Latest ESPN Poll Result Is Clearly Ignorant

As we combat the deadly Coronavirus through social distancing, we are relying on social media more than ever to connect with total strangers, to debate politics, sports, movies, and music.

280 characters aren’t enough to flesh out hot takes, so I am fortunate to have this platform to bloviate my opinions.

With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament cancelled due to COVID-19, ESPN ran a bracketology poll to name the Greatest College Basketball Player of All Time. Not surprisingly, Michael Jordan won the poll, edging out Larry Bird.

I was fortunate to cover the Celtics in the 1980s and saw the greatness of Bird. I also got to see Jordan in person countless times, including his incredible 63-point record-setting performance against the Celtics in the 1986 playoffs. Jordan and Bird are living legends. Hell, Bird’s nickname is Larry “Legend”.

But the poll is about their collegiate careers, not their professional resumes.

As a freshman, Jordan hit the game-winning shot in North Carolina’s 63-62 win over Georgetown in the 1982 Championship game.

In that game, Jordan was the 4th best player on the floor behind teammate James Worthy as well as Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd. Worthy, not Jordan, was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

Jordan did not return to the Final Four during his sophomore and junior seasons at Chapel Hill.

Bird carried an average team, at best, to an undefeated season before losing to “Magic” Johnson and Michigan State 75-64 in the 1979 title game. While Bird is certainly in the discussion, as is Jordan, there are many more qualified candidates for the title of Greatest College Basketball Player of All Time.

Here are some to consider:

Bill Russell won back-to-back titles at the University of San Francisco in 1955 & 1956.

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Bill Walton won back-to-back championships with UCLA in 1972 & 1973. In the ’73 title game, the big redhead hit 21 of 22 from the floor in the Bruins 87-66 win over Memphis State.

Walton’s UCLA teams won a record 88 straight games. Think about that.

Christian Laettner was the best player on a Duke team that went to four consecutive Final Fours. The Blue Devils won back-to-back championships in 1991 & 1992.

Despite never playing in a single Final Four, Pete Maravich was perhaps the greatest “individual” college basketball player ever. “Pistol” Pete averaged 44.2 points per game in three seasons at LSU. At that time the shot clock and three-point line did not exist in college basketball. An average In excess of 44 points per game with those rules seems impossible. It wasn’t.

But the greatest College Basketball Player of All Time is Lew Alcindor. Alcindor won three-straight titles with UCLA. The only reason he didn’t win a fourth was because freshmen were not allowed to play varsity sports at that time. He was a three-time Player of the Year as well as a three-time winner of the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

Jordan was sensational in college, but the aforementioned players accomplished much more than MJ.

To look at this in reverse, I believe Tim Tebow is the greatest college quarterback of all time. That doesn’t mean he should be in the discussion as the greatest PROFESSIONAL quarterback of all time.

Jordan winning this poll is the equivalent of President Ronald Reagan being voted the Greatest American ever. Something that happened in a 2005 poll. In these polls, recency bias often prevails.

By now, you must think I despise Michael Jordan. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think one player in the history of the NBA is better than Jordan. And I think correctly, that many players were better and more accomplished than Jordan as a collegian. That’s not hate, those are opinions.

John Sapochetti Is Co-Host
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