If you ask 10 people who the greatest basketball player of all time is, chances are that 6 or 7 out of 10 will agree that it's Michael Jordan, especially if you were to ask people 30 and older. Ever since he set foot on an NBA hardwood, His Airness proved to be a generational talent, and once-in-a-lifetime kind of player whose competitive drive and skillset would never be matched. And up to this day, while some players have been pretty close to him, he still seems to be at the top of the list.
Jordan never lost a series in the NBA Finals. He had to go through some tough competition like Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and Gary Payton to get his silverware but he got the job done every single time.
And while he also had plenty of help from top-notch teammates on his Chicago Bulls like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, there's no denying that he was the man in charge, especially when things got hard. So, without further ado, let's talk about the toughest rivals he ever faced in the NBA Finals.
Ranking Michael Jordan's Toughest Competition In The NBA Finals
Honorable Mention: Magic Johnson, Dan Majerle, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Johnson, James Worthy
5. Clyde Drexler
There was a time when people actually debate whether Clyde Drexler was better than or as good as Michael Jordan. That's why he took it personally when they both squared up for the 1992 NBA Finals. Still, we can all agree that Drexler is one of the greatest shooting guards to ever do it.
Clyde 'The Glide' averaged at least 17.2 points per his entire career except for his rookie season. His athleticism and explosiveness were a treat to watch back then, making it to 10 All-Star Games and 5 All-NBA Teams. He also won a ring with Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets.
4. Gary Payton
There wasn't such thing as 'stopping Michael Jordan' but one of the guys that could do a better job than the rest in the defensive end of the floor was definitely Gary Payton, one of the few guards to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year award.
The Glove was a fearless competitor and a top-notch backcourt defender. His quick hands and strength made him a huge threat on and off the ball, and he was also an outstanding playmaker. He led the league in steals once, made 9 All-Defensive teams, 9 All-Star Games, and won a ring with the Miami Heat.
3. John Stockton
John Stockton is one of the best players to never win a ring and Michael Jordan is the one to blame for that. The all-time leader in both steals and assists, Stockton was the true definition of a pure point guard, a pass-first kind of guy.
Stockton averaged double-digits in assists in 10 consecutive seasons, leading the league in dimes per game in 9 straight (both NBA records). He was in the NBA for 19 years and only missed 22 games, making it to 5 All-Defensive teams and 10 All-Star Games.
2. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley is perhaps the greatest undersized player of all time and once again, a legend who could never win a ring because of His Airness. His closest shot came back in 1993 during his MVP season when the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls met at the ultimate stage.
Barkley was one of the most dominant rebounders and post players to ever live. He was an 11-time All-Star, MVP, 11-time All-NBA, and led the league in boards once. He averaged 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and was considered the best power forward in the world for most of his career.
1. Karl Malone
And last, but not least, we find Karl Malone, who Michael Jordan beat not once but twice in the NBA Finals. In fact, one of those championships came to a clean strip he did on Malone to get a clutch steal and then finish the job on the other end of the floor.
Malone was one of the most physically dominant players to ever do it. He scored at will inside the pain and was a tough rebounder as well. He was a 14-time All-Star with 14 All-NBA teams, 2 MVPs, 2 All-Star MVPs, and 4 All-Defensive selections.