If Jordan stays retired (in '93) where does he rank?

My friend Ryan posed a pretty interesting question a couple months back:

If Jordan retires (the first time) and never comes back, what's his legacy. Where does he stand on the "all time" lists, etc.

Arguing over subjective basketball topics is one of my favorite pastimes so this was a pretty great question to ponder. My initial response was:

Really, really good question. Stays in top 5. Brings him to 9 seasons where Bird played 12 and Johnson 13. I'd put it then at 1)Russel 2)Kareem 3) Johnson 4) Jordan 5) Bird 6) Duncan.

Ryan responds with his take. Dives more into the culturual impact of MJ and the importance of the 72-10 season.

I fought hard that he's still in the conversation. People were already looking for the "next jordan" even before retirement part 1. He never gets the 72-10 season if he doesn't get back. I think even more than the rings, that's his crowning achievement and further cements the "he makes his whole team better" viewpoint.
The other guy said no way. Also says jordan hype in general is based on growth in popularity of both basketball and nike during the early 90s, both of which he was the face... and not that he necessarily should be considered best of all time.

Finally, I reach out to my other friend Mo for his thoughs. I'd say he came in with the winning response:

MJ Basketball Accolades at the time of first retirement in 1993
- Three consecutive championships
- Three consecutive Finals MVP
- Seven consecutive scoring titles
- Three MVP awards
- Six consecutive all NBA Defense
- Seven consecutive All NBA first team
- Rookie of the year
- NCAA champion
- Two Olympic gold
- Playoff Record 63 points (still stands)
- Dropped 69 points in a regular season game
- The shot
- The hand switch layup in the finals (side note: to cap 13 consecutive FGs)
- The (questionable) free throw dunk winning the dunk contest, still iconic.
- The shoes everyone was and still is wearing

Some of the above may be irrelevant to the GOAT argument, but I think by then he'd already thrown his hat into the ring. He came into a league containing Bird's Celtics, Magic's Lakers and the Isaiah's Pistons (each of those teams had a roster of all stars and at least 3 hall of famers starting). Transformed a 27-55 team to a playoff team, under 3 different coaches, in his first 3 seasons averaging 43 ppg in the playoffs in one yr and 37 in the reg season in another. Ran into the aforementioned power houses putting up ridiculous individual numbers time after time. If he had come into the league 10 years earlier when the NBA was getting a different champion year after year, I think a Jordan-led team could have pulled a Bill Russell-eque sweep of the 70s.

The comeback (really only the three-peat years matter) was what makes him untouchable:

- Three consecutive championships
- Three consecutive Finals MVP
- Two consecutive MVPs
- Three consecutive scoring titles
- Bryon Russell
- Flu game
- .....Space Jam

So, with all of that said, where do you think MJ would stand if he never came back?

Thanks to Ryan and Mo for contributing 85% of this post.

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Hi, I’m Ron Jacobson. I'm the CEO of Rockerbox, lifelong fan of the Spurs, Startups, Israel and Tomatoes. Follow me at @rjjacobson

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