Nike and the Greatest of All Time Argument

Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?

Michael Jordan, of course, with LeBron James right there. So says the top viewed article by here or Bleacher Report who has the same #1 and #2 spots here.

Who is the greatest athlete of all time?

Bo Jackson, not even close. He was a professional athlete in 2 sports.

These are common discussions among sports fans and the most assumed right answers. Michael Jordan is the presumptive greatest basketball player to ever grace the floor. Behind Jordan is James who continues to gain on Jordan.

Why does Michael Jordan hold this enviable position on the top of most sports fans greatest of all time lists?

Does he have the most NBA Championships?

No, his 6 with the Bulls is tied with Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s six and far behind Bill Russell’s 11.

Does he have the most Finals appearances?

No. He went to 6 NBA Finals, far less than Jabbar and Russell. Lebron, Magic and Kobe have more than him as well.

Has he won the most MVP awards?

No, his 5 are the same as Russell but less than Jabbar’s 6.

Does he have the most points?

No, he ranks 4th among the all-time point earners.

The only stat Michael Jordan is 1st in is points per game. Though he barely rounds ahead of Wilt Chamberlin, they both averaged 30.1 in their careers.

If there is no statistically or objective standard that places Jordan at the top of basketball’s greats, why is he the most universally accepted greatest player?

Business Insider did a study on it that found that Americans overwhelmingly thought Jordan was the greatest ever. How come?

All of sports changed 1986 when Michael Jordan signed one of the most lucrative deals in history with NIKE. NIKE had been inching it’s way into Adidas monopoly of sports stars for years. The signing of Jordan would forever change the landscape of athlete marketing. Jordan professional career is only half about what he did on the court. Much of what he did from a business and marketing changed how professional athletes make money. Jordan was the most highly paid player on endorsements alone. Nearly 20 years post-retirement, he still earns $1 billion a year on his NIKE partnership.

Along with NIKE, he earned millions with his Gatorade partnership appearing in 20 different commercials for them. He also signed endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and McDonald’s. In 2010 he was ranked by Forbes as the 20th most powerful celebrity, he had retired ten years prior.

In today’s NBA the shoe deal is what all the top players work for, it is here where most of the money can be made. But it will all look trivial compared to Jordan’s Air Jordan’s which are now their own department within the NIKE business. Jordan made a lot of money off NIKE and NIKE has made a lot of money off of Jordan. He launched them into the most desired signing spot for the top athletes. Since Jordan, NIKE has been able to get the top athletes.

LeBron James signed a lifetime deal with NIKE worth $1 billion. Roger Federer is one of the highest paid athletes in the world based mostly on his endorsement deals versus his prize money. The way athletes get paid changed since the Jordan-NIKE merger, but it started with him. And NIKE and Gatorade have a vested interest in convincing the world their client is the greatest basketball player of all time.

I don’t think it’s an accident that behind Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant other lucrative NIKE deals are touted a the greatest of all time. This despite the fact that Bryant and James played at the same time as Tim Duncan, a better player than Bryant without the mega NIKE deal.

Bo Jackson has a similar reason for being the presumptive greatest athlete as Jordan does for greatest basketball player. Jackson is not the first to play professionally in two sports nor is he anywhere near the top of the list of greatest athletes of all time. Yet he is the first multi-sport athlete people think of. This is again because of NIKE.

NIKE signed Jackson and ran a very successful advertising campaign called “Bo Knows” in 1989 through the early 1990s. The campaign was for a cross training shoe that was forgotten, what wasn’t forgotten was how great of an athlete Jackson was. Though objectively, like Jordan, Jackson doesn’t deserve the top spot, he had a marketing campaign that was invested in touting their athlete that sold their shoe to be greater than some nobody like Jim Thorpe or Bob Hayes.

NIKE has made a huge impact on the sporting world. They have upgraded equipment that has changed the game in such sports as tennis and running. They have made incentives for the best athletes to stay in sports and make gobs of money marketing their products.

However, another of their major impacts NIKE has had is selling the world on greatness. They don’t need facts to do it, they do it based on television and advertising. They do it by taking the common viewer’s mind and associations straight to their athletes. This makes them money, but it also clouds the pool of objectivity.

Both Jordan and Jackson were great players, but neither deserve the top spot in either basketball or greatest athlete. NIKE’s marketing campaign launched them from their places on these lists to the top of the list in an effort to sell their shoes. Looking at these rankings ought to be based on statistics and objective standards, but NIKE got there first and filled the discussion with propaganda.

A compilation of all the Air Jordan ads

Bo Knows Commercial that launched him into the greatest athlete conversation

Want more?

You can read about who we think the greatest basketball player of all time is here or a direct stack- up between Jordan and Jabbar here. We also have broken down the top contenders for greatest athlete of all time here.

Interested in the rise of NIKE and how it has influenced sports? You can read our review of NIKE founder here, how their tie in with Colin Kaepernick was a good business move or the problems with their commercial by Serena Williams.

Interested in learning more about NIKE’s rise, we recommend the podcast Business Wars their NIKE versus Adidas.

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