Published: Jan. 26, 2018 at 10:27 a.m.
Updated: Jan. 26, 2018 at 06:37 p.m.

Tom Brady vs. Michael Jordan: Whose epic run is more impressive?

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Super Bowl LII pits the New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles. But of course, one of the game's most prominent storylines is the increasingly incomparable NFL legacy of Tom Brady.

Right now, the Patriots quarterback is one of just two players in league history to own five Super Bowl rings. (Hall of Fame pass rusher Charles Haley is the other.) Can Brady hit uncharted territory by hoisting a sixth Lombardi Trophy? If so, he'd boast the same ring count as another iconic athlete: Michael Jordan. With that in mind ...

Whose epic run reigns supreme: Brady's in New England or Jordan's in Chicago?

Brady gets the nod, for immediate supremacy and longevity
My choice is Tom Brady. While Michael Jordan spent six years in the NBA before winning his first title, Brady won his in Year 2 -- and in his first year as a starter. Jordan also enjoyed far more continuity in his supporting cast than Brady, who has basically had to deal with significant turnover every year. Finally, Brady has enjoyed sustained success for a longer period of time, given that he's 40 years old and headed to his eighth Super Bowl.

Jordan was obviously amazing, but Brady sprinted out of the gate and never looked back -- and he has yet to slow down.
Jordan's individual greatness in crunch time is unparalleled
Jordan and Brady are the best in their respective sports, accomplishing more than nearly every other player. Without getting too much into this with statistics, championships and awards, I'm taking Jordan on this one. When the game was on the line, everyone knew Jordan was taking the final shot and there was no question whether he'd make it or not. (He always did.) Because basketball is more individualized, he could do that.

Brady also performs when the game is on the line and has made some incredible comebacks. But he still needs help from his teammates to put him over the top in crunch time.
Brady! It's just more difficult for one man to reign supreme in football
If we're really going to debate whether Tom Brady has had a more impressive career than Michael Jordan, then let's start with one essential ground rule: Football is a much tougher sport to succeed at than basketball. That basic tenet is crucial because we can't compare individuals like this without having some sort of context. A basketball player can dominate -- and win a championship -- simply by being the best player on the court. The possibilities for a football player are more complicated, primarily because there are so many moving parts involved in whatever success he hopes to attain.

This is why Brady's career has been more amazing to watch. He can't just take the ball and drop 40 when it's necessary. He has to work with what he's given, within a scheme engineered by his coaches and without any guarantees that his personnel will remain the same year in and year out. Jordan spent the bulk of his 13-year Bulls tenure playing alongside a future Hall of Famer in Scottie Pippen. Brady didn't have a Hall of Fame-caliber receiver until Randy Moss arrived in New England in 2007, after the star quarterback already had earned three of his five Super Bowl rings.

One can argue that Brady wasn't carrying the Patriots in those early years of his career, as New England also had a dominant defense and exceptional special teams. What can't be debated is how Brady has excelled the deeper he has gone into his career. Jordan won his last championship when he was 35 years old, then returned to play two final seasons with the Wizards following three years in retirement. The only memorable thing about those Washington years was the way Jordan ripped into his younger teammates, specifically Kwame Brown.

At age 40, Brady has shown no signs of decline. His numbers this year -- 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions -- are good enough to earn him his third Most Valuable Player award. He's just taken the Patriots to their eighth Super Bowl, where his team is favored to win a sixth Lombardi Trophy. Brady has come so far that the idea of even arguing about the best quarterback ever is becoming laughable.

The discussion about Brady and Jordan is far more relevant today. That's not just because of how their numbers compare, either. They are similar in terms of championships (Jordan has six to Brady's five), all-star appearances (Jordan was a 14-time All-Star, while Brady has been named to 13 Pro Bowls) and MVPs (Jordan had five, while Brady could be on the verge of winning his third). As mentioned earlier, the only thing that truly separates them is what each individual has had to do to achieve excellence.

We'll always remember Jordan for his athletic brilliance and his obsessively competitive spirit. Nobody in the NBA has ever matched his imposing will on a basketball court. Brady, on the other hand, will have a greater legacy because of the sport he's mastered over the past 18 seasons. You literally have to do more to win in football and, as we know, no player has won more than Brady has in the modern era.
Jordan was dominant on offense AND defense
Having covered the NBA for more than seven seasons, and seeing plenty of Michael Jordan in the process, this is a great question -- especially since I also have covered the NFL and Tom Brady for more than a decade. I am going to make this easy: M.J. I am going to make this easier: He also had to play defense. While that might not seem fair, since Brady only plays offense (and its most difficult position), Jordan was a two-way player and one of the best that ever did it on offense and defense. He would guard Hall of Famers, then turn around and drop 30 on them. Like Brady, he stole soul after soul in crunch time.

Now, a lot of people may argue that Brady is the ultimate kingmaker, helping turn dozens of ordinary players into champions in an era of a hard salary cap that forced the churning of rosters. That part is true. Jordan played with the same nucleus for much of his run, but don't get it twisted -- his roster turned over quite a bit, as well.

Jordan, because of his greatness, also changed the NBA. Due to his scoring, leadership and defense, the Bulls were the first club to truly win an NBA title without a dominant big man. It hadn't been done before -- and he did it a total of six times with two different versions of the Bulls, the second coming after a retirement.

Great question, but Jordan had a better run.
The breadth of Brady's run is the tiebreaker
I'm going to put this on front street. Six titles in eight years is pretty incredible. In any professional sport. If you're a "look at the numbers" enthusiast, then it's going to be hard to argue with that. But I'm not, so I will.

The Patriots have been Super Bowl contenders for 17 years. If this Pats dynasty were a person, it would be old enough to drive, a year away from purchasing lottery tickets, but old enough to see "Showgirls" in theaters. The most amazing thing is the Patriots are doing this in a sport where parity is not only discouraged, but the rules are set up to thwart dynasties. I'm not saying the NBA hates parity, but I hope you're looking forward to the Warriors and Cavs again in the NBA Finals. And you might say, "Rank, how can you say that, with the Patriots in the Super Bowl AGAIN?" Which is true. But it's the Patriots who are alone in their consistent dominance. They're not facing the same opposition in every Super Bowl.

I also want to point out another thing: I know a lot of you like to pretend that Michael Jordan just parachuted into the NBA in 1991. Um, he was a contemporary of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And his championship run didn't start until Bird started having back problems and Magic had to retire. And did he ever have a winning record without Scottie Pippen? (I'm not going to look, I'm honestly asking.)

So, yes -- being great for 17 years is going to seal it for me.
Jordan could've won eight straight titles if he hadn't taken the baseball break
After much thought and a consultation with the Magic 8-Ball sitting on my desk, I give the edge to Michael Jordan. Jordan's championship runs came almost completely uninterrupted (yes, he took time off to play baseball and returned late in the '94-95 season), whereas Brady and the Patriots had a bit of a drought until recently.

We'll never know if Jordan and the Bulls could have won eight straight if MJ hadn't "retired," but they were as dominant as any sports franchise of my lifetime with Jordan as the engine. There's a reason we all wanted to be like Mike.
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