CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The G.O.A.T, a moniker of reverence short for ‘Greatest of All Time,’ is how Michael Jordan’s known by ardent hoops junkies.
To the center of his Charlotte Bobcats, Jordan is the palpable greeting to the realization of a lifelong dream.
That introduction didn’t come when the draft card placard placing Bismack Biyombo’s name beside the Bobcats was slid in the spot of the 7th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft—a selection Jordan was said to have pushed for. Not when he received his first Jordan-signed paycheck, either.
“When I came here [to work out] for the draft, I saw [Jordan] and that was one of the best moments of my career,” Biyombo said earnestly. “The last day I worked out here I went back to New York and I was just kinda like, ‘Wow, this is going to be crazy if he has to be my owner.’ And down the road some good things happened and I just appreciate the chance.”
As Jordan celebrates his 50th birthday Sunday, his legacy isn’t that of the league’s most illustrious player. His legacy is what the game has become. That one of Biyombo‘s most memorable moments entering the league is just being in the same room as a man who last played when Biyombo was just 10 years old. Jordan not only made the NBA popular again, he turned it global, and it’s showed no signs of slowing down since.
“When I was back home [in the Republic of Congo], we were watching the Finals and stuff and all those big shots he hit in the Finals. I was a kid and it was just impressive,” Biyombo said of the 1998 NBA Finals. “You were kinda like going crazy like, ‘O.M.G., this guy!’”
Think about that: 9,000 miles from the United States, a six-year-old kid knew he couldn’t miss the greatest show in sneakers. That’s one of the biggest reasons why the NBA exploded in the ’80s and ’90s and why lines still form around shoe shops hours before the latest sneakers with his namesake are released.
Jordan seems to have a way of bringing everyone back to their childhood, when every young hoops star was simulating breaking Bryon Russell’s ankles like Jordan infamously did in Salt Lake City in Game 6. You see it every time Kobe takes the floor. Or LeBron.
Bobcats power forward Byron Mullens doesn’t have that same appreciation that so many in the NBA have of growing up watching and emulating Jordan because he didn’t start playing basketball until high school. His foremost memory of Jordan is in the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. But even this basketball newbie can’t believe how blessed he is to be in a situation where his phone frequently lights up after games with postgame instruction from the man “who knows basketball like no one else.”
“He just says, ‘I want you down in the post more,’ but also saying, ‘Don’t give up on the three.’ This is my second year playing basically so he’s given me all the confidence in the world,” Mullens said of Jordan. “You get a text from Michael Jordan, it’s not like getting a text from your coach.”
It’s that savvy and wisdom that had people think maybe Jordan wasn’t really joking when he said he may come back and play at 50 in his Hall of Fame speech.
Is it really that far-fetched coming from a guy who averaged 20 points per game at the age of 40? Could the G.O.A.T, who is old enough to be the majority of the players in the league’s father, still contribute on an NBA team nearly a decade after his final retirement?
“If he played for the Bobcats, yeah,” Mullens cracked.
All jokes aside, Biyombo and head coach Mike Dunlap, who both witnessed Jordan go one-on-one with Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after practice a month ago, both say unequivocally, ‘Yes.’
“Yeah, he could,” Dunlap said. “Short minutes but he could definitely get minutes. There’s no doubt in my mind he could get minutes.”
Added Biyombo: “He still can play. I saw him going against Gerald Henderson and MKG and he killed them. He killed them, so I can only believe that he still can play and still has his game going. But we don’t know how long he could play in a full game cause of the full speed up and down. But I believe he can play. I mean, he’s MJ!”
Come Sunday, Feb. 17, Jordan may be 50, but his legacy remains unchanged.