There are a handful of the greatest players in history who never won a title because they had the distinction of playing in the same era as Michael Jordan. As a result, the true measure of their greatness is never fully appreciated. I call this group the “Victims of Jordan.”
In light of all the “All-Time Fives” craze circling, I thought it would be fun to put together an all-time Victims of Jordan (VOJ) team. These are all-time great players who didn’t win a title, largely because their best chances at a ring just happened to coincide with the time that Jordan was being a ring hog.
The head-to-head stats contain only postseason stats, and were obtained from Basketball-Reference’s “Head-to-Head” Play Index.
Point Guard: John Stockton
John Stockton is so underrated that even the underratedness of his underratedness is underrated. I’m just going to repeat what I said about him in my Utah Jazz Starting Five piece because I’m not going to say it any better than I did there.
When you’re talking “true” point guards, John Stockton is the greatest of all time. No one in history has ever produced as many points as the man who dished dimes in three different decades. Either through scoring or passing he contributed to more than 51,323 points (points plus assists times two). That’s not even including the three-point assists he had. No one else has topped 50,000. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was second with 49,987.
And for a man who lived off the mid-range jumper, it’s just phenomenal that he boasts a career field goal percentage of 51.5. That’s higher than Tim Duncan or Hakeem Olajuwon. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, only nine players in history have more points and a higher shooting percentage — and only three have a better effective field goal percentage.
Putting Stockton’s assist record in perspective is hard to do. He has 30.7 percent more than any other player, ever. He’s also the all-time leader in steals by 20.1 percent.
Of all the “major records” in the four big North American sports leagues (NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL), the only records that surpass the gulf between the all-time leader and the rest of the world is Wayne Gretzky’s gargantuan lead in assists and points in the NHL.
However, while Gretzky is nearly universally regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time, Stockton is often not even listed in the top 20 of many all-time lists. He’s easily one of the sport’s most underrated players.
If I could have any point guard in history to facilitate an all-time team, it would be Stockton. No one has ever been better and more consistent at running an offense.
Not once, but twice Jordan stopped Stockton, Karl Malone and the Jazz from winning a title: in 1996-97 and in 1997-98. The Jazz won 64 and 62 games respectively in those two seasons. They were also the team Jordan beat in his last two Finals runs.
When he retired, he was the all-time leader in three-point shots. He held onto that title until Ray Allen surpassed him. He remains second on the list with 2,560, nearly 500 more than anyone other than Allen.
However, contrary to the perception, Miller was not “just” a three-point shooter. He was primarily a jump shooter, yes, but he was the rare guy who could wreck an opponent with mid-range efficiency.
And he used his famous “leg kick” to get to the line. When lining up a shot, he’d thrust his leg out to make contact with a closing defender and “draw the foul.” It was crazy how often that worked. As more players picked it up and started doing it, it inspired a rule change long after he retired.
Miller shot 51.4 percent from two for his career, 88.8 percent from the free throw line and 39.5 percent from the three-point line. He has the highest true shooting percentage of anyone who’s scored 25,000 points.
Probably Miller’s greatest moment came when he scored eight points in nine seconds to quiet Madison Square Garden en route to a comeback win over the Knicks.
Against His Airness, though, Miller couldn’t muster such magic. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, he helped take the Indiana Pacers to the brink of getting past Jordan, taking Jordan’s Bulls to seven games and even holding the lead halfway through the fourth quarter of the final contest.
But Jordan kept driving to the rim and drawing fouls, and the Bulls pulled away.
After the game, Scottie Pippen called it “the toughest series of my career.”
The toughest decision for this list was small forward. My first inclination was to go with Dominique Wilkins, but he only faced Jordan once in the postseason. That was in the first round of 1988, and he got broomed quicker than you can say “Nique.”
So, after briefly entertaining the idea of cheating and putting Charles Barkley here so I could get both him and Malone in, I instead decided to actually go with a guy who played some small forward in his career: Detlef Schrempf.
Schrempf is the only player on this list who’s not a member of the Hall of Fame. Maybe it’s time for him to be inducted. He was, after all, the forerunner for Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. At the time he retired, no European player had more career Win Shares than Schrempf’s 109.5, and he wasn’t passed until 2007 when Nowitzki leapfrogged him.
As of now, he remains third all-time among European born and raised players. By NBA standards, he was a very good career player, but he was playing before Dražen Petrović or Toni Kukoc. He really was the forerunner for European ballers having a successful NBA career.
Schrempf made three All-Star Games, but he didn’t win a championship. The closest he came was in 1996 when his Seattle SuperSonics ran into Jordan’s Greatest Team Ever. Seattle got knocked out in six games.
In most years, that 64-win team would’ve won a title. But that year, the Bulls were just unfairly good.
The power forward was a tough choice because it was hard to choose between Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. Both are arguably top 20 players of all time. Malone has the chemistry with John Stockton going for him. However, I went with Barkley because he had such good numbers going against Jordan.
Barkley faced Jordan three times in the postseason, twice while he was a Philadelphia 76er and once while he was a Phoenix Sun. It was in Phoenix that he had his best chance at a title. Barkley won the MVP; Jordan won the Finals MVP. And that’s the sum of the season for you.
The Round Mound of Rebound recounted a great story of what happened on Bill Simmons’s podcast, transcribed here by Andrew Sharp at SB Nation:
You know, I’d always thought that I was the best player, to be honest with you. I always thought, Michael Jordan when he started winning, he just had more help than me. So, when I finally came to Phoenix, I had told the late, great Cotton Fitzsimmons, ‘Hey dude, I’m the best basketball player in the world. We’re going to the Finals.’ And he said, ‘That’s why I traded for you.’
I actually thought I was the best. I thought Bird and Magic just had better players. So, I said, ‘Listen dude, I’m going to the Finals this year. Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson…That’s what I need. We’re going to the Finals.’ He says, ‘Well Michael’s gonna be there.’ I said, ‘Cotton, I think I’m better than Michael Jordan.’ He says, ‘We will see when you get there.’
So, we actually got nervous before Game 1. We struggled. The pressure got to the guys on the team. I played decent, but then I think the other guys were nervous. So Game 2, I’m talking to my daughter.
She said, ‘Dad? Are y’all gonna win tonight?’
I said, ‘Baby, your dad is the best basketball player in the world. I’m going to dominate the game tonight.’ And I remember…I think I had like 46, 47 (actually it was 42, but we’ll cut him some slack). I played great. And Michael had 52 (also 42, but Jordan nearly had a triple-double).
And I got home that night, and my daughter was crying, and she said, ‘Dad, y’all lost again.’
I said, ‘Baby, I think Michael Jordan’s better than me.’
She said, ‘Dad, you’ve never said that before.’
I said, ‘Baby, I’ve never felt like that before.’
And that’s how he became a VOJ.
Patrick Ewing was the ultimate VOJ. Here’s a fun tidbit for you (unless you have a rooting interest in the New York Knicks, in which case it’s anything but fun): Jordan didn’t win a ring without beating Ewing until 1997.
Of all the players on this list, Ewing lost more than anyone. In fact, he took more Ls (19) to MJ than any of the other guys here even played games (Barkley had 16). In all, Ewing was sent home for the offseason in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993 and again in 1996.
And it’s not even that Ewing played badly. He averaged over 22 points and two blocks and almost 11 boards. But Jordan repeatedly Jordan’d.
Probably the most painful for Ewing had to be 1993. The Knicks went up 2-0 and had the home-court advantage. The Bulls were just the fifth team in NBA history to overcome such a deficit and the second to do so in six games.
The rivalry was arguably the meanest, most contentious rivalry of the ’90s, and Jordan’s dunk on Ewing is one of the prevailing images of it.