It’s tough to top perfection. Or, to be more accurate, the perception of perfection.
Michael Jordan won his six rings in six Finals tries, with those two three-peats separated by his first retirement and that brief-but-fascinating minor league baseball career. They say nobody bats 1.000, but his ability to do just that on the NBA’s greatest stage is the main reason his playoff legacy remains unmatched.
Pick a player not named Jordan who’s considered an all-time great, and they had a blemish on their Finals resume. From LeBron James' five Finals losses to Bill Russell (11-1), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6-4), Magic Johnson (5-4), Wilt Chamberlain (2-4), Kobe Bryant (5-2), Shaquille O’Neal (4-2), Larry Bird (3-2), and Tim Duncan (5-1), they all fell short at the end at least once. And unlike James, who faltered badly in the 2011 Finals loss against Dallas and was below his Superman standards in 2007 (a sweep by San Antonio) and 2014 (a five-game Spurs win), Jordan met the moment every time while taking down plenty of greats along the way.
His Chicago Bulls downed Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers in 1991 (five games), Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trail Blazers in 1992 (six), the Charles Barkley-Kevin Johnson Phoenix Suns in 1993 (six), the Gary Payton-Shawn Kemp Seattle SuperSonics in 1996 (six), and the back-to-back Finals wins over the John Stockton-Karl Malone Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998 (both six games). That he always avoided any kind of drop-off at the end of a long playoff run, of course, is remarkable.