan’s fade away jump shot as I stuck out my tongue and pretended I played for the Chicago Bulls.
When I was a senior in high school, to help motivate me before each home game, I watched the entire “Michael Jordan Air time” documentary. Jordan inspired me so much I was deeply saddened and shocked when he retired the first time, and just as sad and shocked when he retired the second time after winning his sixth championship.
Even now, as a 41 year old man, years removed from my childhood dream to play in the NBA, I still find it hard to believe that Jordan retired from professional basketball. His game basketball skills were so great that many of us believed he would play the game forever.
With the release of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” many Michael Jordan fans similar to me are reliving that short window of their youth when Michael “Air” Jordan made all of us believe by his greatness that we could do anything on the basketball court and that we could play in the NBA, even if our games were barely above average. “The Last Dance” also raises the debates once again about “who is the greatest basketball player of all time?”
Many of today’s youth were not fortunate to follow Michael Jordan’s career. But most of us who were privileged to see him play during his prime never knew firsthand the depth of his greatness. We certainly never knew much about the many ways off the court Jordan led his Bulls teams, and until now we were clueless about the weight of his responsibility both on and off the court that he carried as he sought to lead the Bulls to two three-peats.
ESPN’s “The Last Dance” has given basketball fans a small glimpse into these things, a look which many basketball fans (including me) think both confirms and cements once and for all Michael Jordan’s place at the top of the basketball throne as “the” greatest basketball player of all time.
MJ’s greatness extends beyond statistics into the everyday rhythms of life. Both sports analysts and workers from diverse trades have said that there are people in many professions who want to be known as “the Michael Jordan” of what they do. Simply put, they want to be associated with greatness.
When it comes to basketball, ESPN’s “The Last Dance” makes us say “wow, was there anything Michael Jordan could not do on the basketball court?” This documentary has also given many hurting people inspiration and hope during this global pandemic.
This documentary reminds the human spirit that greatness is possible. It also reminds me how much I wish I could have seen him play in person when I was a kid and how much I wish I could have met him just once to tell him how much he inspired me and helped me (a country kid from eastern Kentucky) believe that it was possible to accomplish with hard work goals that would otherwise seem impossible.
To this day, I have never met Michael Jordan. Sadly, I likely never will.
However, on April 22, 1996, I did personally meet “THE” greatest of all time. I was introduced to Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. I responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ by faith and began my journey of faith as a Christian. I was later baptized that summer.
As I’ve been walking with Jesus and reading his word the past 24 years, I have come to see that Jesus’ greatness transcends even the greatness of Michael Jordan, and the greatness of anyone who has ever lived.
Jesus never hit a game winning shot, never jumped from the free-throw line to win the slam dunk contest, never won an NBA scoring title, never won either a league MVP, an All-Star MVP, or a finals MVP, never played in the NBA finals, never went undefeated in the NBA finals, never won six NBA titles, never led a team to beat the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons or the mighty Los Angelos Lakers, never had a pair of shoes named after him, and he will never be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Yet, Jesus Christ of Nazareth is “THE” greatest of all time because he conquered the power of sin, hell, and death (Rom. 1-8). Jesus is the eternal Son of God who became flesh to give sinners who believe in him eternal life (John 1:1-14; 3:16). Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead (Matt. 8:16; John 11:43-44). Jesus was “handed over for our transgressions and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26). Jesus died to justify sinners by faith, to reconcile them to God, and to deliver them from God’s wrath (Rom. 5:6-10).
Jesus disarms through his death on the cross and resurrection earthly and demonic rulers and authorities as he puts them to open shame and triumphs over them (Col. 2:15). Jesus through his cross and resurrection reconciles Jews and Gentiles to God and to one another into one new humanity (Eph. 2:11-22). Jesus will return again from heaven to earth a second time to conquer evil once and for all, to rescue his people from suffering, and to bring to culmination new creation in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 19:11-21; 21:1-22:21).
I firmly believe Michael Jordan is “the” greatest basketball player of all time without exception! He also continues to inspire me. When I see highlights of his games, the child in me and the basketball fan in me can only sit in silence and in awe as I watch and admire his basketball greatness.
I will be glued to the TV every Sunday night going forward with my “Air” Jordan shoes watching every episode of the “The Last Dance.” I will also watch reruns of the documentary when it becomes available, as I use them as opportunities to educate my son on Michael Jordan’s basketball greatness.
To the question, who is “the” greatest basketball player of all time? I emphatically answer: Michael “Air” Jordan. But to the question, who is “THE” greatest of all time? I more emphatically answer: Jesus Christ! And his last dance will occur at the end of history when he comes back a second time from heaven to earth to judge the living and the dead, to save his people from his wrath, to destroy the devil, sin, death, and the enemies of the people of God once and for all, to restore the entire creation, and to reign over it with his people forever. Come, Lord Jesus!