The Biggest Myth In NBA History; Michael Jordan Played Against Better Competition In Better Era

Photo Credit: Jason H. Smith / Flickr Creative Commons

The Biggest Myth In NBA History; Michael Jordan Played Against Better Competition In Better Era 


Obviously, Michael Jordan is an all-time great player in NBA history. His career speaks for itself, but due to the period of time he played, and the continued globalization of the NBA during a time when he was basically bigger than the league itself, there are certain myths that became widely accepted when looking back at his career. One of those is that he’s vastly superior to others because he played in a better and more competitive era of basketball, when in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s look at some facts.



Firstly, Jordan played (and mostly won) championships during an expansion era of the league. Yes, believe it or not, Michael Jordan played during an era where the league was still trying to find its own identity and incorporate different cities of America into the league. Because of this, Jordan played against some of the worst competition the league has ever seen, owning some of the worst records in NBA history that still stand today. During his career, 6 sub .500 teams were added to the league, which in turn, diluted an already inferior talent pool within the early stages of the league development.



As we’ve already established, the league was still discovering itself and developing during MJ’s career, and as a part of that development, league rules were also a central part of that change. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, but before you start yell “hand checking, hand checking”, keep in mind, Jordan played during a time where the illegal defense rule existed. This is massive because hand checking is really nothing in comparison. The magnitude of the rule doesn’t compare to the significance of the illegal defense. Without the ability to play a zone defense or anything close to it, defensive schemes were less elaborate and teams were unable to send or even show multiple bodies at stars. Can you imagine a league nowadays in which superstars were left with single man coverages? That was the reality. Can you imagine players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant etc being able to basically go one-on-one with a defender who has been left there on an island with no hope in stopping them? It’s crazy when you think about that now in that light. Can you imagine some of the numbers the more modern superstars could have put up with that luxury.
Since the rule was implemented, players such as Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Carmelo Anthony have all stated if they had to change one rule in the NBA, it would be eliminating the zone defense, which would enable them to be able to fully showcase their offensive talent one-on-one with a defender. MJ had that particular luxury that other scorers didn’t. Another notable rule change is the “best of 5” instead of the “best of 7” playoff series we are accustomed to today. Furthermore, other rule changes include the three-point line being a whole foot closer to the basket for a duration of time. As Jordan was being defeated and beat up by the Bad Boy Pistons, the league looked at and started to implement the punishment for over physical fouls and plays in general, which aided Jordan’s game. This is why when asked about Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin once said “Just remember (Michael), when you played, they changed the rules to make it easier for you to dominate…when I played, they changed the rules to make it harder for me”.



You’d think that if the assumption Jordan played in a better era the numbers would back that up, right? Well they in fact do the opposite. Major stats taken across the board for the duration of his career indicate that Jordan did in fact play in an inferior era to today’s game. The overall Points Per game average was higher despite the fast-paced, more possessions per game we experience today. The Field Goals Made per game was higher, Field Goals attempted across the board were higher on average again despite the supreme pace we see night in and night out nowadays. The overall Field Goal Percentage was also higher. All in all, saving you some reading time, advanced stats are also not favorable. Not to mention basically everything that has to do with outside shooting, the three-point line and overall efficiency being better today.



This is obvious, but simply put – individual and overall defense were less advanced when Jordan played. I often hear people claiming Jordan “would average 50 in this era”, but let’s be real, he wouldn’t average 50 (no one could do that), and even if he did average a high points per game average, it would be down to the increased pace and more possessions, not because the defenses or defensive players are worse now, because they’re not.
Defensive schemes were extremely simplistic compared to the modern NBA era, and as we’ve established, the rules during this period were a major factor. Defensive knowledge and implementation was significantly worse, with teams not really taking away what other teams or stars liked to do on any given night. Double-teaming, triple-teaming and trapping were non-existent, play calls were less elaborate, timeouts were used less effectively, and the entire tactical side of the game was worlds away from what it is now. The game was definitely more physical but being more physical does in no way shape or form mean the defense was better, because it wasn’t.



It’s no secret Jordan destroyed the competition, but it’s very interesting when they praise Jordan for dominating, but discredit today’s competition in comparison. It’s interesting because what people fail to realise is that Jordan played in the 90s version of the Golden State Warriors that we see tear apart the league today. Jordan’s Bulls were absolutely the equivalent in their era. Of course both teams were built and constructed differently, but their dominance and status were the same. Jordan played under the arguably the greatest coach we’ve ever seen in Phil Jackson, with one of the best two way players we’ve ever seen in Scottie Pippen who was an MVP caliber talent, a supreme bunch of role players who were specialist shooters in a time where there were much less than now in Steve Kerr, BJ Armstrong, Toni Kukoc, Craig Hodges and John Paxson, and the greatest rebounder and maybe defender ever in Dennis Rodman. This isn’t to mention other great pieces but you get the point – the overall competition was less and Jordan played in arguably the most dominant team the league has ever seen. Unlike other superstars, Jordan never faced a team in the playoffs or NBA Finals that had a better team or head coach than he did.



We’ve already spoken about competition, and the lack there of, but let’s go a little deeper with this. We live in the golden age of guards nowadays in the NBA, and when you really think about it, not only was the guard position not as strong during MJ’s career, the lack of competition and talent was awful in comparison. When Jordan retired, the Bulls won only two less games the next season, Scottie Pippen was arguably the MVP and the Bulls were a play or call away from going to another NBA Finals, all WITHOUT Jordan. This speaks volumes on both the lack of overall competition, and further evidence of how good and well-coached those Bulls teams were. If competition was as high as people perceive it was, it wouldn’t be possible to lose the best player in the game and remain nearly identical through the regular season as well as knocking on the door for another NBA Finals.

Jordan’s direct competition was also poor. If you think about the players that actually had to check him one-on-one, besides a couple of exceptions the resistance was minimal and laughable in hindsight. I mean, players like John Havlicek and Reggie Miller, really? One of Jordan’s most famous shots ever was over the Cavaliers’ Craig Elho. Elho himself said that moment made him more famous than anything he ever did on the floor and it’s true. Jordan went against Karl Malone and John Stockton in their later years yes, but neither of them were directly checking him, nor can anyone realistically name another person off the top of their head on that roster that was worth mentioning alongside Stockton and Malone. Jordan even went against Gary Payton (who is listed at 6”4’ but isn’t close to that), and Payton actually played him the best out of anyone before getting hurt.


I’m not saying Jordan played against no one, but the overall competition is definitely diluted and misjudged for that period of time. People forget that arguably the two greatest ever defenders actually played alongside Jordan instead of guarding him. He never had to put buckets on Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen when it matters most or when a ring was on the line, they were right there next to him in the same jersey. Furthermore, people claim the East is bad nowadays but have quickly forgotten how bad it was at times in those days as well. The 85/86 Bulls went 30-52 and made the playoffs, the 90-91 New York Knicks went 39-43 and made the playoffs, but the 15/16 Bulls go 40-42 missing out on the playoffs, just one of many comparisons that can be made during that time.

We haven’t even discussed the continued globalization of the league which increased the talent pool and competition across the world over time, especially with the European players. Or even dived into the ability and opportunity of generations to learn off the past and better the present.

All in all it’s actually systematically and fundamentally impossible for any professional sport to get worse over time. That’s not opinion that’s just science and the evolution of the game and professional sports in general. I believe it’s hard for the older generation of basketball “greats” to accept and understand, and it’s a reason why they’re quick to discredit and judge the modern NBA player, but it is what it is.

Michael Jordan is absolutely a basketball icon and will forever remain that way, but there are some myths that are alive and thought of as undeniable fact which shouldn’t be the case. This is one of them. The truth is, Michael Jordan played in a less advanced and developed time in basketball, and it’s ok to acknowledge it.

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7 Responses

  1. Keith P says:

    The article is COMPLETELY fallacious! You’re a clueless lil twit trying to tear down Jordan and an entire era just to prop up your own. #EpicFail

    I know everything about Michael Jordan’s career. Anytime you can muster up the balls to challenge me on this topic I will be more than happy to shred you a new @$$hole!

    Defenses were simplistic in Jordan’s era? Quadruple Facepalm!! Ever here of “The Jordan Rules?” Apparently not! Little boys should stay out of big boy conversations!

    [type this in youtube search]

    “The Jordan Rules Explained: How Michael Jordan Was Defended By The Pistons”

    They played “Zone Defenses” in Jordan’s era too yah jittabug! Yes it was illegal, but they rarely called it like they rarely call “carrying” in today’s era.

    [type this in youtube search]

    “Michael Jordan the greatest of all time vs Old School Real Defense”

    [fast forward to the 10.15 mark and watch with your own eyes! Then fast forward to the 19.54 mark and watch Jordan get double teamed w/o the ball. That was also illegal in Jordan’s era.]

    Truth is, there is more ISO basketball being played today than ever before!

    [type this in youtube search]

    “ISO ball only in Jordan’s era?? LeBron Went ISO 1 on 1 A Ridiculous TWENTY-ONE times!”

    I could post hundreds of these.

    Jordan would EASILY average 50 ppg in this creampuff era. Jordan averaged 37.1 ppg in only his 2nd full season in the NBA despite coming off a career threatening foot injury. Jordan would get the measly 7 more baskets a game had he played with all of today’s benefits and luxuries. [Note: Jordan proceeded to average 35 ppg the following year.]

    [type this in youtube search]

    “Inside The NBA |The Crew Discuss Hand-Checking”

    Competition wasn’t as high? Sextuple Facepalm!!

    Jordan’s competition by position…

    *Shooting Guards…*

    Clyde ‘The Glyde’ Drexler
    Mitch Richmond
    Reggie Miller
    Joe Dumars
    Chris Mullen
    Steve Smith ‘Smitty’
    Ron Harper
    Drazen Petrovic
    Derek Harper
    John Starks
    Jerry Stackhouse
    Isaiah Rider
    Latrell Sprewell
    Alan Houston
    Hersey Hawkins
    ‘Mad Max’ Vernon Maxwell
    Kendall Gill
    Doc Rivers
    Gerald Wilkins
    Rex Chapman
    Reggie Theus
    Paul Pressey

    ‘The Black Mamba’ Kobe Bryant
    ‘The Answer’ Allen Iverson
    Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway
    ‘T-Mac’ Tracy McGrady

    *Point Guards…*

    Magic Johnson
    ‘Zeke’ Isiah Thomas
    John Stockton
    Gary ‘The Glove’ Payton (DPOY)
    Mark Jackson
    Kevin Johnson
    Rod Strickland
    Dennis Johnson
    Terry Porter
    Sidney Moncrief (2x DPOY)
    Michael Cooper (DPOY)
    Alvin Robertson (DPOY)
    Chris Jackson [aka, Mahmoud Abdul Raouf]

    Jason Kidd
    Stephon ‘Starbury’ Marbury
    Steve ‘Franchise’ Francis
    Agent Zero’ Gilbert Arenas

    *Small Forwards…*

    Larry Bird ‘Larry Legend – The Hick from French Lick’
    ‘Big Game’ James Worthy
    ‘Dr J’ Julius Erving
    Dominique Wilkins ‘Human Highlight Reel’
    ‘The Worm’ Dennis Rodman (DPOY)
    Bernard King
    Grant Hill
    Adrian Dantley
    Sam Perkins
    Clifford Robinson
    Glenn Rice
    Detlef Shrempf
    Alex English
    Reggie Lewis
    Kenny ‘Sky’ Walker

    ‘The Truth’ Paul Pierce
    Ron Artest
    Rashard Lewis

    *Power Forwards*

    Kevin McHale
    Karl Malone
    Charles Barkley
    Chris Webber
    Kevin Garnett
    Shawn Kemp
    Rasheed Wallace
    Larry Nance
    Antonio McDyess
    Derrick Coleman
    Danny Manning
    Kevin Willis
    Horace Grant
    Antonio Davis
    Dale Davis
    Juwon Howard
    Chris Gatling
    Rick Mahorn
    Al Harrington
    Otis Thorpe
    Mychal Thompson
    Brian Grant
    Antoine Carr
    Wayman Tisdale
    Hot Rod Williams
    Terry Cummings
    Terry Mills
    Stromile Swift

    Tim Duncan
    Jermaine O’Neal
    Marcus Camby
    ‘Big Ben’ Wallace
    Kenyon Martin ‘K-Mart’
    Zach Randolph ‘Z-Bo’

    *Stretch Fours*

    Larry Bird
    Tom Chambers
    Danny Ferry
    Arvydas Sabonis (Center)
    Peja Stojakovic
    Clifford Robinson
    Hedo Turkoglu
    Tom Gugliotta
    Andrei Kirilenko ‘AK-47’
    Rashard Lewis
    Christian Laettner


    Kareem Abdul Jabbar
    Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon
    Patrick Ewing
    ‘The Admiral’ David Robinson
    Dikembe Mutombo
    Artis Gilmore
    Ralph Sampson
    Chief’ Robert Parish
    Brad Daugherty
    Alonzo Mourning
    Bill Lambier
    Manute Bol
    Shawn Bradley
    ‘The Dunkin Dutchman’ Rik Smits
    Vlade Divac
    Arvydas Sabonis
    Rony Seikaly
    Gheorghe Muresan
    Luc Longley
    Jamaal Magloire ‘Big Cat’
    Elden Campbell

    Mark Eaton
    Tree Rollins
    Benoit Benjamin
    Brad Miller
    Jack Sikma
    James Edwards
    Kevin Duckworth
    Bill Cartwright
    Darryl Dawkins
    Theo Ratliff
    Andrew Lang
    Roy Tarpley
    Olden Polynice
    Pervis Ellison
    Sam Bowie
    ‘Big Country’ Bryant Reeves

    Yao Ming
    Tyson Chandler

    • east says:

      Hard to take your comment seriously when you are listing players who were drafted the year before Jordan retired and guys who weren’t even starters as Jordan’s “competition.”

  2. E Jenkins says:

    This is one of the dumbest articles ever written.
    So many incorrect statements.

    The defensive points are all incorrect. The hand checking and the game being big man centered actually made it harder for a perimeter player to dominate in the Jordan era.

    The idiotic comparison of 3 teams over a 30 year span was a complete reach.
    Watch the actually games to see that the competition was much more difficult in the east from 80-96 than in the last 8 years.
    And that’s not even debatable.

    And Jordan, just like other stars were CONSISTENTLY doubled and tripled.
    So that was a lie.

    Also the game being played at a higher pace today and having less ppg and a lower fg percentage show that the skill level was higher previously.

    Also, today’s NBA is basically a copycat of the European game. A much more finesse and perimeter oriented game that makes it easier for guards and small forwards to score and dominate.

    The free flowing aspect given to today’s game is something that was not allowed BEFORE and guards like Jordan and Drexler would have had a much easier time getting to the cup today.

    This is obvious that you have just begun watching basketball in the last couple of years.

  3. Edward Gore says:

    I’m not an “expert” or anything close to anything like that, but I just think players are stronger {Built} these days than when Jordan played

  4. Niv says:

    At least during the regular season players still competed and games were not a rout like today where most games end in a rout and players get to “rest”…

  5. Chon says:

    i’m 50 and watched the games live back then and agree with you. We cherry pick highlights and make a whole case for the era. Even the physicality is a bit of a myth if you watch old YouTube game for games, not highlights. This is a good write-up. Keep the research up and get this out to more people!

  1. 15. February 2018

    […] I love you man, but I can’t permit you to come at LeBron sideways like that without a rebuttal! Just as you made reference to the reduced degree of difficulty in winning championships during Russell’s time, the NBA wasn’t nearly as competitive when Jordan played as it’s now become. […]

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