Michael Jordan, for many fans, is the greatest player in NBA history. What he was able to achieve through the course of his legendary career is nearly unparalleled. Not only was Jordan widely successful as a player. He was also an icon that helped the NBA reach heights that it had never seen before. But there are two stars that MJ could never put himself above.
In an interview with Slam Magazine conducted in 1997, Jordan was asked about how he thinks he stacks up compared to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Jordan said that he considers himself an equal of theirs, but cannot put himself above them. The reason being that he never got to play them in their primes while being in his own prime.
“I don’t put myself above them. I think that we’re all on parallel ground here. You know, they educated me about a lot of things about the game, from a team standpoint. So I can’t put myself above. I mean, people try to, but we played in different eras. I had an opportunity to go against them, in the peak of their careers, while I was still young. And I went against them, when I was at the peak of mine, when they was on the other end. So it was a passing of trends there, and we never had the opportunity to play against each other in peak years. You know, so it’s hard to say that I’m above them, by no means. I like to consider myself parallel to them.”
Both Bird and Magic did play Michael Jordan in playoff scenarios. In fact, Bird is 6-0 against MJ in the playoffs. When Jordan dropped 63 points on the Celtics, Bird said that it was god disguised as Michael Jordan playing against them. As for Magic, he was the player Jordan had to beat in order to win his first NBA championship. Jordan has also mentioned Johnson in his all-time perfect team.
Jordan became the face of the NBA in the late 80s and early 90s. The era prior to his arrival had been dominated by Bird and Johnson; 2 young superstars who represented two of the most historic NBA franchises, the Celtics and the Lakers respectively. And while Jordan would surpass them in accolades, he could never bring himself to say that he is better than them.