ichael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Stephen Curry. What these 3 players have in common is not just a full trophy cabinet. The true similarity between these icons is their effect on the game of basketball. While Shaq dominated in a way that we have never seen before or since, there have been recent conversations spurring Steph Curry into the GOAT debate alongside Michael Jordan. At least, according to Kenyon Martin.
As Martin put it, the GOAT conversation needs to be shaped differently. “Think about it in those terms. Guys that changed the game of basketball.” During the NBA’s 77-year history, the two names that would rise above the others in this regard are Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry.
Michael Jordan’s individual statistics established a threshold for generations
The revised GOAT debate took place on former Washington Wizards player Gilbert Arenas’ podcast. When taking Kenyon Martin’s picks into consideration, the author stands with the viewpoint that both Jordan and Curry had changed the way that basketball was perceived. One dominated the game during the 90s and helped deliver six championships to the Chicago Bulls. The other has become the face of today’s basketball through his unparallel shooting ability and his dominant 4-ring run over the last decade.
When choosing one player from amongst the duo, however, the author will have to side with Michael Jordan.
His Airness set the ultimate benchmark for how high a basketball player’s ceiling can be. Other players had one skill set that made them stand out from all the others. Jordan, however, maintained the number 1 spot on both ends of the floor.
Over his 16-year NBA career, MJ averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Furthermore, he had achieved an average field goal percentage of 49.7%. On the other side of the ball, MJ tallied 2.3 steals and 0.8 blocks over his career. It was rare to see one individual mark his position onto so many areas of the court. From acrobatic drives and clutch mid-range jump shots to timely steals, Michael Jordan showcased a level of versatility that only a handful of players could come close to matching.
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Stephen Curry, on the other hand, has revolutionized basketball through his more-than-effective three pointers and remarkable ball handling skills. His assists surpass that of Jordan, with an average of 6.5 per game. When looking at his average of 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and field goal percentage of 47.5% however, one can form the conclusion that Curry has not had that high of an impact in expanding the meaning and scope of athletic achievement. His defense also dwarfs in comparison to Mike’s with a current average of 1.6 steals and 0.2 blocks.
Jordan’s marketability resulted in some alleged rule changes
During the above conversation, Kenyon Martin indirectly described the ‘impact’ that each player had in changing the game as not only having the best game but also the best marketing and likeability score behind them. When taking this point into consideration, Michael Jordan would still continue to wear the crown. Before his arrival, the NBA was mostly an American Pastime. Furthermore, the coverage of the same was more team centric.
Michael Jordan’s prime age arrived at the same time as the surge of globalization. Therefore, people around the world reportedly began to watch NBA games especially to catch a glimpse of His Airness. ESPN Newscaster Stephen A. Smith once claimed that Jordan’s impact on basketball was solely responsible for the NBA’s shift from team centric games to a single star-marketed game. This trend has continued to follow into today’s NBA as well, with players like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant being given more prominence than the other players.
Jordan’s marketability eventually started to have an impact on the NBA rules as well. According to an article by the Bleacher Report, the league reportedly started to search for the ‘next Michael Jordan’ after His Airness bid a farewell to his illustrious career. They could not, however, find much success with the current rules in hand. Therefore, the league reportedly started to implement rule changes between 1997 and 2005 that allegedly started to make the center position more ‘obsolete’.
CHICAGO, IL – MARCH 16: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during the game against the New Jersey Nets on March 16, 1998 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1998 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)© Provided by EssentiallySports
Stephen Curry continues to be one of the most prominent players of the modern era. However, his marketability level is nowhere on the same level as Jordan. This is in due part to the Golden State Warriors having a wide range of players that also excel from deep. Furthermore, there have reportedly been no indications that Stephen Curry’s presence has, in any way, caused the NBA to bring about a change in their rules.
However, is something like the 4-point shot was to be introduced into the league, perhaps this point of conversation would change. At the same time, it’s very clear that Curry, much like Jordan, has affected what greatness on the hardwood looks like. Since the Chef‘s first MVP season, the NBA has seen a clear surge in 3-point attempts, with an increasing amount of offensive plays seeing 4-out on the 3-point line.
Michael Jordan’s individual statistics and his overall contribution to the sport convinces the author that Michael Jordan has brought about a more effective change to basketball. While Stephen Curry is amongst the best that the modern NBA has to offer, it is hard to break the barrier when the bar has been set that high.