HOUSTON Michael Jordan turned 50 Sunday, giving this year's All-Stars a chance to reflect on his illustrious career and how much he still means to the sport.
In a weekend filled with the NBA's greatest players, Jordan was the topic no one could stop talking about. Though he hasn't played since the 2002-03 season, Jordan's influence still permeates the league and its players.
"Every kid that wanted to play basketball, that could play, that couldn't play, you tried to emulate Michael Jordan," Dwyane Wade said. "That's why there will never be another one of him. He was the first of his kind. Everything he did was groundbreaking. He did it with so much flare and so much pizazz that even today people are still trying to be like Mike."
Jordan won six titles and five MVP awards during a career spent mostly with the Chicago Bulls that began in 1984. He retired twice before finally leaving the game for good at age 39.
This weekend, Jordan was in Houston and celebrated his birthday early with a private bash Friday at the Museum of Fine Arts. Guests included Le-Bron James and Kobe Bryant.
Though he isn't seen often, Jordan is not far from the game. He is close to a group of players through his Jordan Brand apparel and as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Carmelo Anthony counts Jordan as one of the most influential in his decision to play basketball.
"He changed the game, transcended the game," Anthony said. "He changed the way people coached the game from a mental aspect. From a training aspect, how you approach that, he changed that. So for me as a kid to see that and see somebody go through that and succeed, that was motivation."
Jordan, who retired for the last time with more than 32,000 points, is perhaps known as much by the younger generation of stars for his namesake Nike shoe as for his basketball skills.
"The imprint he's had on the league, he's an immortal," Bryant said. "Everything that he's done from the business aspect to his professionalism to his work ethic to the global appeal of the game has been something that carries on for generations and generations."
Jordan didn't make himself available to the media during All-Star Weekend. But he ignited one of the hottest debates of the weekend when he told NBA TV he would choose Bryant over James based on the number of championships each has won.
"If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice," Jordan said in an interview that airs tonight. "But five beats one every time I look at it, and not that (James) won't get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one."
James said he wasn't too concerned with Jordan's remarks.
"At the end of the day, rings don't always define someone's career," James said. "If that's the case, then I would sit up here and say that I would take (Bill) Russell over Jordan. I wouldn't. I wouldn't take Russell over Jordan, but Russell has 11 rings, and Jordan has six. Or I'd take, I don't know, Robert Horry (who has seven rings) over Jordan. I wouldn't do that. But it's your own personal opinion.
"Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all time," he continued. "Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all time. Sometimes it's a situation that you're in, it's the team that you're in. It's about timing as well."
One of the most common sentiments echoed by players last week when talking about Jordan was disbelief that he was turning 50.
"Time actually flies," Bryant said. "Him turning 50, this will be my 17th year, my 15th All-Star Game. Where did the time go?"