No one can agree on which criteria are necessary to determine who is the best basketball player in the history of the NBA. It might be determined by championships, it might be determined by the ability to fill up a box score, or it might be determined by an intangible thing that stems from “watching them play” or something like that.
For some reason, outside of Bill Russell, a player’s competency on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t seem to be used as a trump card, especially dealing with guards. For Stephen Jackson, this is an important part of the equation, especially when dealing with a trio of players: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan.
In Jackson’s eyes, they’re all players who are in the discussion for being the greatest player of all time, and he’s not wrong. But ultimately, there’s one thing that sets Jordan apart from the other two.
“What separates Jordan from everybody?” Jackson asked. “Defensive Player of the Year. Y’all don’t talk about that. How can you be the top scorer and the best defender? Nobody’s done that but Jordan. That’s what separates Jordan from everybody else. Conversation over.”
Wining the award in 1988 is a plus in Jordan’s G.O.A.T. argument, even if voting for Defensive Player of the Year is extremely subjective and you can make the argument that James and Bryant at their peaks deserved to be in the conversation for the award. There’s also the fact that James is a more versatile defender than Jordan because of his ability to guard big men, but that’s a hard thing to quantify and is also a wholly subjective thing.
Regardless, Defensive Player of the Year is an honor that Jordan boasts, Bryant never received, and James may never get.