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Praise from his peers

NBA's 50 greatest sing MJ's praises

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Posted: Monday February 01, 1999 03:52 PM

  Magic Johnson (front): "I was hoping he would stay just one more year to help these young NBA players learn how to be a true professional" Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- The NBA has seen its share of great players and they will all tell you that there is no greater compliment than to be honored and recognized by your peers.

During his 13 years in the NBA, Michael Jordan did things on the basketball court that those before and after him may never see again. Many of the NBA's 50 greatest players agreed that No. 23 may go down in history as the best to ever play the game.

Some of their comments:

Paul Arizin

"I don't think you can pick a single greatest. Jordan is more a forward than a guard. But how do you compare him to a center? They've got different jobs. It's apples and oranges. It's comparing golfers to tennis players."

"He's certainly a great player. Is he the greatest in his category? I wouldn't say that. A guy like Elgin Baylor got less publicity. Wilt, Russell, there are many great players. You can name the 15 greatest. He'd probably be in that category."

Rick Barry

"I keep hearing he's the greatest and that upsets me. It's not fair to other players. You can't compare a 2-guard to a center. There are five different and distinct positions. He's the greatest 2-guard I ever saw and the most exciting player."

Elgin Baylor

"Not only do I admire Jordan's accomplishments and his phenomenal basketball ability, but also the way he has conducted himself on and off the court. I don't think there will ever be another player to have the same impact on the game of basketball as Michael Jordan. If you look up the definition of greatness in the dictionary, it will say Michael Jordan."

Dave Bing

"Michael is the most talented player I've ever seen. Wilt was the most dominating, but Michael has the most talent in every aspect of the game, even defense.

"He's the best ever because of his combination of skills, his competitiveness. Russell, Wilt, Kareem dominated because of their size, but they didn't have Michael's skills."

Larry Bird

"Is he the greatest? He's in the top two."

Bob Cousy

"He's by far the best since Naismith hung up the basket. He touches every base. He could play three, maybe four positions and maybe even center, too. He has no discernible weakness. The keys to basketball, despite the emphasis on big men, is still speed and quickness. He has them in abundance. When I jumped as high as I could, I got to the bottom of the net. When he jumps as high as he can, he's over the backboard. He's the best, without question."

Dave Cowens

"If you're a young player and you have to have a role model, following up Dr. J with Michael Jordan, it certainly doesn't get any better than that. From all I've heard the last few years, there's nobody anybody wants to see in our league except Michael Jordan. He wanted to be known not only as a great scorer and a winner, but a great defender. And he was. As good as Chicago was offensively, they were better defensively primarily because of Michael Jordan."

Billy Cunningham

"I think he was the best ever. The whole package. He's scary sometimes with his defense. The passion he had amazes me. At a certain age, it's more difficult to get up for a game. A big game, sure, it's easy. But he did it for every game. How did he do it? To motivate himself at a level to perform. There's no burnout there. It's something within himself. If I had to play him, I'd pray a lot."

Patrick Ewing

"All I can speak for is people in my era, and from what I've seen, he's definitely the greatest. Unfortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to see Bill, Wilt or Oscar or some of the other guys. But based upon what I've seen, definitely.

Magic Johnson

"He's an icon, a one-man show. He's won one more championship than I did. He'll be rubbing it in my face for eternity. I was hoping he would stay just one more year to help these young NBA players learn how to be a true professional."

Sam Jones

Shaquille O'Neal (right): "Michael's definitely the best basketball player of all time" Jonathan Daniel/Allsport  

"I don't know if he knows how good he is. He's tremendous. I've never seen anything like him. He's only 6-6. That's amazing. You seldom see a person that size do those things. He's so creative and to be able to take over a game at that size, it's amazing. Oscar and West were the best, but there's no other version of Jordan, the hang time, how high he jumps, how quick he moves. The guy amazes me. ... He's the best I've ever seen."

Jerry Lucas

"He's been probably the most important player in the history of the game as far as its success, popularity and growth. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird provided a lift when the game needed it. Michael took it to another level and brought more and more fans.

"He's the greatest player who ever lived, a unique attraction. He's such a competitor. He forced the players around him to play at a higher level. He's a competitor. That describes a special player. When the sport loses him, it's like losing Babe Ruth in baseball. I've never seen a player who can do what he did."

George Mikan

"He's the one and only Michael Jordan. He does everything well. He's great offensively and defensively. What else would you want a guy to do? When you see a guy scoring 40 points every time ... and he plays more with his head today. He doesn't rely on instinct anymore. He's always in the right place."

Shaquille O'Neal

"Michael's definitely the best basketball player of all time. He's the greatest offensive weapon to ever play, and probably the best defensive player we've ever seen."

Oscar Robertson

"Michael is a tremendous basketball player who understands the game immensely. I think Michael learned how to play the game in the pros. Because of TV and media, he became bigger off the court than on it. He is a tremendous marketing vehicle to sell everything. I think he hesitated to say 'No more' because he did it once before and that turned out to be a mistake."

Bill Russell

"I cannot imagine anyone playing any better."

Dolph Schayes

"Michael's had the greatest impact on the NBA than any player in history. He was the greatest competitor who came through when asked. He rarely had a bad game. You'd expect 10 percent of the time that he would not do well. He beat those odds.

"He'll surely be missed the first year or two out. He sold out buildings because people want to see him. He got a lot of people who were not fans watching the game. There's nobody on the horizon to take his place, not Grant Hill and not Kobe Bryant. He's the player of the century."

Bill Sharman

"Michael Jordan is the greatest all-around basketball performer of all time. ... I don't believe Michael was the greatest shooter or the greatest dribbler or passer or the greatest defensive player, etc. However, I believe he could do all these things better than anyone else who ever played in the NBA."

Isiah Thomas

"From all the players I have seen and played against, he's definitely the best player ever. A lot of people like to argue this guy was better or this guy was better. But every player you think of there was some weaknesses and deficiencies in their game. He has the complete package in all facets of his offensive game, and when you break him down defensively, he's also the best defensive player in the game. ... He should be remembered as the greatest of all time."

Nate Thurmond

"He's the greatest that ever touched a basketball, that ever lived, any way you want to put it and without a doubt. I hope I'm alive when there will be an argument of who is another player who comes along who's as good. I hope I'm around to see this guy."

Bill Walton

"He has no peers but Michael Jordan. He competes against himself. That's the level he's taken it to."

Jerry West

"I have to think he's the greatest player ever. Not because of his ability to score, but because of his total game. To me he's the best offensive player and the best defensive player in the league for a number of years. To be the defensive player of the year with all the other things he had to do, to me, he's a marvel. He has separated himself from the rest of the good players as far as I'm concerned. He's the modern day Babe Ruth."

Lenny Wilkens

"He became the greatest. I won't say he was when he first started, but he developed into, I think, the greatest player who ever played basketball. I think he combined all of it, the athleticism with the skill. And every year he improved his skill. And also the mental toughness it takes to come out night in and night out and deliver your best performance. ... You know I've seen a lot of great players, but never one who could dominate a game like Michael could."

Related information
A Man For His Time
Michael Jordan Cover Gallery
Marty Burns: 23 to Remember
Rick Reilly: No time to be an airhead
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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