To say that reading your Ask Sam column was a breath of fresh air amidst the gloom and doom is an understatement. The silver lining (yes, perhaps this is a stretch) is that the absence of games will let you do a deep dive regarding subjects that you might not otherwise have time to address. So let's start with this: It's a difficult task to project how a player of one era would perform in another. I don't think anyone would dispute that Michael Jordan would still be great in today's game (I personally still believe he's the best player of all time, although in general I prefer talking about the best players generally, rather than a handful in particular – it's so hard to compare with different positions, eras, etc.). Could you assess Michael's strengths and weaknesses in today's game and how you think he might have adapted and fared?
I'm trying to do my very small part, so I'll continue a few times a week if there's enough interest. I guess we could do those Jordan anniversaries of his greatest games pretty much every day, and I believe bulls.com will be adding some features so you can watch those games. Some also will be on NBCSports. You've stumbled upon the correct historic balance since it probably is unfair and unrealistic—despite our demand to know who's best right now!—that it's too difficult to cross over eras for comparison. Could Michael have done that when Wilt and then Kareem were dominating? Coaches then demanded you throw the ball into the post first, and it was pretty crowded in there. Heck, what would have happened if the Bulls had Kareem when Michael was drafted? Getting that many shots? Oscar Robertson got all those shots because his center as Wayne Embry. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were playing with LeRoy Ellis and then Darrell Imhoff. Baylor started to decline seriously from knee injuries when Wilt came. I wrote an oral history/narrative book a few years back called There is No Next. I was pleased Phil Jackson distributed it as his travel book to Knicks players if they wanted to understand Jordan. Though Carmelo may have burned it. The point of the title was less that no one could ever play as well, but that Jordan in addition to his fabulous abilities changed society as well as basketball. There was the shoes, the look, the shaved head, the oxymoron long shorts, the earrings. Things that may have been revolutionary became accepted and commonplace because of Jordan's endorsement. No athlete ever has had that effect. His basketball abilities and success became that American success story we always like to celebrate, kid from humble beginnings to excellence through his hard work, skills and knowledge. Jordan would succeed in any era. Would he have exceeded Wilt at the time? Probably not because of the insistence then on post play, which by the way many believe has been ignored much too much in the current rush to play based on spread sheets rather than individual abilities. No, I'm not a fan of the way many teams play these days. Though perhaps it could have been Jordan if Jordan back then had the smartest general manager, Red Auerbach, who built the team of all time without a dominant post center but with a game that was timeless, featuring speed, great defense and good shooting. Well, OK shooting. It wasn't invented with the Warriors in 2015 as much as the Celtics in 1956. Anyway, what separated Jordan, and really does the few who stand above the rest, is the intangibles, the skill, and the will. I always believed Chris Webber was more skilled than Jordan, that Webber could take the ball off the backboard with his size, dribble full court and finish and had a pretty good outside shot ability. He just didn't compete that seriously. Of course, anyone needs the basic skills. But what truly elevated Jordan was that relentless will not to be defeated, to take every challenge personally and to play at a feverish level from practice to the last moments. And rue the losses more than reveling in the wins. If Jordan were playing today, he would have improved his three-point shot to the 40 percent level.
Though even as the game in the late 1990s was adapting more to the three-point shot, Jordan showed the impact the mid-range game could have with forceful defense and patterned play in the triangle as the Bulls led the league in scoring in 1996 and 1997 without much of a three-point game. I believe Jordan today would find a way to change the thinking that playing through the post, like through him, forcing contact, getting to the line and pushing the ball still would produce effective offense without the excess of three-point shots. If the rules erasing perimeter contact remained the way they are, he would get 15 free throws a game. Or if applied in his era, Bill Laimbeer would have been in prison. There were always players who could shoot better, jump higher, pass better or run faster than Jordan. He wasn't even the best defender on his team. But Jordan in his prime would be the best player in today's game because he combined all those skills with a determination never to let time on the clock go by without trying harder than the other guy. That's also what makes you the best.