Will there ever be another Michael Jordan? Will any player ever be officially crowned the next Michael Jordan? My answer to this is the rhetorical question simple as "will there ever be another Michael Jackson?" The answer to the latter is NO of course, and it is the same to the first question as well.
As soon as Michael Jordan entered the Twilight of his career (amazingly at age 30), the search for the next MJ began. Interestingly, it was coincident with Jordan first retirement, and the media were quick to anoint Anferne "Penny" Hardaway as the potential next Jordan. Penny Hardaway was almost the same height as Jordan, and had a similar body type, but it was mostly the fact that he was drafted on 3rd position, in a draft headed by a powerful interior in Chris Webber as the 1st pick, and a potential bust as second in Shawn Bradley, that set immediate comparison between Penny and Mike. Hardaway of course had little Mike in him, and his style actually was closer to Magic than it was to Jordan.
From 1993, almost every following draft will see the second coming of Michael Jordan; in 1994, it was grant Hill, who again was selected 3rd in the draft, and was very Marketable with his clean, well groomed image. In 1995, it was even closer, Jerry Stackhouse was the same height as Jordan (6 ft 6 in), played for the same college (North Carolina), played at the same position (Shooting Guard), and on top of it, he was also selected 3rd in his draft class. To add to the mysticism, some will also point that Jordan was selected one pick before his power forward teammate Sam Perkins, while Stackhouse was selected one pick before power forward teamhead Rasheed Wallace. By all consideration, Stack should've been the next Jordan; Unfortunately, despite some early promises, his game did not live up to the billing (he never had a very decent career). It also did not help that Jordan returned to the game in March 1995, furthermore exposing Stackhouse as a "fraud" in carrying the MJ mantle.
Michael Jordan went on to dominate the NBA again from 1995 to 1998, but it was already clear that at 32, he was playing his last years in the league, thus the anticipation of finding the future torch bearer. In 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired a young teenager by the name of Kobe Bryant, who leaped directly to the NBA from High school; while showing flashes of athleticism, he really did not get serious consideration in the discussion of the next Jordan; for sure Jordan was still firmly in control.
The very real sentiment and belief that the next Michael Jordan had been found in 1998. The league was facing a lockout, the slam dunk contest had been abolished, Jordan contracted with the Bulls was over, and rumor were swirling that this was it. Jordan finally announced his retirement on January 1999, but the league hardly had time to mourn thanks to Vince Carter. Officially crowned the next Jordan, Carter took the Stackhouse "credential" to another level. He was a 6 ft 6 shooting guard coming out of North Carolina, with a shaved head and a panorama of dunks straight of the imaginary that only Jordan had been able to provide. Because of Carter, the NBA reinstated the slam Dunk contest that he won in what may be considered one of the top 2 best contests in league history. Carter brought an excitement to the league that was reminiscent of Jordan early years, and thanks to his aerial acrobatics, the were little doubts that he was "the one"; despite on the West Coast, the young Kobe Bryant, still in the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal, was starting to display serious Jordan-like abilities.
There are others who for some reason or another were called the next-Jordan. Players such as Harold Miner (Baby Jordan !!! ???), Tracy McGrady (only because he was a scoring machine), but at the exception of Carter, none of them really stand a chance. With the Lakers dominating the NBA, it did not take long for Shaq's team, to become Shaq and Kobe's team, while more and more, it became apparent that Kobe, not Carter was the one who reminded us the most of Jordan.
You see there are 4 components that defined Jordan: For the media, it is the numbers , for fans it is the highlights , for sponsors and the league, it is marketability , and for experts, it is championships and accolades . Michael Jordan was able to incorporate these elements elements successfully in one package, which made him the most popular and thought after athlete in the world. He was good for corporate America, good for white America, good for Black America, good for the NBA, and depending on who you talk to, good for the sport as well. Because all those 4 elements were found in 1 person, each new Jordan was dubbed the next according to one or another component. If a player sells, he is the next Jordan, if another scores 50 in a game, next Jordan, etc …
Michael Jordan success, just like Michael Jackson's, Bruce Lee or Barack Obama's, had as much to do with timing, than it did with skills. Jordan was not the only super athlete of his time, he was not the most charismatic, and he did not break all the records. What Jordan did however that his contemporary did not recognize the moment, seize the opportunity and position himself in such a way that all converges toward him and incorporated him within time and space. Michael Jackson recognized that Motown 25 was his moment to shine, Obama realized that he had to capitalize on the Bush-era and usher a new message, Bruce Lee realized that time was ripe to introduce a new genre, and likewise Jordan was smart enough to brand himself at a time where sport, business and the media were converging at the same place.
To understand the Jordan phenomenon, and look for his true heir, one needs not look at the numbers, the accolades or even the commercial. To really find Jordan heir, we have to look at what enabled him to capitalize on the moment and put himself in a winning situation, we have to look at his mind, his approach to the game.
Basketball, and most high level sports are probably 60% physical, 40% mental. You compete in a league where 95% of the competition is as talented and as athletic as you are, so what sets you apart is you head. Just like I was told by my High school math Teacher: "If 2 excellent math students are told to solve and explain a problem, the edge will not go to the smarter, but to the one who has the language skill to explain the problem; the difference maker will therefore not be Math, but language. " Same goes in Sport.
For all interviews and stories on Michael Jordan, you see that he approached the game in a very Machiavellian way, playing mind games with all, being cutthroat, and not hesitating to sleep with the enemy to get the edge. For Jordan, beating an opponent was not enough, he had to beat him in such a manner that the opponent will never dare challenge him again; he had little sympathy for opponents, and had no time for those who could not keep up in his quest for glory. Most experts translated it as a killer instinct, that soon came to define Jordan and all who truly want to win in the league. When he was selected for the Olympic team in Barcelone, 1992, Jordan admitted that he wanted to pass, but he could not pass the opportunity to spend time with the other stars and study / learn their little secrets and what makes them great; even at that moment, he only thought about how he could get ahead.
By the time Kobe was fully involve in the Jordan compare, he already had 3 championships, but had no personal numbers. I recall telling to all who would listen that Kobe needs to get away from Shaq so he can post individual numbers. You see Jordan started with Individual numbers and then went on winning championships. To carve his path, Kobe had to build his own resume, and for that he orchestrated Shaq's exile from LA, and went on a scoring spree that further confirmed his status as the closest thing to Jordan. His scouting outburst, combined with his improved defense propelled him to a level where some actually believe he is better than Jordan. To achieve that level, Kobe did not care that he made enemies, he did not hesitate to duplicate Jordan's move, and he tirelessly worked in the off season on his game game and body, and finally took a take no prisoners attitude in the process.
None of the other so called "next-Jordan" even came close to what Kobe did to achieve that level. Stackhouse was simply not as talented and did not work on his game, Penny, McGrady and Hill were victims of the injury bugs, and did nothing to ensure that it did not happen again, while Carter simply relied on his natural abilities and reputation; if anything when Kobe was improving, Carter was regressing.
Now before I go further, let me state that I am absolutely NOT a Fan of Kobe, as a matter of fact, I hate both Kobe and the Lakers like the second coming of the plague. Why is that? Some may ask, well for once, you can just use the word "Hater". Kobe is 2 months older than me, so most likely, like me he grows up idolizing Jordan. Like most in my generation, he dreamed of being the one who will be the next Jordan, and most certainly, he mimicked all Jordan moves on playground. The only problem is that I was 6 ft 2 in, living in Ethiopia, and he is 6 ft 6 in like Jordan, and in the NBA. I do not hate Kobe because he is famous, a good player or beats up my team, I am bitter because all all of us who dreamed of being the next Jordan, he is actually the only one who came closer, and damn close. If that was only it, the main reason I really hate Kobe is that he unveiled the Jordan Mystery.
The Jordan Mystery was for me the secret behind the driving force in imitating Jordan's game. I would watch hours and hours of Jordan tapes, alone or with friends, but while most would marvel at the highlights, I would focus on the interviews. When most of us would try to do Michael's moves, I was only thinking about his decision making on the court. Jordan's mind to me was much bigger than any of his moves, and Kobe got that, he studied Jordan, but paid attention on what really sets Jordan apart from his peers. Kobe studied it, applied it, and extremely dominated his competition. In all he does, you can see Jordan acting, his timing, his confidence, his will to win, his desire to beat you to the ground, etc …
When an opposing player has a good game, most players engage in a shootout to outdo him; not Kobe, just like Jordan, he not only wants to outdo you, he also wants to shut you down. Kobe does not just take the challenge; he also tries to punish you for challenging him. This attitude is rare in today's NBA, which is why Kobe is such a particular animal.
Even when you consider the new generation like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade, Wade is the only one who display the killer instincts of a winner takes all. Anthony is still way too immature and focused on just having great games, while Lebron, as well as his petulant brat-like bad loser behavior, has demonstrated great abilities to take over a game; yet, he is also too focused on proving that he is in touch with the latest BET video clips, and seem to be constantly auditioning for another endorsement or Hollywood movie. You will not see Kobe doing the stinky leg when he makes a great play, or relax because his team is a big lead, if anything, when leading, Kobe will keep playing hard to erase any thoughts of a comeback in you and your team .
When all is said and done, I do not like Kobe, never did, but it does not stop me from saying that he is good, very good. Is he better than Jordan? not by a mile. I still think his defense has more to do with acting focus than actually playing good defense (although he is among the best in today's defenseless NBA), and the media tend to extrapolate his defense. Dwayne Wade played much better defense last season, yet Kobe took first-team defense. I also do not think that Kobe makes his teammates better. Some will argue that Jordan never won without Pippen; I contend that Jordan actually made Pippen better, and would've done so with another talented small forward. Let us remember that Pippen became the perfect complement to Jordan, not the other way around, says a lot about training someone to fit their job. Kobe on the other hand probably traumatized Kwame Brown, underused Lamar Odom, and most likely won his fourth ring more because of what Pau Gasol brings than what he frees Kobe to do.
At the end of the day, my verdict is clear: There will never be another Michael Jordan, simply because you can not compare two era, and because the league changes with players adapt to it; neverheless, there is a Jordan heir, in style, game and intensity, and his name is Kobe Bryant, who as I hate to admit, is actually the best player in the NBA. If one really wanted to focus on the 4 components that defined Michael Jordan, his true Heir would be Yao Ming, but yet, again, another one falls under the pressure.
After years of pursuing Jordan and wondering what made him so special, we had to wait for his Hall of speech. There Jordan revealed that part of his personality that set him apart. He finally confessed his personal mind games and the core of what strove him. This was the answer we've all asked for years ago; when the media were looking for the next Jordan, instead of looking for the college, the height, the dunks or the shaved head, they should have looked at character. Now that Michael Jordan finally revealed it, the media blasted him for what they called an arrogant speech. My personal thought, we finally heard the secret from the man. I am sure that while many were criticizing, someone in Inglewood, California was carefully and studiously taking notes.
Kobe is the true Michael Jordan Heir, because like Jordan and unlike any other, he came, he saw, he conquered; They did not anointed him the next MJ, he took it, he forced him in the limelight, by understanding the most important part of the game: The mind; he studied the best, asked questions and learned from them, then used the weapons against the teachers … Kobe understood that it was his approach to the game that made MJ special, so he emulated it and became Jordan's true heir … and for that Mr. Bryant I hate you, but you also have my utmost respect.