“The Last Dance” documentary series has shined new light on many different aspects of Michael Jordan. Many believe Jordan to be the greatest basketball player of all time and the series has done a great job backing that point. However, there are clearly two different versions of Michael Jordan between his two three-peats as Finals champion and MVP.
In Jordan’s previous shot at the film industry, “Space Jam” fans learned if the Looney Toons needed to win a basketball game against a team of aliens, Michael Jordan could be called upon. But now the question, which version of Jordan would earth send? A younger, more athletic Jordan with a thirst to prove himself? Or the wiser, more experienced Jordan we saw burning to take back the league that was once his?
In around the same number of minutes, Michael Jordan averaged more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the regular seasons of his first 3-peat with the Chicago Bulls, while also shooting a better percentage from the field. Even advanced statistics make the case that his first run was better, with some of the greatest single-season PER and VORP numbers of all time. The ‘eye test’ tells a similar story, with the best body control and high flying artistry the NBA has seen before or since. This is the ‘Air Jordan’ that everyone thinks back on today, the classic Jordan 1’s, the logic-defying dunks, and the killer will to prove himself as a winner.
However, in their second run, the Bulls as a team won more games, assembling what may have been the greatest team of all-time in the 95-96 season. Jordan was relying more on his skills than athleticism in this run, but despite his slight drop off, his numbers were relatively close to his original three-peat. Jordan showed signs of maturity and experience in these seasons by upping his trips to the free-throw line while bringing his turnover numbers down from previous seasons.
In Chicago’s first Finals’ runs the Bulls went against much more talented teams compared to their future competition. Jordan would have to run the gauntlet that was the Eastern Conference in the early 90s including loaded Cavalier teams, Ewing’s Knicks and the previous champion, Bad Boy Pistons. The Finals matchups were equally brutal. First, against a Laker’s team that had dominated the previous decade, Jordan averaged 31 points and 11 assists in his Finals debut. Jordan would then go on to dominate Clyde Drexler and his Portland Trailblazers after comparisons drawn between the two players. Jordan would go on to average 35.8 points on 52 percent from the field, to Drexler’s 24.8 points on just 40 percent. The crown jewel of Jordan’s first three-peat was the final series against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. Jordan put up 41 points a game against arguably the best team he would ever face in the finals. Jordan was the first player to score at least 30 point in every game of a Finals series in the three-point era.
In his second 3-peat run, Jordan ran into a bit more resistance while on his way to the Finals. In the final season of Jordan’s Bulls dynasty, the Indiana Pacers pushed them as far as they had ever been pushed, to a Game 7. Despite shooting poorly Jordan put up a near triple double to clinch a trip to what would be concluding Finals’ appearance. Obviously, the Bulls would go on to win that Finals, beating the Stockton/Malone Utah Jazz for the second straight year, but Jordan’s basic stats never quite reached the levels they did in the original Finals run. On top of that, Jordan’s efficiency in the finals had dropped as he started to age and the rest of the game caught up with him.
It’s almost common knowledge at this point that Jordan was at his best when he was trying to prove he was better than the rest of the league. He couldn’t be more driven than he was when he finally got his opportunity to make his name at the highest level of basketball, in the NBA Finals. The bigger mountain for Jordan to climb was to prove to himself that he could win. Jordan without a doubt came back into the league with a drive to re-prove himself as the best basketball player on the planet but his first three championship seasons are inarguably some of the greatest individual stretches the basketball world has ever seen.
Michael Jordan was always great, even the years before he was winning championships Jordan was terrifying the rest of the league and putting them on notice for what was to come. That being said, Michael Jordan reached his peak in his run between 1990-93.
“From Our Haus to Yours”