Michael Jordan was voted as one of the 2 greatest figures of the 20th century alongside Zhou Enlai by Chinese schoolchildren back in 1992.
The GOAT debate is something that many people try to settle using stats and records set by the greats. However, there are some other unquantifiable metrics that also factor into this discussion.
One of them is their demeanour on the court. We could generate another metric by checking out how players were viewed by their competition. Another metric would be to rely on the contemporary general opinion of the public.
This is what separates the football and basketball GOAT debates from the rest of the major sports. You could bring out metrics that prove Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to be at the same level as Pele and Maradona. But can you quantify just how much adulation they received?
People built churches in honor of Diego Maradona while he was still a player in Europe. They would wait in line for days on end to find a single ticket to a Pele game. Do you really see people giving Messi and Ronaldo the same level of unadulterated love?
Chinese schoolchildren named Michael Jordan one of the 2 greatest 20th century figures
A pretty similar case could be made for Michael Jordan based on the sentiments of how fans viewed him. From Paris to Hawaii, from Melbourne to London alike, there are people out there who don’t even care about basketball. But in their minds, Jordan is still seared in as the one basketball player of note.
Financial Review did a 1999 poll of its readers regarding the greatest figures of the 20th century. But before they did so, they went looking for other such polls made across the world. They wanted to generate an unbiased option list in order to cater to worldwide readers.
Roland Lazenby writes in ‘Michael Jordan: The Life’ that they also scoured Chinese newspapers for such sources. Imagine the writers’ surprise as they found out how Jordan was revered even in communist China.
Financial Review noted that a survey of Chinese schoolchildren in 1992 had named Jordan as one of the 2 greatest figures of the 20th century, with the other being Zhou Enlai.
“The nomination of Jordan seems bizarre,” the Financial Review noted, “except that black sporting and athletic achievement provides some of the defining images of the 20th century.”
You shouldn’t misconstrue his popularity as the argument for his status as the GOAT. It really is the other way round, he’s only so popular because he was such a great basketball player.