HOUSTON (AP) — Michael Jordan turned 50 on 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," Heat star Dwyane Wade said. "That's why there will never be another one of him. He 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 Bulls that began in 1984.
Jordan was in Houston this weekend, and celebrated his birthday early with a private bash on Friday at the Museum of Fine Arts with guests including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard is so impressed with Jordan that he said he's like a real version of Superman.
"Be Like Mike" was more than a marketing campaign. It was a dream for many of today's players.
"He's amazing," Howard said. "He's one of the reasons why we played basketball. He inspired us to do great things. I hear his voice sometimes on commercials, it makes you want to get out there and try to do something."
Jordan retired twice before finally leaving the game for good at age 39. Some people wondered this weekend if he could still play in the NBA, despite reaching the age where he qualifies for an AARP card.
Wade believes this day will be a time for Jordan to reflect on his storied career and appreciate his family and health.
"Kind of look back at all the things he did, so many years ago in the NBA that still lives on today," Wade said. "What he's been able to do to stay this relevant, in this role, the way he has, is phenomenal."
Though he isn't seen often, Jordan is never far from the game. He is close to a group of players through his Jordan Brand apparel and as the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. He ignited one of the debates of the weekend when he told NBA TV he would chose 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, 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," Jordan said in the interview, which airs Monday night.
Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks 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 press during All-Star weekend. James said this week that he wasn't too concerned with the TV 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 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 this 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?"