Skip to content

John Salley says Jordan not even his top 5 he played against

Aug 16, 2012, 10:03 PM EDT


First, John Salley likes to say outrageous things on the radio. There’s a history of it.

Second, there is the fact that our personal views of history — particularly our personal history and stories — tend to be skewed by the things we choose to remember and focus on. Which is to say, for example, how you remember your high school years when you are 25 or 35 are not how your high school years were in reality.

Combine those to facts and you get John Sally on the ESPN’s Colin Cowherd show saying that Michael Jordan is not even in the top five players Salley ever played against. He puts Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon above Jordan on the all-time list. Even Kevin McHale is higher on Salley’s list. He thought Isiah Thomas was the best he ever played with — and he was on a Jordan Bulls team. Watch the video yourself.

I don’t want to get into the barstool debate about the GOAT. You can make an obvious and strong case for Jordan. I think Kareem tends to get shafted in this debate — maybe because he was aloof with the media, maybe because he was tall and we expect it of him, but he should be in the conversation. Magic was revolutionary. And we could go on and on about Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and others.

I think what is going on here is Salley is a victim of his own memories, which are not always the most accurate of reflection of reality.

What Salley really remembers is a young, immature Jordan. He remembers the three years that the Bad Boy Pistons beat Jordan’s Bulls in the playoffs. The Pistons were the hurdle Jordan and his teammates needed to clear to get a title and Salley and his defense were a part of that. For years they had Jordan’s number.

But once Jordan and Scottie Pippen and the Bulls cleared that hurdle, they went on a run that blew the Pistons out of the water. Salley tends not to focus on the 1991 playoffs when the Bulls beat the Pistons, or even 92 when the Pistons were coming down and couldn’t get out of the first round. That’s when the Bulls were becoming the icons we know.

What Salley remembers is that the Lakers and Celtics of the Bird and Magic era were the Piston’s hurdle to clear to get a title. And so he reveres those he had to strive to reach, not as much those who came after trying to reach the Pistons heights. Before you rip Salley for this, we all do this in our own ways, and often with our own teams.

But there it is if you want it, John Salley saying some things that will make some of you mad.

107 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. chi01town - Aug 17, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    Michael Jordan is STILL the Greatest
    basketball player the world has ever seen an anyone you name is a far 2nd

    • tbellnewlife - Dec 24, 2012 at 2:48 PM

      Salley is hatin bigtime! But the proof is in the pudding. If you want to say magic is better thats fine, magic revolutionized the game along with Larry Bird! Kareem if you go by the #’s you can make a strooong case! 6 time mvp! six time nba champion!Alltime leading scorer in the association! But there are not 5 or 6 nba players better than MJ. I can sum up MJ’s dominance swiftly. 3peat! Retirement! Comeback! another 3peat! enuf said! undefeated in multiple nba championships opportunities! America loves winners! Jordan never suffered defeat when he made it to the finals! No one can dispute this! Peace and love to every one in this your holiday season!

    • nlruizjr - Dec 31, 2012 at 8:12 PM

      chi01town, you seem to have forgotten someone by the name of Kareem Abdul Jabbar who scored more points than MJ, blocked more shots than Mj and had a bigger impact on the NBA than MJ, so how could Mj be the GOAT, just ridiculous statement !!!!!!!

      • macka4 - May 29, 2014 at 2:01 AM

        1st half of Kareem’s career, he was very high on the (all time greats) list. In the 80;s he dropped off noticeably. One due to Magic’s arrival and dominance, age, style of Lakers’ play. If he had retired earlier, I and many (I believe) would rank him much higher.

  2. rocirius - Aug 18, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    Comparing them in their primes, replace Bird or Magic on their championship teams with Jordan. Do they still win titles? I don’t think so. Now, replace Jordan with Bird or Magic on the 90s Bulls teams. Bulls still win every title, maybe more. Jordan benefited greatly because of expansion and having better teammates than his opponents during an era with no super-teams. Only the Lakers and Trailblazers were close to the Bulls as a team in the finals. Also, would Jordan have won any titles if he replaced the best player on any other team in the 90s? I think maybe in Portland, LA and possibly Detroit, but that’s about all. I don’t see the Suns winning with Jordan vs. Barkley, nor the Rockets with Jordan instead of Hakeem, Sonics instead of Payton, Jazz instead of Stockton, etc. Say what you want, but his teams were better than other teams in the 90s, that’s why they won. Those Jordan teams might have won a single title in the 80s, just like the 76ers did. The Celtics, Lakers, Pistons and 76ers still would have won every title in the 80s if the 90s Bulls were able to time travel to that era. NO way the Bulls win 72 games against competition in the 80s. Great player? Yeah. Best scorer? Arguably. Greatest of all-time? Simply put, no way. Put the 80s 76ers in the 90s and they probably win multiple titles, taking out Jordan’s Bulls along the way. The 80s Lakers OR Celtics would have won 8 titles in the 90s and Jordan would be ranked around Erving, Hayes, Barkley and Drexler in the GOAT discussion. Top 5 GOAT (no particular order): Chamberlain, Russell, Kareem, Bird, Magic. Jordan probably makes the top 10 which is still great. He benefited GREATLY by playing against weaker teams during the watered down 90s. Time warp the 90s Bulls into the 60s or 80s and they probably win zero titles. Maybe they win 6 in the 70s. Maybe 2 in the 00s. Just sayin’.

    • chicagofan - Aug 18, 2012 at 9:19 PM

      You are nearly as delusional as John Salley, who is lucky he never talked this trash while playing with or against Jordan– MJ would have served him so badly in practice and games he would eat those words. Back to your comments–Jordan on the Celtics and Lakers in place of Magic and Bird? Jordan wins every year during that era depending on which team you put him on. The Bulls role players did improve over time but outside of Pippen and Grant and Rodman they were never close to the teams the Lakers and Celts had in the 80s. Jordan, Karriem, Worthy, Perkins and Michael Cooper etc would beat any of the teams of the 60’s or 70s or 80s including the Celtics. Add Jordan in place of Bird on Celtics with McHale, Parrish etc and they would be equally tough to beat also. Jordan adds enumerable dimensions to any talented team in NBA history and only Bill Russell can claim to be better. Russell and Jordan have an unmatched will to win and couple that with abillity and you have greatness. Many people like you do not realize the athletic ability of Jordan–he had a 48 inch vertical rise and ran a 4.3 in the 40 and compare LeBron, the greatest player now, for example with 44 inches vert rise and 4.4 in the 40. Isiah Thomas is a home boy but he cannot touch Jordan/just too short. You and Salley are tripping hard!

      • trevor123698 - May 25, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        you are the delusional one

    • nlruizjr - Dec 31, 2012 at 8:23 PM

      rocirius, well stated, but in my opinion the greatest player is Kareem, Kareem had the biggest impact on the NBA, moreso than Jordan, Jordan without Pipen and Rodman would have been the Jordan who struggled his first 6-7 years in the NBA, whose name was hardly mentioned at the time. Whereas Kareem was a force the instant he stepped foot on the NBA court. Plus, Kareem still holds the title of most points scored in the NBA, enough said.

      • veefuntill - Jan 28, 2013 at 11:13 PM

        Jordan’s name was hardly mentioned at the time? He had already won ROTY, a league MVP, 5 scoring titles, defensive player of the year, 5-scoring titles, all-star MVP among other things. He was already a mega star. People were talking about him and magic playing 1 v 1 for charity.That’s like saying Durant’s name is hardly mentioned now because he hasn’t won. You elevate Jordan when the only arguments you can make against him are factually wrong.

    • Savoir-Faire - Jan 5, 2013 at 3:02 AM

      Your entire method is flawed they all play different positions but considering BOTH Magic and Bird call MJ the best EVER you make yourself look foolish .

      Who cares what John Salley thinks its like Reggie Evans talking smack about Kobe. He just doesnt have the credentials to even peak on the subject.

      Joshn Salley would barely play today the guy never played more than 25 mpg never had a PER above the league average Never averaged double figures in pts or rebounds but hey he was able to latch onto several HOF players and ride there coat tails to pick up a ring……kinda like Eddy Curry did last year with the heat .

    • veefuntill - Jan 28, 2013 at 11:40 PM

      You can identify haters by the content of their arguments. They are usually incoherent and demonstrably false.

      He says they didn’t have to worry about MJ as if he was a non-factor in those days. The Bulls took the Pistons to 7 games twice in the conference finals. Jordan had been top scorer and defensive player of the year, and perennial MVP candidate in those years. Much like LBJ before he won last year, and like Kevin Durant is now.

      He says Jordan was just another player in the Dream team. My god, the guy was the two-time defending champion, best player in the league, arguably the most recognizable athlete in the world, and was already being mentioned by many as the GOAT. This is what I mean by demonstrably false.

      It’s one thing to argue that someone else is deserving of the GOAT title, but to put 3 or 5 other players ahead of him, puts you in hater category.

      I could go on and on but it’s not worth it, really.

    • macka4 - May 29, 2014 at 2:05 AM

      Little issue with Wilt, Russell, Bird and Magic in the top discussion. But C’MON, Erving, Hayes(LOL),Barkley and Drexler. Those guys don’t even believe it!

  3. rocirius - Aug 18, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    Food for thought: replace Iverson with Jordan at every stage of his career. Does Jordan win any titles? Is he even mentioned in the GOAT discussion?

    • kehnn13 - May 9, 2013 at 12:54 PM

      Evidence of a conversation descending into the absurd: a comparison of MJ to Allen Iverson, selfish player extraordinaire. MJ was a shooting guard who facilitated his entire team. AI was a guy who, by virtue of his small size, should have been a point guard but never saw a shot he didn’t like.

  4. rocirius - Aug 18, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    As a rookie, Bird took the Celtics from 29 wins and out of the playoffs to 62 wins ECF. Magic took the Lakers to the championship, improving an already good team by 13 wins I think. If I remember correctly, Jordan improved the Bulls by 11 wins. He was a better athlete and scorer with volume shooting and athleticism, but he wouldn’t have had the same impact as Bird or Magic on their teams. Both Magic and Bird were as competitive with will-to-win but arguably had much greater hoops IQ than MJ. I loved watching MJ, but I don’t see him having the type of impact suggested on any other team. It took the retirement of multiple superstar legends for Jordan to begin to win in the watered-down 90s. Also, put Magic or Bird on the Bulls in the 90s like I suggested, they still win 6 titles at least. I agree that Jordan was crazy athletic and competitive, but in their primes he would have been 2nd fiddle at best had he played with Magic or Bird who were consummate team players as well as being superstars.

    90s Bulls would have been better with any of my 5 GOAT players than Jordan except maybe Russell since they would lack a great scorer. You’re delusional to think that the Lakers win 5 titles with Jordan instead of Magic. I’m a huge Celtics fan and don’t think they win even 3 titles with Jordan over Bird. How about this: do the 76ers win more than one title with Jordan over the Doc? Hard to see it happening. Extremely doubtful that the 60s Celtics win 9 titles with Jordan over Russell. 90s Bulls would be in the discussion any time since the 90s, but I think they’d struggle mightily against many of the championship teams since their reign in the 90s. They would lose to most championship teams that came before them. I think the current Heat (if healthy) might beat them in the ECF during their 72-10 season. That team is thought by many to be the best team of all time, but I don’t see it beating any of the Lakers or Celtics championship teams from the 80s.

    Jordan probably would have put the early 90s Cavs over the top. He might have given the Lakers some titles in the 90s post-Magic. Like I asked earlier, if he was traded for any other teams best player during the Bulls run, would that team have been dominant like the Bulls were?

    I’d say the Bulls would have won as much with Hakeem instead of Jordan. Jordan was arguably the best player in the 90s. He did put the Bulls over the top. As wing players, Dr. J (in his prime) or even Drexler on those Bulls teams could have led the team just as easily as Jordan to 6 titles. When considering the GOAT, It has to be a player that makes the entire team better in addition to being dominant in his own right. Jordan deserves credit for making a very good Bulls team (the retirement years) better, but I don’t think they win any of the last 3 without Rodman as well.

    I have to admit that I didn’t follow the NBA until after Bird vs. Magic for the NCAA title, so my opinions are somewhat biased towards players after that. What many people fail to realize is that no other player in the 90s had a 2nd fiddle near the level of Pippen, and no team had a #3 anywhere near Rodman level. Pippen is underrated. Put him on many other teams in the 90s for that teams #2 and they might win 6 titles over the Bulls. Rockets almost certainly, along with Cavs in the early 90s and the Trailblazers.

    Pippen was the glue guy that made the Bulls dominant during their run. The GOAT also has to be the glue guy for their team in my opinion, like Bird, Magic or Russell for example.

    Taking a different approach, let’s say Jordan is ADDED to the 76ers with Doc and Moses. I think they might win 2 titles in the 80s, that’s it. Add him to Milwaukee, they might have won a title. Now add Bird, Magic, Kareem, Russell, or Wilt to the 76ers or Bucks of the 80s, and put Jordan on the Lakers or Celtics instead of Bird or Magic/Kareem. I think the 76ers and Bucks dominate the 80s in those scenarios.

    GOAT? No way. Best in his era? OK.

    • veefuntill - Jan 29, 2013 at 12:54 AM

      Suggesting these hypothetical scenarios are pointless because there is no way to know what would happen. I’d say MJ would have won at least 3 titles if he played for the 80s sixers. They were extremely talented as they were, lost 3 times in the NBA finals (one to Portland), twice in the ECF (once losing after leading 3-1), and won one title. Jordan plays the same type of game as Dr. J and would have been a clear upgrade at that role (assuming he would replace doc). I Just don’t see Jordan making 5 trips to the ECF and beyond with that kind of talent and not get at least 2 NBA titles out of it. That would put him at 3 titles at the very least.

      Any basketball mind could tell you that elite PGs and centers have faster and often greater impact on on making a team better than elite swing men. Elite big men, can often immediately contend for a title (see Shaq, Hakeem, Kareem, etc) whereas it usually takes longer to build around an elite swing men (see Elgin Baylor, Dr. J, Kobe, Lebron, KD, etc). So far, only Kobe and Bird (if you consider him a swing men) come close to Jordan in terms both team and individual accomplishments. So please compare apples to apples.

      You mentioned Kareem and Wilt. Well Kareem came in the league after Wilt and Russel had withered, played 5 full seasons with the great Oscar Robertson, and managed to only win one title. Then, had to team up with Magic and a gang of talented players, including another HOFer to win 5 more. That Lakers team, btw, was far and away better than everybody else in the west for most of the 80s. However, no one ever uses that against Kareem’s legacy.

      You mentioned Pippen. I love the man, but it’s only now that people are saying he was underrated to suit their arguments against Jordan. At the time, many many people were saying he was overrated. Nobody thought Bulls vs Portland was lopsided. Drexler had a pretty damn good squad with him. I’d also say Barkley had a pretty damn good 2nd fiddle in KJ, not to mention Dan Majerly and Dumas. I would say the second 3-peat was more lopsided because the Bulls were even better (Rodman, Kukoc, + a better Pippen) and the league’s talent level may have diminished a bit (Barkley, Ewing, Hakeem all slightly declining).

      I’m just gonna stop here. The argument is always why Jordan is not the GOAT or not as great as people say he is. So, his detractors find everything they can to nitpick. If you applied the same sort of criticism/criteria to other greats, you’d soon start to realize that, whoa, the guy might just be the best ever.

      • macka4 - May 29, 2014 at 2:10 AM

        AMEN! The longer Mike has been retired, the more idiots come out of the woodwork.There weren’t so many detractors when the Bulls were winning titles.

  5. rocirius - Aug 18, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    Also, Isaiah may be the most overrated player in NBA history.

  6. rocirius - Aug 18, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    Kudos for admitting that the Jordan-era Bulls were on a lower plane than the stacked 80s Lakers/Celtics.

    • macka4 - May 29, 2014 at 2:12 AM

      The Bulls were NOT as strong top to bottom as the 80’s Celts or Lakers.. Now the 2nd 3 peat team? A little deeper with Kukoc, Harper and Rodman.

  7. vino1647 - Aug 19, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Derek jeter has his moments in sports too, but much agreed Jordan was the GOAT hands down.

  8. rueg10 - Nov 13, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    is this the same career 7ppg and 4 rpg john salley? joke. this guy was a better smart ass than he was basketball player, and he’s still holding that “bad boy” grudge over a chicago bull.

    • macka4 - May 29, 2014 at 2:13 AM

      Yes, that John Salley.

  9. cwilson6843 - Apr 4, 2013 at 3:08 AM

    Mj didn’t win a championship til Phil jackson. Pj made Mj just like he made Kobe. No player makes themself, they only can be as great as there coach

    • macka4 - May 29, 2014 at 2:15 AM

      No more (probably not as much) as MJ (and Scottie) helped make PJ a great coach. Oh, we’ll never know since Phil only coaches with big stars.

    • funkmong - May 30, 2014 at 8:20 AM

      Did Red Auerbach make Bill Russell? Who made Wilt so great? Abdul-Jabbar? I believe they blazed their own trail to greatness, real early in their careers. First College, then Pros.

  10. kehnn13 - May 9, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    Larry bird’s take: “That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (2885)
  2. K. Irving (2235)
  3. A. Davis (1911)
  4. L. James (1693)
  5. K. Bryant (1678)
  1. T. Thompson (1400)
  2. K. Durant (1358)
  3. B. Jennings (1279)
  4. J. Clarkson (1239)
  5. M. Leonard (1130)