Five-time NBA MVP, Six-time NBA Champion, Six-time NBA Finals MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, Nine-time NBA All-Defense First Team…… at this point, you should be catching on. The list of Michael Jordan’s NBA accomplishments reads like a novel.
When the name Michael Jordan is uttered in public, the public outcry is for reverence, of admiration and almost fictitious. You think of Michael Jordan; you remember the Shot, Michael Jordan defeating the laws of gravity, hanging in the air to drain the series deciding jumper over the outstretched arms of a hapless Craig Ehlo.
You think of Michael Jordan; you think of The Flu Game, Michael Jordan thwarting flu-like symptoms to shoot 13 of 27 from the field for 38 points leading the Bulls to a victory to grab a stranglehold in the 1997 NBA Finals, collapsing into the arms of teammate Scottie Pippen at the conclusion of the game, a victim of his own mortality.
You think of Michael Jordan; you recall free throw line dunk. His Airness needing at least a score of 49 to clinch the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest in front of a raucous home crowd in Chicago. Gliding through the air, stepping on an invisible staircase and wagging out his tongue, throwing it down from the free throw line for the perfect dunk to seal his second consecutive Slam Dunk contest trophy.
You think of Michael Jordan; you recollect the Shrug. Hitting his sixth first half three pointer in the 1992 NBA Finals against the Trailblazers, shrugging to an absolutely unconscious home crowd to say when you’re hot, you’re hot.
You think of Michael Jordan, you assume greatness, envision iconic sports moments and a man unfazed by any challenge. It makes it right that the only basketball athlete that can challenge this mythical figure is a 6’8’’, 250 lb. super athlete from the mean streets of Akron, Ohio.
“I want to be the greatest of all time and that’s my motivation. It’s that simple. It’s not that simple.” – LeBron James
The LeBron James story reads like the hottest movie of the summer; LeBron James was born to a 16-year-old mother, Gloria James, neglected by his father from birth, LeBron and his mother moved from apartment to apartment in Akron, Ohio while his mother struggled to hold a steady job. As a child, LeBron James showed a special talent for basketball, receiving national recognition for his play at the 6th grade AAU National Championship. As a high school freshman, he averaged 18 points a game and was selected for the USA Today High School All-First Team as a sophomore becoming the first sophomore to ever earn the honor. His encore to this was being named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year as a Junior and was so good, he contemplated going pro as a junior. As a senior, he earned 31.6 points per game, helping his team clinch their third state title.
It came as no shock to anyone when LeBron James was selected as the first overall pick in 2003 to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers with his terrific athleticism, excellent passing ability and being able to defend all five positions with some warning Michael Jordan to watch the throne. LeBron James proved the scouts right as he cemented his status as one of the best players in the NBA while dragging the talent-deficient Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA final, which they lost to the San Antonio Spurs. While LeBron was singlehandedly dominating the league, it was always a point that he needed more help on his team and more championships to catch Michael Jordan and he became an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010.
“Reggie Miller and I are in 100% agreement on this, if you’re the two-time NBA MVP you don’t leave anywhere. They come to you. That’s ridiculous. LeBron will never be Jordan. This clearly takes him out of the conversation. He can win as much as he wants to. There would have been something honorable about staying in Cleveland and trying to win it as The Man.” – Charles Barkley
No two words will be used to described a player’s legacy quite like the Decision. Quitter, cheat, LeBron James leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to form a superteam with the Miami Heat was a much maligned decision.
His phrase, “Taking my talents to South Beach” became the butt of many jokes from his numerous critics. Tears filling the city of Cleveland, LeBron James jerseys being burned and LeBron James banners being pulled down from the Quicken Loans Arena, Comic Sans text ridiculing him for his disloyalty, even Hulk Hogan would have been jealous of how LeBron changed from lovable babyface to cheap heel, the consensus was that LeBron was taking the easiest route to get rings and catch Jordan: take the path of least resistance. The 2010-2011 season saw James embracing the role of villain, winning the Most Valuable Player title but falling well short of his goal by falling to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. He won the championship the subsequent year against the Kevin Durant led Oklahoma Thunder, before splitting a pair with the San Antonio Spurs and deciding to go back and attempt to win one for the city of Cleveland.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.” – LeBron James
In his letter announcing his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James said his mission to Cleveland goes beyond the game of basketball but helping foster businesses in Cleveland and encourage the children to contribute positively in the community. On the field, the story remained the same with LeBron lacking the prerequisite help, dropping the Finals to the Golden State Warriors losing to MVP and newly discovered fan favourite, Stephen Curry without top players, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and while LeBron averaged a near triple double for the series, the lack of talent around him was shown as the Cavaliers lost the series in five games. This year, the Cavaliers had a rematch with the Warriors who became the greatest regular season team of all time, trumping the Jordan-led Bulls with 73 wins.
Down 3-1 in the series, LeBron James led the comeback for the Cavaliers winning the final three games including a Game 7 in Oakland with James leading the charge with a triple double, including taking Andre Iguodola’s soul with a mammoth chasedown block in the final game.
“I’m not MJ, I’m LJ” – LeBron James
Winning his third NBA Championship against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, LeBron James is as close as ever to catching Michael Jordan as the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball. A good argument can be made as to why LeBron is better, the competition he has faced in the Finals has been stiffer than the opponents Jordan had to go up against. When LeBron left the Cavaliers, they dropped from a perennial playoff contender to a perennial lottery contender without LeBron James to make the players around him better but when Michael Jordan left basketball to try his hand at baseball, the Chicago Bulls only lost two more games without Michael. The combination of LeBron James winning three straight games to win the title while averaging a near triple double against the greatest regular season team of all time only serves to solidify his resume.
The Michael Jordan vs LeBron James conversation has almost turned into a microcosm of life with millennials living in the moment believing LeBron might have the upper hand and Generation Xers believing Jordan is better as a result of his killer instinct and more titles.
This year, LeBron has the greatest challenge of his career with superstar Kevin Durant joining the 73 win Warriors and if LeBron James can get past this obstacle, don’t be surprised if the wide consensus is that LeBron has surpassed the proverbial ghost.