Who is the greatest athlete of all time in North America: Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan?

by Kyle Spector | Apr 17, 2020 | General | 0 comments

If you have ever followed hockey or even just know that it is a sport played on earth you have heard the name Wayne Gretzky. His accomplishments are numerous from the all-time points leader and goal scorer in the NHL to a four-time Stanley Cup champion. The year before Gretzky joined, the Edmonton Oilers sputtered to a record of 38 wins and 39 losses, placing 5thin the WHA. They managed to qualify for the playoffs before losing in the first round. Gretzky (aka The Great One) was a superstar from the start, scoring 110 points in his first full season. That would be the least amount of points Gretzky would have for the next 14 years. Only three players during the 2018-2019 NHL season recorded 110 or more points. Now, you could go season by season and see he led the NHL in scoring 11 times during his career while Gordie Howe had the second most scoring titles with six throughout his. You could also look at the fact that he averaged over 100 assists for an entire decade from 1980-1990 when most superstars today struggle to top 100 points. However, I like to look at his total stats for his career. Wayne Gretzky finished his career with 2,857 points in only 1,487 games that is 1.921 points per game. For comparison, Jaromir Jagr scored 1,921 points in 1,733 games and is second all-time on the NHL scoring list. He needed more games and still had less points than the one they call the ‘Great One’. Even if you take away all of Wayne Gretzky’s record 894 goals he still has 42 more points than Jagr. Mario Lemieux is second all time in points per game at 1.883 but then the third best point per game average in NHL history dips all the way down to 1.497 for Mike Bossy. Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux are no slouches; both two of the top 10-20 players of all time if not top 5, especially Lemieux. Wayne Gretzky was just on a level by himself. Gretzky’s dominance over hockey reigned for two decades from 1979-1999. Scoring is not the only objective in hockey but looking at the plus/minus statistic Wayne Gretzky finished at an absurd positive 553. That means 553 more goals were scored when Wayne Gretzky was on the ice than those scored against him. Did he have a hand in all 553 goals or preventing all the ones that were not scored against him? No but also holds the record for most playoff goals, assists and points showing he was still the best player on the ice even when the pressure was greatest. Wayne Gretzky holds more records than anyone in professional sports and his 2,857 points all time is (or at least should be) on every unbreakable records list in existence.
Now, LeBron James has done incredible things over his 17-year career including averaging 27.1 points per game. But with an average of 30.1 points per game, 5.3 assists per game and 6.2 rebounds per game Michael Jordan was undoubtedly the greatest basketball player of all time. In addition to be the greatest scorer of all time, Jordan also led the league in steals per game three times in his career and averaged 2.3 steals and added in 0.8 blocks per game. Now some people may question the impact his scoring and defense had on his team’s advancement in the league. He made the playoffs in 13 of the 15 seasons he played and won 6 championships. Only one other player in the 1990’s had more championships than Jordan, Robert Horry. A respectable player in his own right but never has and never will he be mentioned in a conversation regarding the greatest basketball players of all time much less the greatest athlete ever. Those who won more championships played in a different era than Jordan and none had an impact on the game the way he did. LeBron James has made the playoffs thirteen times but has only won three championships. However, just making the NBA finals in the 2017-2018 season was a huge accomplishment. With Kyrie Irving leaving the year before and Kevin Love only scoring 14.9 points per game in the playoffs the Cleveland Cavaliers looked outmatched. Despite Golden State promptly sweeping the Cavaliers in 4 games LeBron showed his greatness just by getting his team all the way there. LeBron James averages 27.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists, for his career. Those are more assists and rebounds than Jordan had per game in his career. He also averages 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks. While LeBron averages a great 28.9 points per game in the playoffs with 8.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists in the playoffs Jordan took his scoring to the next level in the playoffs. He averaged 33.4 points per game and 6.4 rebounds with 4.7 assists. That impact may seem similar or you may even give LeBron the edge, but the reason you play the regular season and then the playoffs is to crown a champion. Jordan won 6 rings while LeBron is currently at three having spent the same number of years in the playoffs. LeBron James may make more playoff appearances than Jordan or even win more championships one day, but Jordan will always be a more efficient winner and a greater athlete.
Here you have the two leading scorers of all time in their respective sports. So why don’t more people think Gretzky is better than Jordan? I am not sure that they don’t, but it might be a point of who is more widely known. This shows that the popularity of basketball just about everywhere outside of Canada is greater than hockey. Also, there are many more sport shows which talk about basketball than there are that talk about hockey especially in the United States. There are still some final pieces on the Jordan vs. Gretzky debate. Now, points aren’t everything in hockey but when you have almost 1,000 more points in over 200 less games than the second-best player in your sport and there is only one player even close to you on a point per game basis there is really no one comparable to you in your sport. Mario Lemieux was great but not for a time as long as Gretzky and Jagr was a great player for many years but couldn’t score like the Great One. Even Gordie Howe could not score the way Gretzky could despite winning four Stanley Cups as well. Wayne Gretzky has no one comparable in the sport of hockey. Even though LeBron will never be the efficient winner or playoff scorer Jordan is, he still could obtain just as many championships. LeBron has twice led teams that did not even belong in the playoffs all the way to the finals. It is no surprise Jordan was able to lead his team to more finals than Gretzky was able to. Everyone knows Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen along with him for all 6 of his championships. Wayne Gretzky had the third leading scorer of all time in Mark Messier along with him for all four of his championships. In basketball one player has more impact on a game and his team’s ability to win. Gretzky would be relying on a goalie to do their part along with 18 other members of his hockey team on a nightly basis while Jordan could be playing with as few as 7 to 8 other players. This allowed Jordan to impact the outcome of his sport even more than Gretzky, but Gretzky was still better at his sport and had a larger impact on it than anyone else. Each North American sport has their greatest player ever, but none compare to Gretzky and Jordan. Tom Brady is arguably the greatest football player ever with six championship rings. He also had Bill Belichick as his coach. Brady also did not play defense and had receivers catching his passes and an offensive line keeping him upright to make each throw. Without knowing the impact of Belichick during Brady’s career and the fact he cannot play defense, his impact in football and greatness as an athlete will always be less than Gretzky and Jordan. Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all time, but his impact on baseball still falls short. While he holds the record for highest slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+ he was never a great defender, and once he became the elite hitter we all know him as today, he was not pitching anymore. Some will even say Willie Mays is a greater all-around baseball player than Ruth due to his defense combined with his offensive production. While players who played in a different era such as Wilt Chamberlin or a different position such as Bobby Orr were great, Wilt Chamberlin never was the winner Jordan was, and Bobby Orr could score at a great rate for a defenseman but it could never compare to Gretzky. Wilt Chamberlin put up amazing stats but, when it came down to winning, Bill Russell found a way to beat him in a way no one was ever able to stop Jordan. While Bobby Orr was a great defenseman, the object of hockey is to score more than your opponent, and nobody did it quite like Gretzky. Just to prove that point, there is rule in hockey called the Gretzky rule: when there are incidental minor penalties teams still play 5 on 5 instead of 4 on 4 like previously. During this 4 on 4 play Gretzky used the open space more to his advantage than anyone else. This was a way to try to limit the Great One and anyone else who knew how to take advantage of this rule during this era of hockey. Michael Jordan is great, but he does not have a rule in his sport limiting his ability to dominate. All in all, while Michael Jordan is clearly the greatest basketball player of all time, a lethal scorer and a clutch champion, Wayne Gretzky’s combination of pure dominance during the regular season and efficiency of winning 4 Stanley Cups in 6 tries, along with having no athlete close to unseating him at the top the way Jordan has LeBron, makes him the best North American athlete this world has ever seen.
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