DOES anyone still wish to debate the identity of basketball's best player ever? Michael Jordan, the unquestioned Most Valuable Player of the National Basketball Association's just-ended championship series, is surely the people's choice at this juncture. Even those faithful to Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, et al. must have second thoughts after what Jordan has wrought this season.
First and foremost, he took the Chicago Bulls to a coveted "three-peat" - their third consecutive title. No NBA team has done that since the Boston Celtics won an incredible eight straight beginning in 1959.
Jordan confounded skeptics who figured he would either be too tired or too complacent after almost two solid years of nonstop basketball. He and Scottie Pippen ignored the fatigue forecast for them after playing for the Olympic "Dream Team" last summer. And they did so impressively, helping beat back the Phoenix Suns, who entered the playoffs with the league's best regular-season record.
Against Phoenix, Jordan enjoyed what to his competitive instincts must have been the ideal incentive: an opportunity to put his game alongside that of Charles Barkley, who ended Michael's two-year reign as the league's Most Valuable Player and called a Phoenix championship "destiny."
In the finals, won Sunday by Chicago 4 games to 2, Jordan was clearly the more unstoppable player. He broke loose with a 55-point effort in Game 4 and averaged 41 points in the series, the highest in finals history. Beyond the numbers, however, he caused the Suns to expend tremendous energy in trying to contain him, and even then he often was most effective whenever a key basket was needed - the mark of a great player.
His confidence at critical moments dates at least to his freshman year in college, when he sank a last-minute jump shot to give North Carolina a one-point victory over Georgetown in the national championship game. Today people joke that North Carolina coach Dean Smith was the only guy who ever held Jordan under 25 points. In three years at Chapel Hill, Jordan averaged just 17.7 points in Smith's system.
Thus his potential as a scorer hadn't been established when he turned pro nine years ago. He pushed the envelope immediately and this season won his seventh straight scoring title, with 32.6 points a game, to tie Chamberlain's record streak.
Jordan was only the third player chosen in the 1984 NBA draft. Houston and Portland elected to take bigger players - Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie, respectively - before him. The Bulls, of course, now have convincing proof that with the right 6 ft., 6 in. super talent, you can build a winner even with mostly ordinary players.
Beyond his offensive pyrotechnics, Jordan has established himself as one of the game's premier defenders, which enhances his stature as an all-around player. He may not be a match for Magic or Bird as a passer, but few can quibble with his contributions even in this area. And now he has done Bird and Magic one better, by helping his team string together three straight championships. Janzen's golfing gem
Long John Daly turned in the most Paul Bunyanesque feat at this year's United States Open, reaching the 630-yard par-5 at the Baltusrol course in Springfield, N.J., in an amazing two shots - scoring a two-under-par eagle during one round. For tournament-long heroics, however, no one was a match for little-known Lee Janzen, who was the model of consistency in winning the coveted championship and only his third pro title. With rounds of 67, 67, 69, and 69, he tied Lee Trevino's 1968 Open feat of notching f our sub-70 scores. His combined 272 equaled the tournament's best-ever total, posted by Jack Nicklaus in 1980 on the same layout.