Maurice Cheeks Names Michael Jordan as the Greatest of All Time in 1996

Cheeks reflects on the intense challenge of facing Jordan.

by Faizan Chaudhary
Maurice Cheeks Names Michael Jordan as the Greatest of All Time in 1996
© Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In an exclusive 1996 interview with SLAM magazine, Maurice Cheeks, the esteemed former guard of the Philadelphia 76ers, was prompted to declare the greatest basketball player of all time. While he expressed profound admiration for his iconic teammate, Julius "Dr.

J" Erving, Cheeks ultimately crowned Michael Jordan as the GOAT. This declaration came even as Jordan, the legendary Chicago Bulls superstar, was still active in the league. "Jordan, no question," Cheeks affirmed confidently.

He reminisced about watching a highlight reel of Dr. J, marveling at his groundbreaking skills during his era. "Doc will always be my number one player," he said, his respect undiminished. "But then you see Jordan and you're just taken aback.

I mean, that guy is unbelievable." Throughout their careers, Cheeks and Jordan faced off in a total of 36 games, with Jordan consistently showcasing his dominance, averaging 34.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.0 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game, while maintaining an impressive 54.5% shooting accuracy.

Their only playoff encounter occurred in 1991 when Cheeks, at 34, played for the New York Knicks. The Bulls, led by Jordan, swept the series, with Jordan posting averages of 29.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.7 steals per game, shooting 52.5%.

Cheeks on Competing

Reflecting on these experiences, Cheeks told The Oklahoman, "I don't think people realize the level of competitor he was until they played against him. When you're watching, it's clear, but playing against him? It's a whole different level." At the time of Cheeks' commendation, Jordan had just secured his fourth NBA championship, his first since returning from retirement.

This milestone was significant enough for Cheeks to affirm that no one surpassed Jordan's prowess on the court. Despite his reverence for Jordan, Cheeks never overlooked the greatness of Dr. J. Jordan himself often praised Erving, acknowledging his profound influence as the face of the NBA and his substantial role as a league role model.

"Nobody can replace the Doctor," Jordan once stated. "He was the epitome of class and defined the NBA for me." While debates may continue about Jordan's ability to emulate Erving’s off-court influence, his on-court achievements remain unparalleled.

By the time Jordan clinched his fifth and sixth championships, the consensus on his GOAT status had only solidified, a sentiment Maurice Cheeks had recognized years earlier.

Michael Jordan