Michael Jordan is, without a doubt, one of the best NBA players in history. He joins a prestigious list of legendary men who came before him, like NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. The two legends once engaged in an infamous heated discussion, attempting to determine who was the GOAT. The question has remained unanswered for decades.
Jordan and Chamberlain played in different eras, and the experience was different for both of them. Chamberlain, the 7-foot-1 center from Philadelphia, may have the ultimate trump card to give fans and analysts reason to believe that he’s, in fact, the NBA’s GOAT.
The best NBA player of all time
One of Chamberlain’s most famous comebacks to Jordan was how the NBA made rules to make the game harder for him, while the NBA made rules to make the game easier for Jordan. Was there any truth to this claim?
Sports Illustrated created a list of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. Jordan took the top ranking, while Chamberlain came in at No. 3, surpassed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second spot. Chamberlain, who played in the NBA from 1959 to 1973, dominated the court and changed the game of professional basketball forever. Sports Illustrated refers to him as a “once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.”
He was a force to be reckoned with, taller and stronger than everyone that came up against him. When a University of Kansas reporter asked Chamberlain if Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time, he responded, “What would Michael Jordan do against me? He can’t jump as high as me. He couldn’t run as fast as I could.” He continued saying, “How is he going to guard me? What is Michael Jordan going to do against Wilt Chamberlain one-on-one? Nothing.”
Jordan, who became a household name was the face of NBA basketball. Everyone wanted to wear a pair of Air Jordan Nikes and “Be Like Mike.” When an interviewer asked Jordan if he cared about being called the greatest basketball player ever, he replied, “I don’t want it in a sense because I think it disrespects Wilt Chamberlain.”
Jordan humbly continued, saying, “If you asked me, I would never say I’m the greatest player, and that’s because I never played against all the people that represented the league prior to Michael Jordan.”
Did the NBA make the rules easier for Michael Jordan?
Chamberlain’s dominance on the court led to several rule changes. According to the NBA, in the early ’60s, they widened the free-throw lane and made changes involving inbounding the ball and offensive goaltending. They also banned dunking from the free-throw line, which Chamberlain mastered in high school. Chamberlain’s assessment of the rule changes making it harder for him were accurate.
For Jordan, the opposite was true, in that the NBA made some rule changes that made the game easier for him. In 1998, the league instituted a rule that said a defender couldn’t use his forearm to block an offensive player in the frontcourt. This changed the NBA’s center position in the game moving forward. In 2000, the rule changed to include no contact by defenders in the backcourt. The three-second rule was also instituted with the league explaining they wanted to “open up the game.”
Both Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain are legendary in their own right
Chamberlain holds 68 individual NBA records, several of which are considered unbreakable. He was the first player to score 100 points in one game, reports Crown Hoops. He had 23,924 career rebounds and grabbed 55 in one game. Playing 17 years with the Harlem Globetrotters, he became a 13-time NBA All-Star and wore two championship rings.
Jordan, the star of the Chicago Bulls, had six championship rings and five MVP awards. He played in 14 NBA All-Star games and 563 games where he scored over 30 points. He holds countless records, some of which include most points in a playoff game and leading the NBA 10 times in scoring. Forbes estimates his net worth to be $1.6 billion.
On a recent Reddit forum, numerous fans discussed who the best NBA player of all time is. Many said that Jordan is “still the greatest” with one fan saying “I’ve yet to hear anyone offer a reasonable explanation of why he isn’t.”
Fans responded by saying that only Chamberlain has “the kind of talent it takes to average 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds, as Wilt did in 1961-62.” Others disagreed saying, that during that period, Bill Russell was a better player because he “didn’t just chase stats. He won championships.”
Even though Chamberlain may have thought he was the GOAT, both of these men were legends on the court, and who is better may never truly be known.