Opinion

Messi and Ronaldo are megastars just like Jordan, no bull

0:00

The enthralling documentary about basketball's Chicago Bulls and their charismatic talisman Michael Jordan has highlighted the megastar's stature among millions of sports fans as the greatest athlete of all time.

The 10 episodes of the joint ESPN/Netflix production The Last Dance have been such a worldwide hit that everyone in the sporting universe, it seems, has been made aware of the legacy of the cigar-chomping New Yorker with the beaming smile who became a six-time winner of the National Basketball Association with the Bulls in the 1990s.

The series was so exclusive in its content and captivating in its presentation that it must have drawn tens of thousands of new followers to a sport which is one of the most conspicuous exponents of American pop culture.

Yet the portrayal of Jordan as a sporting hero with a manic drive to succeed, extraordinary athletic powers, strong leadership qualities, jaw-dropping skill and a larger-than-life persona that cemented him at the top of the world's sporting pedestal is questionable.

For the simple reason that contemporary football megastars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, are adored by millions due to their capacity to change the course of a match with a stroke of genius and to lead their teams to glory same as MJ was and did in his prime.

And let's not forget that it is harder to be as influential in an 11-member team as in one with five players.

The evidence that challenges MJ's stratospheric status is eye-opening, even compelling.

How many matches and trophies has the Argentine master helped his only club Barcelona win at home and abroad?

How many times have fans all over the world hailed him as football's greatest player?

How can anyone forget the Portuguese predator's amazing exploits with his three clubs Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus?

How can anyone dismiss his burning ambition to become football's best ever player and his obsession with fitness?

Jordan no doubt had such qualities in abundance and literally rose to any challenge the NBA threw at him but a point that is often overlooked when extolling his virtues is that basketball - for all its glamour, wealth and global reach - simply is not as big as football, which is the sport that matters most to most people in the world.

To put things in proper perspective, the NBA is big, very big ... but so is the UEFA Champions League.

And if Jordan was the NBA's MVP five times ... Messi and Ronaldo won FIFA's player of the year award 11 times between them.

Also, when it comes to the power of marketing outside the United States, for all his aura and popularity Jordan merchandising would not be more widespread and lucrative than that of either Messi or Ronaldo, even though it is hard to find accurate figures to substantiate this.

If you walked down Oxford Street in London or Champs Elysees in Paris the last few years, you probably would have seen more people wearing a Messi or Ronaldo jersey than Jordan's.

The same would apply to other hubs in Asia such as the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Nathan Road in Hong Kong or the Bund in Shanghai.

It's not hard to understand why: Messi and Ronaldo have been associated with clubs that have a history and tradition that go back decades and mean more to Japanese or Chinese sports fans than Jordan's Chicago Bulls franchise.

These comparisons are not definitive of course but they are usually indicative of a sportsperson's popularity level.

This is not an exercise to diminish in any way Jordan's achievements that transcended sport, making him "an extraordinary ambassador not just for basketball but for the United States", as former president Barrack Obama put it in the closing stages of the television series that has taken sporting documentaries to a higher level.

The point of this article is to show that if sports followers - particularly those Americans who notoriously have a blinkered view of the world - can proclaim Jordan as the greatest sportsperson of all time they should be gently reminded that football - the world game - also has its superheroes who enjoy the adulation of the masses.