Four of the top five scoring seasons of all-time belong to Wilt Chamberlain. From 1959-63, Chamberlain used his 7-foot frame, sheer power and dominance over his diminutive counterparts to score upwards to 50 points a game in a single season. The fifth-highest scoring season of all-time, however, belongs to the man we revere as the world’s greatest basketball player ever, and that man’s birthday is today.
Michael Jeffrey Jordan turned 49 years old today, this February 17th. Many will wax poetic on about the greatness of MJ; his rookie season, his bravado in his dunk contests and his playoff glory, as they should. Yet, the craziest thing I’ll always notice looking at MJ’s statline is his incredible 1986-87 season. Its one I’ll never forget, not because of how gaudy his stat line was, but for simple fact that I never saw him play that season.
I was three going on four years old, and Jordan put up 37.1 points per game for an entire season.
Of course, this story can’t be told unless we go back to May of 1986. After Jordan scored a playoff record 63 points in Game Two of Chicago Bulls matchup against the Boston Celtics in the 1986 playoffs, Celtics star Larry Bird described him as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” The confidence of Jordan had never been higher, as he lit up (arguably) one of the best teams in NBA history with relative ease. That confidence would carry over into the historic 1986-87 season where Jordan would lay waste to anyone who stood in his way.
It’s become clear to me that you must be on a team devoid of any real talent. When we witnessed Kobe Bryant score 35 per game and Allen Iverson score 33 per game (coincidentally in the same 2005-06 season), those teams were flat-out terrible, outside of their superstars. While Jordan, Bryant and Iverson were able to score, they also saved their teams from being in the cellar of the standings. Check the records.
1986-87 Bulls: 40-42
2005-06 Lakers: 45-37
2005-06 Sixers: 38-44
Damn…the records, though.
I can remember Kobe and Iverson being in “gunner mode” for 48 minutes at a time. It didn’t matter who was guarding them, didn’t matter what type of defense was being played, and the time of day was irrelevant. Buckets are going to get made, and there was nothing that you were going to do to stop them.
I’ll be the first to admit that playing that style of basketball is not in the best interest of the team, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable to watch. Kobe and Iverson got slayed for not playing “team ball” and not making the players around them better. It’s probably a fair assessment, but when the talent around you is as good as Kenny, Trible, The Rev and Tins, what is an all-world talent really supposed to do?
Score points, repeatedly, and put the team on his back the only way he knows how.
Jordan out-performed Kobe and Iverson with his 37.1. Jordan put up 37.1 in an era when hand-checking was legal and teams weren’t out there playing zone defense. Jordan put up 37.1 in a condensed league with just 23 teams in the NBA at the time. Fouls were harder, conditions weren’t as nice, and Jordan sliced up his foes like a lawnmower eats a tall patch of grass for all 82 games that season.
So, I’ll forever be jealous of the “more seasoned” folks out there who were able to remember the time of Jordan going H.A.M. on the NBA 25 years ago. It’s something we’ll probably never see again.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”