Last Dance Doc: Was Bob Knight First To Call Jordan GOAT?


In 2020, most basketball aficionados and fans, hardcore and casual alike, consider ‘Michael Jeffery Jordan’ (as Skip Bayless says it), the greatest of all time. And as popular as the late Kobe Bryant was, and as popular as Steph Curry and Lebron James are (and they’re household names the world over), Jordan’s been really the only one to transcend basketball, managing to gain more popularity and notoriety than even the greatest football (soccer) players of all time. Remarkable, when you consider how much more watched football is compared to basketball, worldwide. (Yes, even I have to concede this about Jordan, despite being more a fan of ‘the beautiful game.’)

The exceptions to the general sentiment, that Jordan is basketball’s ‘GOAT’, largely come from the most ardent Kobe Bryant fan, and the average Lebron James fan. Kobe has largely been pushed to the background of this debate by a media seemingly obsessed with fashioning out of wood, a Lebron James idol set to replace the golden bull they helped mold all those years ago.

Of course the ‘GOAT’ debates have been waged ad nauseum on shows like Skip and Shannon Undisputed, and ESPN First Take; and so far they’ve been ratings gold for their respective networks; despite the perpetual complaints often found in YouTube comments sections, that that’s all these shows talk about. (The whingers keep on bingeing though.)

Michael Jordan on Draft Night.

And those debates, no matterthe side of the Jordan/Lebron fence you come down on, are usually waged over the course of their respective, illustrious NBA careers. Makes sense if you want to keep a debate going, especially since one of the combatants skipped College altogether.

And so we come to Michael Jordan’s college basketball career. It has largely been lost in the gargantuan shadow cast by his 12 year Chicago Bulls run, and is underplayed by television pundits, and armchair experts alike. All they ever relegate it to is THAT shot he hit in the final game of his freshman season.

Which brings us to The Last Dance. The first two episodes of the ten part docuseries aired last Sunday and in the days since, it’s been discussed to death and widely praised by all on tv, radio and social media; with ‘the villainous‘ Jerry Kraus, now years deceased, being the focal point of mainstream media attention and ire. What has largely been ignored (once again) is Jordan’s College Career highlighted in the premier episode of the Last Dance.

James Worthy during the Last Dance, helped put Michael Jordan’s College Basketball career in its proper perspective

The 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels National Champion team is remembered as James Worthy’s, not Michael Jordan’s. Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s then future Showtime Lakers running mate, was and still is widely considered Jordan’s superior when it comes to the college game. But Worthy himself remembers it differently: “After about two and a half hours of hard practise I’m walking off the floor, drenched in sweat, tired.” reminisced Worthy. “And here comes Michael and pushing me back on the floor. He wanted to play a little one on one, wanted to see where his game was. I was better than he was…” Worthy paused; “for about two weeks.”

James Worthy in his own words

If Worthy’s concession was notable, Bob Knight’s MJ assessment was gobsmacking: “He’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players, and that to me makes him the best basketball player that I’ve ever seen play.”

Knight’s assessment came while he was the head coach of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Basketball team, on which Jordan played a starring, and just after Jordan was drafted 3rd overall by the Chicago Bulls.

It isn’t 100% clear whether Knight meant Jordan was the greatest player coming out of college he’d ever seen, but we can only take what he actually stated at the time; his precise words were ‘best basketball player I’ve ever seen play.”

Bob Knight about MJ: He’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players, and that to me makes him the best basketball player that I’ve ever seen play.

Many of the sports talk shows have missed this little nugget: that Bob Knight rated Jordan as the best ever, before Jordan ever even dribbled a basketball in the NBA.

Bob Knight in 1984 on MJ

Coming into the docuseries, all the hype surrounding it was that, seeing Jordan in his prime for the Chicago Bulls would convince “us millennials” that Jordan not LeBron is basketball’s GOAT (As if every millennial believes this to be the case). But what turned out to be most revealing about the series in the first two episodes is that Jordan was far better at College basketball than he’s ever been given credit for. Incredible, that possibly the most hyped athlete in modern history, has perhaps all this time been criminally underrated.


Dean Nestor

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