There is no doubting the greatness of both Michael Jordan, the Hall of Fame basketball player who played for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, or Muhammad Ali arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.
No matter how one looks at their accomplishments they’re all-time greats in their respective sport, but what makes them iconic and still relevant years after?
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before; If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Well, while you think about that, the whole world heard the noise Ali and Jordan made. While they both made quite a splash in the sports world, it’s safe to say they did it in their own way. Sure, they’re both similar in their competitive drive, but how they presented themselves in the public and media was different.
Ali had a very vocal personality. Even in the ring while another man tried to take his head off, Ali ran his mouth. He predicted rounds, demanded respect and all that jazz, but we’ve already covered that. What I’m getting at is that Ali was vocal outside the ring about social issues. In joining the Nation of Islam he changed his name from Cassius Clay, you know the story. In fact, you’ve probably already seen the multiple movies and documentaries of Ali. There is without any doubt still controversy surrounding Ali.
It was what Ali sacrificed that made him pulverizing. There was a time when Muhammad Ali was hated by many because he exercised his freedom of speech and refused to serve his country for the Vietnam War. Ali was drafted and asked to join the Armed forces but in a controversial act refused to join. Ali maintained that war was against his religion, which he did adopt long before he was drafted and saw no reason to kill any “VietCong”. This is when Ali gave a famous line while being interviewed by the media.
“I Ain’t Got No Quarrel With The VietCong…
No VietCong Ever Called Me N****”
Muhammad Ali, 1966
This case went all the way to the supreme court and even forced Ali to retire and vacate his World title as an undefeated Champion. Ali continued to voice his opinion over social issues like racism and the war itself. He was loved by some and hated by others because of his actions.
Do I agree with everything Muhammad Ali ever said? No, but I understand where he was coming from. He was in a position as the Heavyweight Champion of the world, at the time a prize that gave you a voice regardless of your color or creed. Ali’s voice on the war in Vietnam and social issues was heard by everyone around the world.
ICONIC: Ali vs United States Government
Soon enough as the death-toll kept climbing, public perception turned over the Vietnam war. Ali was able to return to the ring and fight around the world. The world was able to witness the love and admiration that was given to Ali by those who loved him. He was a clear favorite among the public in Zaire when he fought, then Heavyweight Champion, George Forman. As for those who hated Ali? Many still turned to love him and understand the man.
That one act and sacrifice Muhammad Ali made turned him into a global icon and while despised by some, he is loved by many.
As for Michael Jordan, his iconic status was much different than Ali’s. The one major advantage Michael Jordan has is that he is fresh in our minds and currently being compared with top NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Granted, I don’t think Bryant or James hold a candle to Jordan, but the comparisons are out there and many fans are able to analyze that. This is something Muhammad Ali doesn’t really have.
It’s impossible to compare today’s heavyweights in boxing to Ali, while Jordan still has that. Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao can’t fill the void of Ali since they’re nowhere near the same weight-class. Some will fill that void with the likes of today’s boxing stars like the stars I just mentioned, but there is still a large gap in time. Boxing is also not a mainstream sport but once or twice a year anymore.
“Air” Jordan is much fresher than Ali. In fact, I watched Michael Jordan play live on television and witnessed his career growing up. I too wanted to be like Mike. Since most of us grew up watching Jordan play, we have first hand seen the impact he’s had in sports. His story doesn’t seem right out of a Hollywood set.
While Jordan wasn’t a vocal figure, he didn’t have to be. One, he played basketball in different times to when Ali was boxing. He wasn’t drafted to go to war, so we have no idea what Jordan would have done or how he would have handled a situation like that. All we know is what made him an iconic star and that was his commercial success. Jordan sponsored a sponsor, that’s how big he was. Nike created an entire “Jordan” brand which still exists today. In fact, I bet 1/2 of the readers right now are wearing Jordan’s.
ICONIC: Jordan’s commercial success
The multi-media marketing power that Michael Jordan brought to basketball turned the sports world upside down. You can’t ignore the fact that he revolutionized basketball and introduced it to a sea of people across the globe. Hanes still makes profit every time they say the name Michael Jordan, it seems.
Jordan refused to let opinion of social issues be out in public. He always kept things strictly on the game. Truthfully, that’s all Michael Jordan really had to do. He just wanted to be an athlete and let his performances on the court inspire those who watched him play. Future NBA stars will consistently get compared to Jordan. Even in other sports or businesses people say, “He’s the Michael Jordan of”, which is just another way of saying, “the best of”. Just about everyone has used that line and it will continue to get used. It’s become part of our culture. It’s said out of respect to the iconic Jordan who proved he was the best in a golden era of the NBA.
Just remember that before Jordan, “The Babe Ruth of” was part of American culture. Jordan is just, again, fresh on our minds.
Without a doubt, Michael Jordan has earned the praise that he gets. You can even argue he was a better basketball player than Ali was a boxer. I won’t dispute that Michael Jordan changed the sports sponsorship landscape forever. He was great, but he’s still not “The Greatest” Icon in sports history.
Be sure to check out other great articles by Eric Anaya at Rope A Dope Radio.