It isn’t everyday that you can say that two athletes who arguably were the best ever to compete in their sport are celebrating birthdays. But you can say that about February 17th as that happens to be the birthday of Hall of Fame football star Jim Brown (born in 1936) and Hall of Fame basketball star Michael Jordan (born in 1963).
Though it has been 48 years since he last played in the NFL, just about anyone who was alive to watch him play still will insist that Brown is the best player ever to put on shoulder pads. His combination of power and speed were unlike anything that had previously been seen in the NFL and his domination of the league during his nine year career with the Cleveland Browns has never truly been matched. He won eight rushing titles in nine years and averaged 104 yards rushing per game for his entire career. His 12, 312 career rushing yards was a record that stood for 19 years and still ranks 9th in NFL history.
What is perhaps most extraordinary for Brown is that some have claimed that in addition to being the greatest football player of all-time, he may also have been one of the best lacrosse players ever. He was an All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse, scoring 43 goals in 10 games as a senior. He also was the leading scorer on the Syracuse basketball team as a sophomore and lettered in track.
It is hard to believe that it has been more than 30 years since Michael Jordan emerged on the scene as a basketball star at the University of North Carolina. He hit the shot that propelled UNC to the NCAA Championship during his freshman season of 1981-82 and two years later helped lead what was likely the finest collection of amateur basketball players in history to a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
In the NBA, Jordan eventually evolved into the best player of his generation and ultimately is considered by many as the best to ever play the game. He averaged more than 30 points per game for his entire 15 year career and won the scoring title 10 times.
Much like Brown, Jordan towered over the others in his era. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and it is likely they might have won more had he not missed nearly two years pursuing a career in major league baseball.
With Jordan turning 50 this year he has returned to the media spotlight with many remembering his greatness and even questioning how he would perform if still in the NBA at age 50. There has also been a lot of conversation about whether current stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are now threatening Jordan’s long-standing reign as the greatest player in NBA history.
Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion, but while Bryant, James and other stars of today are great players, none of them have been able to put a team on his back and carry them to a title (or six) in the manner Jordan did with the Bulls. In fact, James left Cleveland in part because he couldn’t quite carry the Cavaliers to a title as the lone star. Bryant won his first three titles playing second fiddle to Shaquille O’Neal before becoming the key performer on a team that has won two titles over the last 10 seasons.
As has been the case with Brown and others who played in by-gone eras, time will eventually move Jordan into a category of legend where comparisons with current players are no longer relevant. However, until that time comes, you can guarantee there will continue to be regular comparisons between “His Airness” and the top current stars.
In celebration of the birthdays of these two sports legends, I have assembled some youtube clips that highlight their greatness.
Happy Birthday to two all-time greats.