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KOBE BRYANT SWEARS HE SAW IT—Michael Jordan’s ghost, not two months ago, appropriate there on the attic of Madison Square Garden.

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It took the anatomy of DeMar DeRozan, alive his mid-range abracadabra adjoin the Knicks. That fadeaway jumper from the elbow. The game-winner. The sly smirk. It was unmistakable—just like Mike—and then, swish, it was gone.

“It was a carbon archetype of my stop-pivot-turn-fade, which I abstruse from Michael,” Bryant tells B/R Mag. “I mean, it was aloof amazing to see that.”

The accuracy can now be told: Yes, Kobe Bryant says, he did archetype Jordan—”Damn a 100 percent of the technique,” he says. “Damn a 100 percent”—and Bryant in about-face became the alive archetype for his adolescent peers, a aqueduct from the NBA’s greatest of all time to a new bearing of stars.

Look closely, allocution to abundant bodies about the league—players in their 20s and 40s, coaches, recruiters, star-makers, flameouts, apocryphal prophets—and you’ll acquisition $.25 of MJ’s DNA broadcast everywhere:

“The aing affair to actuality as COMPETITIVE as Jordan today is apparently a guy like Russell Westbrook. We don’t see that blazon of address on the cloister anymore.” — Paul Pierce

“You booty players now, what Kawhi Leonard’s doing—same thing, the FOOTWORK that he’s using. It’s appealing cool.” — Kobe Bryant

“Draymond has some of his EMOTIONAL DOMINANCE—the bulk of debris allocution and the assumption and the concrete arrangement of appearance of that confidence.” — Steve Kerr

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Look up, and you’ll see Jordan’s No. 23 bright from the of LeBron James, a accolade from this era’s defining brilliant to the last.

Look down, and you’ll see Jordan’s contour in mid-flight—that apparent Jumpman logo—on the anxiety of Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, all associates of the Jordan Casting team.

The spirit lingers, but it shrouds a greater truth: The Age of Jordan, at atomic as we knew it, is over. And that ability be the best affair to appear to the NBA since, well, the Age of Jordan began.

For about three decades, NBA stars fought adjoin an absurd ideal—MJ himself, the GOAT. If you jumped aerial (Jerry Stackhouse), dunked adamantine (Harold Miner), alone 50 credibility (Tracy McGrady!) or did it all with a smile (Grant Hill), you got the label: “Next Michael Jordan.”

“I don’t want to be the aing Michael Jordan,” Vince Carter tells B/R Mag, abandoning a mantra that could accept been announced by all of them. “You’re not putting that on me.”

But a new bearing of stars, acknowledgment to the accelerated change of the d and the access of time, has been accustomed to blossom, able by banal comparisons. So Russ Westbrook is aloof Russ Westbrook, Steph is aloof Steph, and the adventure to reincarnate MJ is mercifully over.

“When you’re attractive at players out there now,” Bryant tells B/R Mag, “you’re saying, ‘OK, there’s not a aing Michael Jordan.’ It’s not about the apparent stuff. It’s about: Are they aing the d the way he did? … That is what it agency to be a Michael Jordan—to be a Kobe. That is what we should be attractive for.”

Ask DeRozan who he capital to be growing up in the ’90s and 2000s in Compton, California, and the acknowledgment is easy: “I watched every distinct affair Kobe did, Jordan did, and approved to challenge it,” he tells B/R Mag.

And admitting MJ’s spirit may activity aural him, ask DeRozan if there’s any evidence of MJ larboard in today’s players and, well: “I don’t anticipate so.”

OVERHEARD AT THE UNITED CENTER at a contempo Bulls game, area two admirers were admiring a ample accurate display:

Fan No. 1: “Oh, wow! Attending at that guy! He’s cutting the aboriginal Jordans!”

Fan No. 2: “Dude! That is Michael Jordan.”

Relaying the story, above Jordan teammate-turned-Bulls analyst Bill Wennington chuckles and all-overs his head: “It’s like, OK, they apperceive his sneakers, but they didn’t apperceive who he was.”

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Today, an absolute bearing knows Crying Jordan better than the absolute Michael Jordan.

Even in NBA locker rooms, the institutional anamnesis is bound fading. Alone 17 alive players competed adjoin the creaky, Wizards copy of Jordan, who sank his aftermost acreage ambition 14 years ago.

Lakers amateur Brandon Ingram was nine months old back Jordan clinched a sixth championship with his iconic jumper over Utah’s Bryon Russell.

Steph Curry, now an ancient ancient and an idol at age 29, was 10 years old.

“I didn’t absolutely acknowledge what I was watching,” Curry tells B/R Mag.

Curry’s most active memories as a adolescent fan were of Bryant, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, and of accompany artful Bryant’s fadeaway. (“I was absolutely a Steve Nash guy,” Curry says.)

Yet Bearing Steph is arena in a apple MJ about created. The sports-drink endorsements, the signature shoes, the branding, the absolute abstraction of becoming a brand—all of it came from the Jordan template. And his banner is everywhere.

“He accustomed the adapt of a abundant amateur who transcended his sport, who had bazaar appeal, bartering appeal,” says Grant Hill. “Other than that, there absolutely wasn’t an amateur who did it on that level.”

Jordan’s rookie-year Bulls jersey outsells all added NBA throwbacks by a agency of three—more than LeBron’s amateur jersey, added than Kobe’s 2007 jersey (his aboriginal as No. 24), and added than any jersey in the NFL or Major League Baseball. “If you added up all of the NBA athletes together,” says sports industry analyst Matt Powell, “it wouldn’t according Jordan in one year.”

Indeed, MJ is everywhere and boilerplate at once: Thirteen players wore No. 23 this season, but alone three—James, Anthony Davis and Wes Matthews Jr.—have cited Jordan as the reason.

The hero-ball appearance that Jordan aggressive may be as out of appearance as acid-washed denim in today’s pace-and-space, three-point-obsessed NBA. And aloof three of the league’s top 20 scorers this division comedy Jordan’s once-glamorous position of cutting bouncer (DeRozan, Beal and CJ McCollum), while alone two cutting guards fabricated the All-Star Bold (DeRozan and Klay Thompson) alongside eight point guards.

But today’s stars are still block Jordan, who charcoal the career baton in postseason points, with 5,987 (313 credibility advanced of LeBron). And he charcoal the alone amateur in the aftermost 40 years to column a career average of 30 credibility a d while cutting aing to 50 percent from the field.

Jordan was never addicted of the comparisons and adopted not to animate them by commenting for this story, says David Falk, his longtime acquaintance and above agent.

But, Falk adds: “I’ve said to abounding of my friends, ‘God, if Michael played today, he’d apparently boilerplate like 60.’ And I absolutely accept that.”

Want Howard Beck’s new account B/R podcast on the NBA? Click actuality to subscribe to The Full 48 on iTunes.

EVERYONE WANTED TO BE MICHAEL JORDAN. But to be the next Michael Jordan was both a acclaim and a burden, the ultimate aspiration and an unshakeable curse.

“I appetite to be me, man,” Carter recalls of his sentiments as a adaptable 6’7″ bouncer out of UNC in the backward ’90s. “I aloof don’t appetite to put that burden on myself. In no way, appearance or anatomy I’m cerebration that I am him, will be him or could be him.”

“As anon as I absolved in, my aboriginal year, that’s what you hear. For as air-conditioned as it may be, you don’t appetite it. You’re like, ‘No, acknowledge you.'”

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In 2000, Carter won the Slam Douse Contest and jumped over 7’2″ centermost Frederic Weis at the Olympics. But his teams generally faltered in the playoffs, and Jordan clones were artlessly not acceptable to fail.

“There was a point area [critics said], ‘He doesn’t accept the approach, his mentality is not like Michael Jordan,'” Carter recalls. “You’re right. Because I’m not Michael Jordan. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. And that was starting to get frustrating.”

The Bulls’ rivals capital their own Jordan, for the thrills and the championship parades. Marketers capital addition Jordan, to accumulate affairs shoes and sports drinks, alike if stars played annihilation like Mike. 

Pundits fell into a abstract trap, throwing about “the aing Jordan” indiscriminately.

“No anguish at all,” says analyst Dick Vitale, who reportedly slapped the “Baby Jordan” tag on Miner and formed Stackhouse and Jerome Harmon—a blatant Louisville bouncer who lasted aloof one NBA season—as Jordan heirs.

In Vitale’s recollection, he alone alleged players “Jordan-esque,” not “next”—”and if I did it the added way, again I say I’m guilty,” he tells B/R Mag, chuckling. “You get bent up in the affect of a game, an affect of a moment, army activity wild, you see a amazing play, so who are you activity to analyze him with? Michael Jordan.”

The ancient “next Jordan” references accustomed in 1983, mostly apropos to alone kids with big dreams. In 1984, the appellation was activated to Kevin Madden, a Virginia basic phenom who had committed to North Carolina.

The aboriginal “next Jordans” of any bulge appeared in 1986: Len Bias, a brilliant at Maryland; Roy Marble, a apprentice at Iowa; and Ron Harper, again starring at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. (“I can’t be him,” Harper would reply.) The aftermost “next Jordan” was that added Ohio-born prodigy, dubbed “The Chosen One” in aerial school, but rarely acclaimed on his own claim afterwards acceptable the NBA’s top abstract aces in 2003. (“I’m who I am,” LeBron James said in 2012. “Hopefully the comparisons will be Who’s the aing LJ?—not MJ.”)

A analysis of bi-weekly belief amid 1990 and 2010 angry up added than 3,000 references to “Next Michael Jordan,” “Next Jordan” or “Heir Jordan.” They came from coaches and players, columnists and amateur reps, advertising men and ad executives. “The agents, the announcers,” says above Commissioner David Stern. “They were abacus a little bit too abundant burden to already-great players who shouldn’t accept had to accord with the adumbration of Michael.”

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While some scoffed at the absolute abstraction of a aing Jordan, Sonny Vaccaro agilely approved them out. The above Nike executive, who was accustomed with signing Jordan, tells B/R Mag: “I believed in attractive for the best ‘next.’ That was my life.”

The adolescent brilliant who had the best adventitious to become “legendary,” Vaccaro says, was Penny Hardaway—”one of the greatest players that I accept anytime seen. He had that added thing: charisma.”

Hardaway’s about-face came in the 1997 playoffs, with the Orlando Magic, back he torched the Miami Heat for three beeline games, activity for 42, 41 and 33 points.

“The way he played in the aftermost three games, we are attractive at the aing Michael Jordan,” Abracadabra drillmaster Richie Adubato said at the time. “No catechism about it.”

Hardaway has no bond of that quote, or annihilation similar, and doesn’t anamnesis any ache at the comparisons.

“Michael set the bar really, absolutely high,” he tells B/R Mag. “I don’t anticipate it was annihilation negative.”

Off the court, “Lil Penny” commercials gave Hardaway crossover appeal. But injuries concise his abundance and cut abbreviate his career in 2008.

Google searches for “the aing Michael Jordan” had begun dropping by then, and, a from a abrupt fasten in aboriginal 2013 as James was acrimonious up his additional championship, the byword has been a bald bleep anytime since. Admitting the characterization has lingered, no top anticipation back James got saddled with the expectations. The birth finer concluded with him.

As it turns out, a new bearing was rising, accessible to ample the abandoned with their own casting of ascendancy and showmanship and affective talent. It’s aloof that they attending and comedy annihilation like Michael Jordan.

When Hardaway accomplish in the gym at Memphis East Aerial School, area he now serves as arch coach, he sees players dancing with the basketball as if they’re Kyrie Irving.

“A lot of adorned ball-handling,” Hardaway says. “Making assorted moves, adverse moves, the altered spins off the glass.”

And he’s had to advise his players added than already for ablution from 30 feet, like a bandage of mini-Steph Currys. 

“They’re aloof not authoritative as abounding as Steph,” he says, chuckling. “They’ll aloof say, ‘I can absolutely shoot them!’ And I’ll go, ‘Yeah, able-bodied prove it to me.’ If you prove it to me, again you accept that right.'”

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“They appetite to be Kyrie and Steph, for sure.”

STEPH CURRY SEES THE VIDEOS flooding his amusing feeds. They appear from appreciative parents and adolescence coaches and arrogant 20-somethings. They appetite to allotment the shot—the one they hit from 30 feet, or from bisected court.

“Somebody will hit a abysmal three, and they’ll tag me in it, saying, ‘Such and such did his best Steph Curry impersonation,'” Curry tells B/R Mag. “Just accidental bodies from all over the country—all over the world.”

For decades, basketball admirers all capital to be like Mike. Now anybody wants to shoot like Steph.

“I apprehend it a lot,” Curry says. “It’s appealing special.”

Stackhouse sees it every day in Toronto. His players, associates of the Raptors’ D-League team, are accomplishing Russell Westbrook impressions.

“And again they alpha accomplishing the high-stepping like LeBron,” Stackhouse tells B/R Mag. “And again they shoot the ‘three to the temple,’ like Carmelo Anthony.”

He laughs.

“I anticipate they booty a little bit of all of them now, as against to it actuality like one guy,” Stackhouse says. “Everybody capital to be Jordan and stick their argot out and achromatize away. They got a mix of all these guys now that they try to arrangement their d after. I anticipate it’s appealing cool.”

The arrangement has been burst into a thousand pieces and reassembled into an arrangement of amazing hybrids: box score-stuffing point guards (Westbrook, James Harden), baby assiduously with bouncer abilities (James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo), giants who can canyon and shoot (Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns).

The d has afflicted radically—more wide-open, added free-flowing, beneath avaricious on the perimeter, beneath banging in the post—and it no best demands, or rewards, the repertoire of able and mid-range a ability that fabricated Jordan elite.

To be like Mike today would beggarly alive the seams that are now abominable as “inefficient.”

“His d was congenital about 15 feet—and now you’re told that that’s a bad abode to be,” says Jeff Van Gundy, who spent best of the 1990s disturbing over how to avert Jordan as a Knicks coach.

“And I wonder,” Van Gundy continues, “if he was arena now, would addition try to argue him to move out [to the three-point line]—versus one-dribble pull-up, which is the best indefensible attempt in the game? Or the turnaround in the post, which they say is not a abundant shot? I anticipate that’s one of the affidavit why bodies aren’t alike aggravating to comedy like him anymore.”

James, with three rings and four MVP trophies, is by far the ascendant amateur of his generation. Yet there is no “next LeBron” debate, conceivably because there’s a abbreviate accumulation of 6’8″ kids with Adonis-like bodies and Magic-like casual vision. “They’re not adage Antetokounmpo is the aing LeBron,” says Grant Hill, “but that was accident with Mike. I anticipate it was bigger than basketball.”

But the adolescent Curry resonates, conceivably because his greatest accomplishment is, simply, the axiological aspect of the game:

Not everybody can dunk, but everybody can dribble, and everybody can shoot.

— STEPH CURRY

And so coaches everywhere are managing a new challenge: a millennial army of ambitious Stephs.

Ron Harper and Paul Pierce see it in their own kids. (“Now it’s aloof appealing abundant abandon up a three-pointer and see how abounding you can make,” Pierce laughs.)

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And of course, there’s LaVar Ball, who has accomplished his three sons to become basic Curry clones.

“I anticipate kids are saying, ‘I appetite to be me—and I appetite no banned on what I can do,'” says Seth Berger, the above AND1 architect and arch drillmaster at the Westtown Academy in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “And I anticipate that’s a absolute acceptable thing. Kids should analyze the alcove of their abilities.”

When Cameron Reddish, one of the nation’s top prospects, asks Berger if he can shoot back he comes beyond bisected court, the drillmaster replies, “If you’re open.” He went 2-of-5 from 35 anxiety this season.

“If Cam is accessible at two accomplish abaft the NBA [arc], that’s a absolutely acceptable attempt in my opinion,” Berger says. “I appetite him to booty that shot.”

Shoot like Steph? Sure, he says, but amuse don’t stop there.

“Hopefully, it inspires them to assignment on their d and not aloof try to go out and do the actuality that I do,” Curry tells B/R Mag. “Because I appetite them to apperceive how abundant time I put into it.”

If he were asked the aforementioned catechism two decades ago, back his No. 23 jersey dotted every amphitheater and his face bedeviled every bartering break, Michael Jordan ability accept said the same: Come fly with me, sure, but assignment on your about-face axis first, kid.

The assignment of Jordan was ultimately not about acclivity or ability or aggressive fire, but the axiological assignment that came abaft it all. You may not see accessible traces of Jordan in today’s NBA, but the blow is there.

“It doesn’t amount your appearance of play,” Bryant says, his accent axis emphatic. “What affairs is how you access the game.”

If Bryant came the aing to approximating Jordan—and about all of the two dozen bodies interviewed for this adventure says he did—it was not alone because of a allowance for able-bodied mimicry, but additionally a affection for the assignment itself, a adherence to detail that Jordan himself embodied.

“The affair that I anticipate is the best important in the comparisons is not the achievement of the career, but the address aural that,” Bryant says. “That’s what’s best important for the aing bearing of players, is to accept the technique. The footwork, the spacing, the timing, the basics. That’s the best important thing.

“Forget about the endorsements, balloon about the rings for a second, let’s balloon about ballet movements and all this added s–t. Let’s balloon about that. The address is what’s best important. Because that is what’s absolutely timeless, that the aing bearing can abstraction and backpack on and again canyon on to the one afterwards that.”

The apparition lingers, flittering in and out of view, his access added attenuate but irrefutable.

Chance the Rapper wins a Grammy and is adapt in a Jordan-esque pose, adhering (at his request) the accolade as MJ already hugged his aboriginal championship trophy.

A brief, abnormally complete ambulatory cry—”The beam is the roof!”—instantly becomes addition meme. Jordan speaks, the apple reacts.

Occasionally, MJ will alight from the owner’s apartment in Charlotte and booty a bench courtside—the apparition manifesting itself for all to see.

As for the aing MJ, that chase has all but ceased, alike if the alluring comparisons endure. A anniversary ago, it was no beneath an ascendancy than the man on the NBA logo himself, Jerry West, calling Westbrook “a reincarnation” of Jordan.

He is a advertence point in every championship run and every barstool debate, still the absurd ideal. No one became the aing Michael Jordan, because cipher could, and maybe no one anytime bare to.

“I never anticipation there was one anyway,” says Steve Kerr, Jordan’s above assistant and Curry’s coach. “That’s what fabricated him MJ. He was unique.”

Yet alike the best constant attribute of Jordan’s greatness—the one that casting an absolute shadow—is out of afterimage these days. The Bulls recently moved their Michael Jordan statue, accepted as “The Spirit,” from its branch alfresco the United Center, area it had stood for about 23 years, to an calm atrium.

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Like any diminished elder, the bronze bare aegis from the elements. To appearance it now, you accept to seek it out.

Howard Beck is a chief biographer for B/R Mag and covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He co-hosts The Full 48, a new account B/R podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @HowardBeck.

Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the new B/R app for added sports storytelling account your time, wherever you are.

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