ESPN's Top 100: Jordan

ESPN is just about the wrap up its SPORTSCENTURY TOP 100 LIST of the top North American athletes of the 20th century.

Needless to say, this is a perfect thing to debate on so many levels… but I want to go straight to the top. Should Michael Jordan be one of the Top 20 athletes of all time (my guess is he will end up in the top 5)?

Sure, he’s an excellent basketball player, probably the best and had a huge impact on basketball. However, his failure in baseball argues strongly against him being a top 5 athlete. With that in mind, should he be above people like Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, and Jim Thorpe, who excelled at more than just one sport?

Or do we ignore his baseball career when referring to Michael Jordan, one of the top 20 athletes of our time?

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

You’ve got to put Wayne Gretzky in the top 10.

A lot depends on the criteria they use. Is it longevity? Cultural impact? Does the popularity of the sport matter? (i.e. is the world’s best beach volleyball player a candidate?)

Jordan is a lock for the top 5, in my opinion. I have no clue on the order but I’m guessing the top 5 athletes will be something like Jordan, Gretzky, Ruth, Ali, and Thorpe.

Here’s the link:

I would place MJ right at #1, no doubt. There have been many athletes, but none who could completely dominate at will like he could. I don’t think the rankings are based on a all around athletic ability, but the excellence in their sport. If its all around ability then there should be a dozen tri-athletes and decathlete in the list.

Ali was great, but alot of his legend comes from his mouth, and the show. This is important, but it his success compared to his peers is lost because of his anitics. People remember the line more than the fights. Its one thing to be the best in an individual sport with little competition, and another to be easily the best in an entire league of atletes in a team sport.

Thorpe was jus more physically gifted than his peers. This is nice, but the average athlete in his day was smaller, slower and weaker than today. Being more genetically gifted doesn’t impress me to the point of being so skilled and giving an effert to overcome any shortcomings.

I, too, think Jordan and Ali will vie for the top two spots; but I think Ali will get the nod for #1. I’m no boxing fan, but from what I understand, Ali was the first athlete to not only be known, but actually revered, worldwide.

I read an Ali biography last year that told of how, in the 60s and 70s, one could go to villages and towns almost anywhere (Tibet, Mongolia, Africa, etc…) and everyone would know who he was. This in the days before 24 hour satellite information.

Maybe that doesn’t make him the greatest athlete, but I think his impact on a global level will get him picked #1.

MJ will take #1 and there is little room for debate. Not that some others aren’t better athletes, but when you combine the obvious accomplishments with the things that sway lists of this nature (how recently he played, his media-friendliness, public opinion, character issues, etc.), he is a lock.

Yer pal,

Satan, as you see I think he belongs at #1, but i am afraid he won’t get it. These lists in the sports world are notorious for slanting in favor of the past. I think that Ali because of his illness, and political impact will be the sentimental pick. Ruth because of the fact that his records are falling recently and his being a link to the distant past make him a popular pick for older purists. I think MJ will get shafted, but he deserves it in my mind.

I vote Ali. Ali had (and has) great personal integrity, was famous worldwide and dominated his sport. MJ is well on his way to being the next Bill Cosby – is there anything he won’t sell. Do you really need the money, Michael?

Frank, you may not be old enough to recall, but Ali schilled with the best of them, as did Ruth. Product spokesperson and sport have been married long before MJ. With 100 channels and magazines etc. MJ is just in you face at the moment. Through it all, MJ has maintained his charm, charisma, and is still the consumate positive role model for all cultures.

I believe MJ is every bit as popular and well known today as Ali was 20 years ago. His effect on his sport, however, has to be the greatest of any athlete ever. Boxing has been huge forever; Ali gave it some personality. Baseball was huge in the US, culminating in the Black Sox scandel. Ruth brought the American passtime back. Gretzky owns all of the offensive hockey records, but, come on, he played hockey. If you are talking world-wide knowledge, what about Pele? Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport world-wide. Why not it’s greatest player?

“The large print givith, and the small print taketh away.”
Tom Waites, “Step Right Up”

Back to my OP, since Jordan failed in baseball, should he be considered a top-5 athlete? Shouldn’t his actions in all sports be included when ranking him against other athletes?

Or do his basketball accomplishments and public image do enough to ignore that episode?

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

No the baseball has no relavence. First it isn’t a falure except in comparison to his basketbal success. How many people can walk into AA basball and hit .200 when they haven’t played ball in 20 years? Old dog new tricks et al. He was playing with men who have dedicated their entire life to baseball, and competed. While he likely wouldn’t have had the shot if he weren’t MJ, the fact he had any success is an acomplishment.

First notice that the list is of the top 100 North American atletes. Pele, while having a short unsuccessful stint in the US, doesn’t count.

And finally Soccer is not the worlds most popular sport, Auto racing is! Get it right.

Since most of the other top athletes most likely wouldn’t have excelled at any other sport, I don’t see why giving baseball a try would hurt Jordan’s standing.

Of course, if he didn’t, he may have won eight straight NBA championships (!) and this debate we’re having would probably be ‘Who will finish #2 behind Jordan?’ :slight_smile:

You brought up Bo and Deion, two great two-sport athletes, but ESPN has already ranked them, they were both in the #70s I believe, not high enough to get their own episode of SportsCentury.

I think the key, as others have implied, is not to take the word ‘athlete’ too literally. The list has seemed to focus not so much on their athleticism
, but their success and accomplishments.

dhanson said:

Actually, you’ve got to put Wayne Gretzky #1. The NBA has marketed its game much better than the NHL ever has, but there is absolutely no comparison in the impact of Gretzky on the game of hockey and his individual statistics.

Jordan had contemporaries whose skill level approached his own, even if distantly. Gretzky had none.

Of course, that’s just my opinion . . . But I know I’m right.

If the standard is the player who most dominated his sport, then Gretzky is #1 by a pretty wide margin. No one ever came close to his accomplishments. I’ve heard the comparison that a rookie would have had to come into professional baseball and proceed to hit 100 home runs every year for ten years, etc.

His impact on the sport was phenomenal. He was almost singlehandedly responsible for the growth of the NHL in the U.S. When he was traded to LA he created an industry.

However, if you’re considering overall impact on society, then Gretzky can’t be at the top, simply because Hockey is not that popular a sport. His accomplishments didn’t enter the public psyche like Babe Ruth, Ali, Jordan, etc.

I’d just like to know where Bobby Fisher fits into all of this? Why is his name listed on the athletes that make up the last group of 20?! As for my Numero Uno, it will probably wind up being either Ali or Gretzky. Neither one would be a bad choice.

Though I’m skeptical of any list compiled by the media. Case in point - Sammy Sosa was two votes short of a unanimous selection for NL MVP. The two disinters were reporters for St. Louis newspapers! How ignorant and arrogant! When it comes to hall of fame voting, what is to say a reporter would not move an athlete up or down on the ballot because he got to interview or was refused interviews with the athletes on the ballot? The UPI/Coaches poll in college fooball is not even the coaches, it is the sports info directors of the schools doing the voting! I think you should either be voted into your hall by your peers or you should set a standard, as in the LPGA - the toughest Hall to get into!

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’”
E A Poe

Bobby Fisher…what the hell are you smoking?

You should ask the folks at ESPN that question.

The list of the athletes that comprise the Top 20 was released to the media. Our local talk radio station received a copy & an hour of programming was dedicated to games you were good at as a kid! Bobby Fisher & chess - Athletic?! Give me a break! That’s just as bad as saying rythmic dancing is a sport!

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’”
E A Poe

I must be missing something. What in the top 100 athletes refers to chess or Bobby Fisher? I’ve watched all the ESPN coverage and can’t recall seeing any reference to him. When exactly was this program you’re talking about, and in what context was it related to the top 100 atletes?

I think it’s sad that the only two women in the Top 20 are Babe Didrikson and Martina Navratilova. No Jackie Joyner Kersee? No Billy Jean King?