What makes Michael Jordan tick? What is the one thing that separates him from all others in the National Basketball Association?
Ask those questions around the league and chances are you'll get a stare, a shrug and a long pause. The reason is simple -- there is so much to Jordan's makeup, it is impossible to settle on one aspect of his game.
He shoots. He jumps. He passes. He plays defense. And he'll be doing it tomorrow night at the Capital Centre when the Chicago Bulls play the Washington Bullets (7:30, Home Team Sports).
Few players have made the impact Jordan has in only six years. Dominating is only one of many adjectives commonly used to describe his style of play.
But if Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld had to settle for one asset above all others, it would not include any of the physical attributes normally associated with a great athlete.
"Imagination," said Unseld. "He can do so much, but if I had to pick one thing, I would have to say his imagination. He has the ability to see things that are going to happen before they happen."
John Nash, the Bullets' new general manager who has watched Jordan throughout his career, shakes his head when trying to describe the man who single-handedly turned around the Chicago Bulls franchise.
"He just has so much athletic ability," Nash said. "He doesn't have to rely on his shooting. He doesn't have to rely on his defense. He doesn't have to rely on his passing. But he can rely on all of those things. He does everything you can do."
Jordan has led the NBA in scoring for the last four years. Thonly other player who did that was Wilt Chamberlain, who had a seven-year run from 1961-67. He is only the second player in history (Chamberlain is the other) to score more than 3,000 points in a season. His 32.8 career scoring average is the highest in NBA history.
Obviously this is a player who makes things happen. Accordinto Unseld, he does it faster than anyone in the game.
"The most amazing thing about Michael is that he can do thingin halfcourt that most people can't do in the fullcourt."
"A lot of guys can dunk the ball," said Unseld. "But most guyneed the whole court to do the fancy stuff. Jordan can do those things with a few steps."
It is rare to find a basketball player who can lead his league iscoring and steals in the same year. Jordan has done it twice. He is the only player to ever record more than 200 steals and 100 blocked shots in one season -- his 125 blocks last year were the most ever by a guard. And, for a change of pace, he also led the Bulls with 519 assists last year (he had 650 the year before).
"There isn't anything he can't do," said Unseld.
And he keeps getting better.
That's the only difference between the All-Pro and thAll-American (1982-84 at North Carolina). "I don't think there's anything he does now that he didn't do in college," said Nash. "His skills are just more refined. He excels at every phase of the game."
Scoring is what Jordan does best, and shooting is where he'made the most improvement since passing up his senior year of college. "He's improved a lot as a shooter," said Nash. "When he first came into the league he relied more on his jumping ability. But now he's become a superior shooter."
That much was demonstrated clearly last year. In his first five years in the league, Jordan connected on 58 of 287 shots from three-point range, barely over 20 percent. As defenses forced him farther away from the basket, the long jump shot became more of a necessity. Last year he put the ball in the air from three-point range 245 times -- hitting on 92 attempts for a respectable 38 percent.
"I don't know how you measure athletes," said Nash, "but I think he's the best in the world." This past summer, Jordan showed up at a Chicago White Sox workout and hit two home runs. "To be able to step into Comiskey Park, put on a uniform and hit a ball out of the park is amazing," Nash said.
"Maybe somebody else could do that, I don't know, it would be a challenge for some. But Jordan did it."
On the basketball court, the general consensus is that Jordan can do just about whatever he wants.
He is currently the most prolific scorer in the history of the NBA, and an argument could be made that he is the best defensive "little man" ever to play the game.
Not that there is anything little about this guy. At 6 feet 6, he plays the game at whatever altitude is necessary. And by the time he takes up golf on a full-time basis -- his ambition is to join the PGA Tour when he retires from basketball -- the NBA record book could look like Michael Jordan's personal resume.
"I've never seen him play golf, but I've heard enough stories about what he can do," Nash said. "I'm convinced he would be great in pool, tennis, you name it. He is a remarkable athlete. He can do anything."
THE JORDAN FILE
* Named Rookie of Year in 1984-85, averaging 28.2 points.
* Missed 64 games in '85-86 due to a foot injury but came back in the playoffs to average 43.7 points in three games.
* In 1986-87, joined Wilt Chamberlain as only player to score 3,000 points in season.
* Became the only player to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season in '86-87.
* Scored 23 consecutive points vs. Atlanta on April 16, 1987.
* Won the NBA slam-dunk championship in '87 and '88.
* His 131 blocks in '87-88 were the most ever by a guard.
* Reached the 10,000-point plateau faster than any other player on Jan. 25, 1989.
* Has scored 40 or more points 99 times in his career.
* Last year, became only the second player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring in four consecutive seasons.