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WHAT IF? ... MICHAEL JORDAN HAD NEVER BAGGED IT?

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FOR STARTERS: At least one person thinks MJ would have succeeded had he stuck to the diamond. "Give him 1,000 at bats [in the minors] and he'd have found his way to the majors," says Indians manager Terry Francona, who in 1994 oversaw Jordan on the White Sox' Double A affiliate Birmingham Barons. "If you tell him no, he's going to find a way to make the answer yes." One regrettable SI cover aside, Jordan wasn't too bad at the national pastime. At 30, having not played since high school, he batted .202 with three homers and 30 stolen bases. Another year or two of seasoning and he might have been on the Sox team that missed a playoff spot by three games in '96. Maybe he helps Chicago to the postseason (or convinces the team, for better or worse, not to make its infamous "white flag" trade at the '97 deadline). Alas, an MLB strike in '94 nudged MJ back to the NBA, where he won three more titles, denying a handful of legends who retired ringless. Patrick Ewing (right), Reggie Miller, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, John Stockton and Karl Malone—without the GOAT, you can imagine a path to victory for each one. You can also imagine, in this bizarro NBA, an entirely different GOAT debate. Jordan would have finished with fewer titles than Magic, the same number as Bird, and LeBron would already have tied him. But MJ did go back to the Bulls and soon became the GOAT. And there's no wondering about that.