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Alternate History

What if Michael Jordan Never Existed?

For this exercise, let’s assume Jordan stuck with baseball as a youth and never picked up a basketball. He makes the Major Leagues and is a homeless man’s Darryl Strawberry. How differently would the NBA have been without the most iconic player in its history? Which players benefit the most in his absence winning the championships and MVP’s he would vacate? There are many ramifications that would have changed history if not for one choice as an adolescent.

University of North Carolina

I think we need to start where it all began. The 1982 NCAA Championship likely never happens for the Tarheels without Jordan scoring 16 points 9 rebounds, and making the game-winner in the championship game. In his place, Jim Braddock or Buzz Peterson would have started that season which even then was a massive step-down from the 13.5ppg, 4.4rpg he averaged as a freshman. UNC would have still been a very good program in those years but no championships.

UNC dispatched Villanova, Houston, and Georgetown that season in the NCAA tournament. It’s highly likely Ewing, Ed Pinckney, or Drexler/Olajuwon all have another NCAA championship on their resume or the first if there was no Jordan at UNC. It’s highly likely as closely as Houston and Georgetown were to winning even with him it’s one of those. It’s probably an iconic match up of Olajuwon and Ewing in the college final with Georgetown pulling it out. Ewing with two championships certainly raises his stature in the college game all time.


The Bulls would have still had the 3rd pick in the draft. The two picks directly after Jordan were Sam Perkins at 4th and Charles Barkley at 5th. Alvin Robertson was also 7th, so there were still very good NBA players picked in this range. I believe they end up picking Perkins who seemed a consensus 4th prospect. I also believe the 76ers still take Barkley and history is similar. He was considered more of a reach at where he was picked I believe and the 76ers were in a position to wait on him and work through weight issues.

There are probably not many changes with the key players in the greatest draft ever of 1984 where they were picked. Perkins was a good player, but obviously, the Bulls would have had a much different history for the rest of the ’80s and 90s. I see a lot of years in the lottery for them without that Jordan pick. They likely still trade for the pick that became Scottie Pippen since it wasn’t their own and what they traded was a pick in the same draft. They could have also just picked him outright if they were higher anyway. Also in that trade was the pick that became BJ Armstrong. I believe that all would stay relatively the same.

Horace Grant was the 10th pick in the 1987 draft. It’s more likely they have a higher pick with a worse record and pick a guard that year, already having Sam Perkins. They probably also have a couple more lottery picks in the late ’80s when Jordan was driving them to the playoffs. Those drafts in 1989 and 1990 were pretty weak though even near the top. Pippen is still the star and by his prime, you may have gotten to see about the same level of the team as we saw when Jordan left to play baseball just expanded over several more years in the mid-90s.

1990-91 Pistons Championship

Without the Bulls 1991 likely becomes a rematch of the Detroit Pistons and LA Lakers, and 3rd meeting of the two teams. This would have been an interesting matchup. The Lakers beat the Pistons 4-3 in 1988. The Pistons swept the Pistons in 1989. The Pistons beat Portland in 1990. The Pistons looked pretty bad getting swept by the Bulls in 1991, but the Lakers didn’t play much better. I think you have to go with the Piston’s repeating given what they did to them in the 1989 Finals. Magic Johnson does add another MVP this season without Jordan.

1991-92 Trailblazers Championship

The Cavs made the eastern conference finals vs the Bulls in reality, but I believe the New York Knicks face the Portland Trail Blazers in 1992. The Knicks pushed the Bulls to 7 this season in the 2nd round, while Portland only took them to 6 games. Still, the Trailblazers had finals experience and a more complete team in my opinion.

1992-93 Knicks Championship

I believe this would be the year for the Knicks. They would have had the final experience from the season prior. They also had an identity and championship coaching with Pat Riley I believe that would have worked against the Suns. Barkley was great this season but I think Patrick Ewing gets his championship.

1995-96 Knicks Championship

This is a tough one. 1996 would have seen either the Orlando Magic or New York Knicks vs the Sonics. In reality, the Sonics would play the Bulls better losing in 6 while the Magic were swept and the Knicks lost in 5. This is one where I believe the Magic were overwhelmed by the moment and playing the Bulls. I don’t think they would have felt that vs either the Knicks or Sonics.

They had folded the same way to the Rockets as well the prior season in the finals. They had the most talented team, but I can’t pick them given these series. I actually think the Knicks might have gotten another championship here without Jordan. It’s the same core I think wins in 1993, and they are back in the finals in 1994 losing to the Rockets in 7 as we know when Jordan did walk away. The main difference is now they were without Riley. The Magic never played the Knicks on their way to the finals, so it is possible the Magic could have folded to them in the same way they did to the Bulls or Rockets. I’ll go with the more grizzled team. The Sonics were pretty good that season, but more of a flash-in-the-pan appearance. The Knicks had the finals experience and I believe pull this one out.

1996-97 Utah Championship

The Bulls would beat the Miami Heat in the eastern conference finals. I believe without the Bulls the Heat are the team to represent the East this season. Utah wins this championship. Malone was a force and the Jazz won 64 games. Their big 3 of Malone, Stockton and Hornacek were younger than the following season and stronger.

1997-98 Indiana Championship

This one is harder to say, than 1997. Utah was obviously still good and defending their championship. I think Indiana would have gotten them here. They pushed the Bulls more than any other team than the Knicks in their dynasties taking them to 7 this season. Their team was a little younger and I a lot deeper with Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Mark Jackson, Davis bros, Chris Mullin, Jalen Rose, and Travis Best. I believe they outlast the Jazz.

ChampRunner UpFinals MVP
1990Detroit PistonsPortland Trail BlazersIsiah Thomas
1991Detroit PistonsLos Angeles LakersJoe Dumars
1992Portland Trail BlazersNew York KnicksClyde Drexler
1993New York KnicksPhoenix SunsPatrick Ewing
1994Houston RocketsNew York KnicksHakeem Olajuwon
1995Houston RocketsOrlando MagicHakeem Olajuwon
1996New York KnicksSeattle SuperSonicsPatrick Ewing
1997Utah JazzMiami HeatKarl Malone
1998Indiana PacersUtah JazzReggie Miller
1999San Antonio SpursNew York KnicksTim Duncan


1986?87Magic Johnson*
1987?88Larry Bird (4th)MJ Won
1988?89Magic Johnson*
1989?90Magic Johnson*
1990?91Magic Johnson(4th)MJ Won
1991?92Clyde DrexlerMJ Won
1992?93Charles Barkley*
1993?94Hakeem Olajuwon*
1994?95David Robinson*
1995?96David Robinson (2nd)MJ Won
1996?97Karl Malone*
1997?98Karl MaloneMJ Won
1998?99Karl Malone* (3rd)

These are all the players that finished 2nd in the voting the years Jordan won MVP’s. Malone probably has three in a row. Bird and Magic both have a 4th MVP, Robinson has a 2nd, and Drexler got on the board without Jordan.

Pat Riley / Phil Jackson

Riley probably wins the championship with the Knicks in 1993 with no Jordan giving him 6 total. He could have stayed in New York and probably won in 1996 as well. That would make the 2006 championship less likely though. It would likely be a trade-off if he sticks around New York after 1994 I doubt he ends up in Miami and wins the 2006 championship. Either way, he and Gregg Popovich are likely are considered the best modern coaches without Phil Jackson. Jackson may have gotten the Bulls job still, but he likely stalls out there and never makes it to the Lakers or wins any championships.


Without Jordan, Patrick Ewing is likely the biggest direct beneficiary. I believe he adds a college championship and two NBA championships. His legacy would likely be looked at closer to Olajuwon if only slightly less having lost in 1994 close head to head. It would have been more fulfillment of the draft exceptions he entered the NBA with. Malone and Drexler add MVP’s and a championship each. Bird, Magic, and Robinson all add to their MVP totals as well. Reggie Miller and Stockton have a championship as well as greats go.

I don’t see where this significantly changes the all-time rank with Magic, Kareem, Wilt. It mostly serves to tee up LeBron’s case in the next generation and give him an easier path with no Jordan. Kobe Bryant’s stature is likely raised as he’s doing things Jordan never did as a guard. He stole his moves as Jordan would say, but he likely figured it out by himself as well. LeBron probably would go down as the clear best player ever if there were no Jordan. Scottie Pippen would have still had an MVP-caliber season or 2 and probably take the Bulls to the playoffs a few times. He’s and Phil Jackson are the ones most hurt by Jordan not playing. His NBA Top 50 team membership likely never happens. Perhaps Steve Kerr down the line never gets his pick of jobs if he never had the elevated status of being on those Bulls teams or playing under Jackson as well.

Financially I don’t think the game booms like it did through the ’90s with a clear dynasty and singular super force that was Jordan. The shoe market probably doesn’t make the same splash. There is certainly a void that wouldn’t be filled as fully without Jordan. I think the NBA still has success in this period, but it doesn’t take the leap it did without Jordan or the Bulls. Selling Olajuwon, Ewing, and Malone NBA doesn’t sell as well. Shaq would have likely been the biggest brand in the NBA in the 90s. I think he ends up in LA regardless too. The NBA without Jordan is a much different place. It’s successful but his impact on the history of the game and the status of the league is immense.

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