Isiah Thomas is often quoted as calling LeBron James the greatest player ever. But he called Michael Jordan the GOAT before he’d won a title.
The GOAT debate for any sport is something that draws a ton of attention from fans. Basketball fans, in particular, have worked themselves up to a frenzy arguing LeBron James vs Michael Jordan of late.
This debate is nothing new. Fans in the 60s were debating Russell and Wilt vs Mikan. The likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving and others worked their way into that conversation. Eventually Magic, Bird, Jordan and a host of other stars are now mentioned in the same breath.
The narrative for this debate will continue to change in the years to come. But we should always be aware of the bases for why certain players rank MJ up there, and why LeBron is held to those standards.
The admiration and adulation that Jordan received even before he’d ever won a title was unforeseen. There were basketball people like Bobby Knight who anointed him as the greatest player ever before he’d even touched an NBA court.
In that context, the comments made by Jordan’s peers, competitors and rivals have also played a huge role. Even Isiah Thomas, who’s notoriously feuded with MJ and a few other NBA legends, was in awe of his talents.
“Julius Erving is my boy, but Michael Jordan is real sweet!”: Isiah Thomas on the Arsenio Hall Show
Jordan was a guest on the Arsenio Hall show during the early 90s. Hall graciously included a clip of Jordan highlights for the Bulls legend’s entry onto the stage.
The praise for Jordan’s play didn’t stop there on the show. Hall proceeded to pull up footage of Pistons legend Isiah Thomas from a previous interview on the show. Thomas waxed eloquent about MJ’s game in the clip when asked by Arsenio:
“Michael Jordan is really unbelievable, in terms of his quickness, strength, his jumping ability. His touch, and also his knowledge and understanding for the game, he by far is the best I’ve ever seen.”
“And Erving (Dr. J) is my boy, but Air Jordan? He’s something else. He’s real SWEET. I mean, dude, you see what he’s been doing? And they’re like we’re in high school.”
It is very rare for rival players to admit to being fans of an opponent player and being awed by them. It’s even rarer for this to happen when the one doling the praise out is in his own prime.