In the last few decades, two iconic figures have transformed their respective sports. Michael Jordan, his Airness, brought his tongue out swagger along with his unrivaled scoring talents to the NBA. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, brought his signature fist pump and club twirl while making 320 yard drives the rule, not the exception. Both of these athletes were without a doubt the best player of their era, but there are other factors that led to their success. Here are a few stories to determine which athlete is greater.
Michael Jordan: In 1993, Michael Jordan famously shocked the world when he announced his retirement from professional basketball and desire to pursue a career in baseball. Towards the end of the 1994-1995 NBA season, however, Jordan returned. Then it happened. In the Game 1 of the 1995 Playoffs against the Orlando Magic, Michael Jordan, wearing his No. 45 jersey, had the ball stripped by Nick Anderson within the final 20 seconds of the game to pull off an upset victory. Later, Anderson commented, “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to. No. 45 is not No. 23. I couldn’t have done that to No. 23”. The next game, Jordan stepped in wearing his signature No. 23 and scored 38 points, and although Jordan ultimately lost the series, he was determined. The following summer Jordan trained while using Nick Anderson’s comments as motivation, which led to a then record-setting 72-10 season and the start of his second three-peat.
Tiger Woods: While he was growing up, Tiger Woods slept every night with a poster of Jack Nicklaus, one of the greatest golfers to ever play, hanging above him. Tiger sought to not only break but demolish Nicklaus’ records. After all, he famously stated once in an interview, “records are meant to be broken”. In the start of the 1995-1996 college season, Tiger had two U.S Amateur titles, rivaling Nicklaus’ two titles. While Tiger has proven that he can play at the professional level, he decided to stay an extra year at Stanford just to beat Nicklaus’ record. The U.S Amateur is one of the biggest non-professional events a golfer can compete in, and it is nearly inhumane to say that you can guarantee to win this event, except for Tiger Woods. Tiger defeated a field of 312 competitors including two comeback victories during the match play portion to win a historical 3 straight U.S Amateur titles.
Michael Jordan: One of the greatest impacts Jordan had to the game of basketball was that he proved that the NBA could be dominated by a guard. The Lakers had Kareem and 6’9 point guard Magic Johnson, while the Celtics had a frontcourt of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, all who stood over 6’9. Additionally, until Larry Bird won the MVP award in 1983, since 1956, centers have won the award each year, with the exception of Bob Cousy and Oscar Roberson. Jordan brought his “Airness” to the game, using his deception, athleticism, and impeccable footwork to attack the basket and score the basketball. This style of play and swagger excited fans a lot more than a big man simply overpowering a smaller defender. As a result, the NBA Final’s featuring Jordan and the Chicago Bulls have some of the highest rated viewerships to date with over 20 million people tuning into the games. A testament to Jordan’s impact on the game is the fact that the only “true center” to win the MVP award after Jordan is Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant big man to have ever played.
Tiger Woods: I don’t believe anyone has impacted the game of golf like Tiger Woods has. The common conception of professional golfers prior to Tiger Woods, and possibly even now, was that professional golfers are a bunch of wealthy middle-aged men who weren’t “athletes”. Tiger changed that. During the 1997 Masters at the famous Augusta National, Tiger Woods obliterated the field, setting numerous amounts of records and winning by 12 strokes. The key to his success? Tiger dominated the course with his monster drives, hitting drives over 300 yards and having flip wedges to set up easy birdie opportunities. Tiger was so dominant that Augusta, along with other courses, had to lengthen the course in order to “Tiger Proof” them. For other professionals to catch up, they had to do the unheard of. Weight lifting and conditioning then became a must into the practice regimen of a professional golfer, not a plus. In 1996, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour was about 278 yards. In 2016, that number increased to a bit over 300 yards. Additionally, Tiger was the biggest inspiration to the younger generation of professional athletes. Tiger grew up playing in a tour with players such as Mark O’Meara, John Daly, and Fred Couples. Most of the tour was over the age of 30. However, this generation of golfers grew up watching Tiger pound drives and execute nearly impossible shots to perfection. Thus, this generation of golfers consists of people like Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler, golfers in their twenties and carry out a certain charisma to attract kids to the game.
3. Willingness to Win
Michael Jordan: Something that separates Michael Jordan from other all-time greats wasn’t his ability to win, rather it was his sheer desire and willingness to win. Lebron James left Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals with a cramp and Chris Paul exited a game with a sprained finger. Michael Jordan wasn’t like them. In Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, with the series tied 2-2, Michael Jordan proved to the world that he was a relentless competitor. Jordan came into the game with a 104-degree fever and many flu-like symptoms, however, he willed his team to a victory with a 38 point performance. The most notable moment perhaps was when Jordan collapsed into sidekick Scottie Pippens arms late in the fourth quarter. Jordan quoted after the game, “Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.” Most people cannot even get out of bed with a 104-degree fever let alone play a full and physical game of basketball.
Tiger Woods: Similar to Jordan, Tiger’s willingness to win separates him from his competitors. Contemporaries such as Rory Mcilroy withdrew from a tournament due to wisdom tooth pain, while Phil Mickelson withdrew because he supposedly “pulled a muscle” while swinging a golf club. Like Mike, Tiger was different. In the 2008 US Open, Tiger gave the golfing world one of the most spectacular performances we have ever witnessed. Prior to the tournament, Tiger had two stress fractures in his left tibia and was coming off an arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage damage. While many doctors highly advised Tiger to shut down his season and rehabilitate his body, Tiger went again their orders and stated, “I’m going to win the U.S. Open”. This was a man who could barely walk let alone play and win a golf tournament. However, Tiger once again gave an inhumane performance. Almost after every shot, you would see Tiger limping in pain, but he continued to fight. On Sunday evening, Father’s Day, Tiger sank a clutch putt on the last hole to force a Monday playoff, and on Monday evening, Tiger shocked the entire world when he beat the best field in golf with one leg.
Both widely considered as the best in their respective sports, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods inhibit many similar characteristics and share similar stories. The only question is, who is the greater athlete?