There is the famous story out of the Bahamas a few years ago, Tom Brady and Michael Jordan and Keegan Bradley and Luke Donald getting together for a round of golf, and even some pickup basketball afterward. Bradley has always told about how he gave Brady a bunch of shots in a side match and thought it would be easy money until Brady played the last 14 holes in 4-under and cleaned his clock.
But one of the other stories of the day was about how Jordan insisted that he and Brady had to be partners.
"They got this 'greatest of all time' partnership going," Bradley said.
Bradley was talking about a couple of GOATs teaming up. There have, of course, been others in professional sports, all the way back to Babe Ruth. Jack Nicklaus is still the GOAT in golf, Roger Federer and Serena Williams are the same in tennis, and both of them will still be at it in 2018 when Serena returns after becoming a mom.
It's always been more complicated in baseball, picking one GOAT, even though there was a time in America when you measured greatness in sports by trying to judge just how much Willie Mays an athlete had in him. In hockey, you will always get a good fight if you suggest that somebody other than the young Bobby Orr was the GOAT, but more people would say Wayne Gretzky.
But as the run-up to another Super Bowl is just beginning, and as we wait for the announcement on Wednesday about which new players will have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, here is good question to ask:
If you're just talking about Jordan and Brady, who's the GOAT out of the two of them?
There have been other legendary stars out of basketball, starting with Bill Russell, the greatest winner we've had in professional sports in America: Two NCAA championships, one Olympic gold medal, 11 NBA titles in 13 years, including a couple when he was a player/coach with the Boston Celtics. Along the way we've had Wilt and LeBron and Magic and Larry and Kareem.
But I've always said that if I had to pick just one to win one game for the championship of the planet, I would pick Michael Jordan. If I had to pick one football player, at any position, including the ones that Jim Brown and Jerry Rice played, I'd pick Tom Brady.
But is Brady better at what he does than Michael was at what he did? If you could only pick one out of that greatest-of-all-time partnership that Bradley talked about, which one would you pick?
Jordan was still playing at the age of 40, the way Brady is. Jordan was with the Washington Wizards by then, even if he wasn't winning championships any longer. In his last season with the Wizards, he averaged 20.0 points per game, and if you think he didn't know exactly how many points he needed in his last game to get to 20.0 on the nose, then think again.
Of course, Jordan won six NBA titles in his prime and was 6-0 in NBA Finals, and we will never know whether he could have won eight in a row if he'd never gone off, in his own form of midlife crisis or whatever it was, to play Minor League baseball with the Birmingham Barons.
He averaged 30 points a game in his NBA career. Came back and averaged 21.2 with the Wizards after he came out of retirement a second time. He scored more than 32,000 points, and in the playoffs all he did was up his game to average 33.4 points a game for his career.
To paraphrase the wisdom of Bill Murray in "Caddyshack," Michael had all that going for him, which is nice.
Jordan also had an NCAA title, for Dean Smith and North Carolina, on his resume. Also nice. I once asked Red Auerbach, on the eve of the NBA's 50th anniversary, whom he would draft first, Michael or Russell.
"Michael," he said.
Then he explained himself by saying, "You gotta be realistic." That was the businessman in the old man. He was saying that he didn't just want to win, he wanted to sell tickets, too.
But now you have Tom Brady, not just still playing at the age of 40, but still winning, still the MVP, still doing things that no quarterback his age has ever done in professional football, on his way to his eighth Super Bowl in 16 seasons as the Patriots' starting quarterback.
The old Yankees once only missed two World Series in 16 seasons between 1949 and 1964. Red's and Russell's Celtics won the way they did in the '50s and '60s, and Michael and the Bulls owned the '90s in the NBA. But Brady and Bill Belichick, that greatest-of-all-time partnership, have done this in the modern world of professional sports, which means the world of salary caps and free agency. Nothing like what has happened in Foxboro since the Brady/Belichick Patriots won their first Super Bowl in New Orleans against the Rams in February of '02 will ever happen again.
Now they try to do the same thing at this point in their dynasty that they did in its infancy: Win a third Super Bowl in four years, in an NFL world where no team has ever won three in a row.
If Brady's team beats the Eagles in Minneapolis in two weeks, he will have the same number of titles as Jordan had, which means six. His record in Super Bowls will go to 6-2. And even though we all know how close the Patriots were to losing to the Seahawks before Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson on the goal line, and even though people in outer space know that Brady and the Patriots were down 28-3 to the Falcons in Houston, we also know how close the Patriots are to being 8-0 in the big game.
The Giants beat them in Glendale, Ariz., on the night when they were trying to finish off a perfect season at 19-0, and couldn't have done it if David Tyree hadn't somehow pinned a football to his helmet on the Giants' winning touchdown drive. When the Giants beat them again in Indianapolis four years later, the biggest play of the game was as good a throw as I have ever seen in a Super Bowl, Eli Manning to Mario Manningham, Mann to Mann, from the shadow of Eli's goal line between two Patriots defenders.
Then you throw in all of Brady's career numbers, in the regular season and playoffs, the 488 touchdown passes and more than 66,000 passing yards and 68 more touchdown passes in the postseason, and nearly 10,000 more yards. You think about that, and the fourth quarter he played against the Seahawks, and the second half he played against the Falcons, and the fourth quarter he played against the Jaguars on Sunday in Foxboro.
So Touchdown Tom has had all that going for him, which is nice.
Lot to process here. Fun debate. Who's the real GOAT in the firm of Jordan and Brady?
I still go with Michael.
But get back to me in a couple of weeks.