I am astonished by the repeated comparisons of Michael Jordan and Tom Brady and their domination in their respective sports. One has to ask, why in the heck the media world is attempting to move heaven and earth to elevate Brady’s artificial performance to that of MJ’s astonishing career?
From a statistical analysis, it is easy to land into the trap that many analysts would have fans fall into, but savvier fans with just a little more understanding of professional sports should have a different take.
Yes, we know both the Chicago Bulls and the New England Patriots dominated teams, and both teams were led by great football minds in Phil Jackson and Bill Belichick, but this is where the comparisons should end.
Here are three fact-based reasons why comparisons of MJ and Tom Brady do not make sense!
1. There were no rules to elevate Jordan’s performance – There was a true Affirmative Action on the part of the NFL/Roger Goodell to elevate the performance of stationary drop back quarterbacks on the field of play. MJ didn’t have the benefit of something akin to the Tuck Rule, Two-Step Rule, Brady Rule, Mel Blount Rule, Receivers running unimpeded throughout their routes, and enormous fines to discourage dominant defenders from tackling the quarterback to aid his performance on the court.
2. MJ is a genuine athlete – Athleticism should be fundamental in crowning anyone with GOAT status. Brady emerged in a system that required very little in the way of athleticism. Brady’s throwing motion and the only required athleticism is his quick release and throwing motion that resembles the athleticism of professional ping pong players more than athletes in the gladiator sport of professional football.
Fortunately, he’s playing in an era where rules allow receivers to get open to quickly deliver the football and his coach developed a system that capitalizes on the transformation of the league’s rule over several decades. Brady understands this phenomenon more than anyone else, which is why he stated:
I know myself as a player. I’m really a product of what I’ve been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I’ve been very fortunate.
There’s no argument that Jordan was the best athlete in the NBA during his tenure. Success in the league required Jordan to run the full length of the court and not just drop back two steps and use a throwing motion surrounded by more athletic 375lb linemen. He had to bring his whole body to bear, and this was instrumental in winning the slam dunk competition, winning offensive and defensive player awards, being the highest scorer and winning the MVP five times during his career.
Brady should be credited for his two second release, but the great receivers he’s thrown to (Rob Gronkowski and Randy Moss among them) should take part in the credit as well.
You can’t even make an accurate comparison to Brady and some of his predecessors. The Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, John Elway… of the world had to go through their progressions worrying about getting sacked since there were far fewer constraints on defenders in their day. They had to be genuine athletes on the field of play. Today’s quarterback position is not even recognizable to when Montana and Bradshaw took their teams to four Super Bowls.
3. The evidence is blatant and quite compelling that Brady existed on a team that cheated opponents for the better part of a decade – The Chicago Bulls didn’t maintain a video catalog of their opponent’s walk-throughs and hand signals and make the intel a part of the game strategy that was handed to MJ on a silver platter, but again there is enormous evidence that Brady consistently received a game strategy that he knew was acquired through cheating his opponents.
According to the Wells Report, Brady also organized fellow quarterbacks to petition the league to maintain their own footballs for the purpose of cheating his opponents on the field of play. The Patriots went virtually fumble-free in the harsh weather conditions of New England, Buffalo, and New York City. Cheating by the Patriots’ organization seems to have encouraged Brady to freelance with his own cheating.
If we’re talking GOATS in professional sports, Deion Sanders would be a better Professional Football representative and comparison to Jordan in terms of athleticism and dominance. Primetime played 4 different positions, received championships from multiple teams, and was the most dominant athlete on the field. Sander’s performance was authentic and can be held up to any scrutiny because his performance wasn’t bolstered by the league’s rule changes.
We should neeeeeever have a conversation about Brady’s GOAT status and not talk about a decade of cheating by the organization he played for and Tom Brady’s dalliance with cheating. We should neeeeeever have a conversation about Brady and not mention the true Affirmative Action on the part of the National Football League to boost his performance.
We should stop throwing this comparison around. It’s fact vs fiction. This comparison is of Hollywood proportions. It’s almost like comparing the professional boxing career of Rocky Balboa to Muhammad Ali’s. True greatness needs no assistance from the league and it certainly doesn’t resort to cheating.
Vern Nicholson is the author of The Asterisk, A Fan’s Grievance On Cheating And Rule Manipulation In The NFL.