The National Basketball Association has taken a tough blow in the past two years. First Magic. Then Larry. And now Michael. In 1990, the league had three people that have at one time or another been called the greatest player ever.
Not the best player in the league. Not even the best player of the decade. But the best there ever was. Numero Uno. The Man. The John Lennon of the hard courts. The Babe Ruth of hoops. In my short time as a sports junkie, I can't think of another league that can equal this feat.
The National Hockey League is certainly the closest. You have Gretzky, Lemieux and then take your pick. Maybe Bourque. Patrick Roy some might argue. Outside of Boston, Gretzky is considered the best ever. He has transcended the game.
Despite his injuries, Lemieux is at most half a forecheck behind the Great One. But Bourque, (sorry Boston) though the best defender of this generation, wouldn't get any serious consideration as the best ever. Neither would Roy. These two aren't even the best of their decade.
The National Football League has Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice. You could throw in Marino or Walter Payton. Certainly viable options.
But it's hard to call any one football player the best ever. The nature of the game does not lend itself to that sort of generalization. Montana may be the best quarterback ever. Marino is certainly one of the best drop back passers the game has ever seen. But can it be argued that those men are better than the great defensive players of the sport, like Taylor, or Dick Butkus? The offensive and defensive games can't be properly compared. So how about Major League Baseball? Right now, there is a slew of young talent. Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, and many more. But the fact that they are all young prevents them from being serious considerations in this debate. In baseball, more than any other sport, longevity is extremely important. The sport is not as physically demanding, so players are expected to play for a long time.
These great ones then need a few more years before they reach the level of transcendental athlete in which Larry, Magic, and Michael reign supreme. Of course, many other great athletes have not been mentioned, but no single group have all played the sport in the prime of their great careers the way that Bird, Johnson and Jordan did.
The NBA has seen the end of an incredible era in its history--and possibly in the history of American sports. The league will survive. It always has, even in the dark days of the late seventies when drug use shook its foundations. But the NBA may never again house such greatness. Those of us who have grown up watching these three play won't soon forget the exhibition of inexplicable talent with which Larry, Michael and Magic graced the sports world.
It has left us at once rich with wonderful memories and hungry for more. We want to see these three play just one last time.