USA! USA! USA! What a way to wake up yesterday, America! Another episode in one of the classic rivalries in the history of the world. Starting with the 1972 Olympics when the Russians cheated us, to The Miracle at Lake Placid, all the way to Rocky and Ivan Drago, yesterday was yet another opportunity to show the world we are the Yankees to their Red Sox. Segue to this evenings NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, where the biggest All-Star of them all takes the stage for the East against his Western Conference counterpart Kevin Durant and his gang of high-flying hoopsters.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the Wilt vs. Russell or the Bird vs. Magic of the new millennium. They are the best in the business and they are the clear cut leaders of the two best teams currently in the NBA. So, on this NBA All-Star weekend, it is time to reflect on one of the current great debates: The King or His Airness?
With each season that passes, many feel King James makes a bigger case for himself as the greatest the game has ever seen. I don’t think it is even close. In fact, I would argue Kobe Bryant is closer to Jordan 2.0 than the King. A lot of the debate circles around a wait and see approach, wondering how LeBron James will end his career. I don’t think it will matter. If Lebron were to win 4 more championships and tie Jordan, Jordan is still the greatest of all-time.
5 REASONS HIS AIRNESS REIGNS SUPREME
5. The Stats:
The easy and lazy way to approach the topic is to merely whip out the numbers and whoever has better stats is clearly the best. That being said, I’m still going to do it. Not counting LeBron’s 2013-14 stats at the halfway point, let’s examine Jordan versus James through year 10 of their careers:
Michael Jordan: 21,998 points, 4,219 rebounds, 4,025 assists, and 2,445 steals.
LeBron James: 21,081 points, 5,553 rebounds, 5,302 assists, and 1,323 steals.
Well this just doesn’t help much at all. Jordan is tops in two stats and James ousts MJ in the other 2. Here’s something that may help separate the two. Jordan’s official tenth season was his first retirement which means to get stats for 10 seasons we need to jump to his ’94-’95 return, when played in 17 whole games. Nine seasons earlier, Jordan’s second, he broke his foot in the third game and wound up playing in just 18 games that season. James has never played in less than 62 games in a season. You give Jordan those missed games back or have him not retire and these numbers are ALL Jordan. To appease to the bling is the thing mentality, Jordan has three rings by year 10 and LeBron has two.
4. Do you know, do you know, do you know?:
Sure, LeBron has his own line of sneakers, but that’s because Jordan paved the way. I was in middle school when Air Jordan’s hit the market and for those of you who weren’t alive, it was total pandemonium. People were getting killed for their shoes. Mars Blackman, aka Spike Lee, became Jordan’s sidekick in one of the more memorable ad campaigns of the 80s. (Incidentally, a few months back I found an It’s Gotta Be the Shoes Nike shirt at Rag-O-Rama in Atlanta and I snatched that baby right up!)
Yes, LeBron is Mr. Gatorade and even had his own gum flavor for a minute but EVERYBODY knew Michael Jordan. By the mid-1990s he had to be one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He was an actor, he was on the Dream Team, he was an adman, he sold out minor league baseball games, he IS one of the most famous logos ever which in turn made Nike into what we know it, and he made an awesome guest host appearance on SNL. Like Magic before him, Jordan knew he WAS the NBA and he stepped up to bat, put the NBA on his shoulders and carried the league to new heights. Sure he was smug and arrogant, but he was Michael Freakin’ Jordan. LeBron? We can’t even get this guy to dunk on All-Star Weekend. Which brings me to…
3. The Slam Dunk Contest:
Imagine if you would, that the year is 1988. NBA All-Star Weekend is in Chicago. Bill Lambier, Mugsy Bogues, Kevin Johnson, and Terry Porter take the stage for the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. A sold-out arena heads for the doors.
The Slam Dunk Contest is the Slam Dunk Contest because back in MJ’s day the best dunkers in the NBA participated. Jordan, Dr.J, Drexler, Nance, Spud Webb, and Dominque Wilkins all participated in dunk contests leading up to the greatest of them all, the 1988 ‘Nique versus Jordan showdown (which Dominque should have won). Last night was a bunch of bench or role players dunking. I grew up walking the streets of New York City where I could watch dunk contests with guys I never heard of quite often. I want to see the big guns go at it. If you are too good to be in the Dunk Contest then you are too good to play in the meaningless showboat game that the NBA All-Star Game is. Stay home and let someone else shine.
2. The Hardware:
It’s not just what MJ has on LeBron in the rings and trophies, it is how he accomplished it all. King James beat up on 15 and 16-year-olds half his size to win some state championships and jumped right to the NBA. Jordan decided to go to college first but not because he couldn’t have made the jump. Want proof? In his first year at UNC, he won the 1982 Freshman of the Year en route to the National Title in which he hit the game-winning shot over Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. 2 years later in 1984, he was the NCAA Player of the Year winning the Wooden, Rupp, and Naismith Awards which of course earned him the honor of being drafted AFTER Sam Bowie. Imagine if Jordan had those three years in the NBA?
Both James and Jordan won the Rookie of the Year award in their NBA debuts. Jordan has 5 MVPs and LeBron has 4, so he may very well surpass him. LeBron has 2 NBA Championships while Jordan finished with 6. Make no mistakes, folks, the Rockets weren’t the ’93-94 and ’94-’95 NBA Champs because they were the best team in the league. They won because MJ “retired”. The Bulls would have won 8 Championships in a row if Jordan stayed. If that were the case this wouldn’t even be a debate.
1. The Joran Era:
I’m probably biased but I feel that I grew up in the greatest era of NBA basketball which is why I find it so hard to watch today’s NBA. The early 80s to the mid-90s was an amazing time for the NBA. They had characters like Sir Charles and Magic, they had classic player rivalries like Bird and Magic and Ewing and Olajuwon, and they had The Bad Boys. That era also had the greatest players to ever suit up.
This is what makes MJ’s 2 “three-peats” so amazing. His Bulls won 6 championships defeating the likes of Magic Johnson and James Worthy, Drexler, Sir Charles, Gary Payton, and John Stockton and Karl Malone. These aren’t just Hall of Famers, these are Top 50 NBA all-time players. Jordan and Pippen routinely beat up Ewing and Isiah Thomas in the East to get to the Finals. LeBron and the Heat lost to Dirk and the Mavericks their first go at the title. Jordan’s Bulls didn’t lose, and he made sure of it.
Jordan never had to leave and go join another team to win. People came to him. Dennis Rodman could have gone anywhere and probably had a bigger role but instead he decided to go to Chicago and form possibly the deadliest Big Three combo in history. If Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman had stayed together a few more years who knows what would have happened. On the other side of the debate, many experts already see James, Wade, and Bosh’s window quickly closing with more discussions weekly on where LeBron will sign next.
Dissecting it even further, look at the MVP awards we discussed earlier. Here are the second place finishers in Jordan’s MVP seasons: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, David Robinson, and Karl Malone. That’s some pretty hefty competition. They were all members of The 1992 Dream Team and they are all Hall of Famers. LeBron has beaten out Kevin Durant three times and Kobe once. There just hasn’t been much competition for the MVP trophy and it seems like lately it’s a two man contest. When it comes down to comparing the greatest ever, Jordan beat the greats to prove it, LeBron never will. He won’t get to play a Magic, a Bird, Mailman, or a Sir Charles. Yes, he ousted the Tim Duncan led Spurs, but what would have been if that Spurs team was in their prime like the Heat. Even Kobe had a few years to go at Jordan to prove his greatness. LeBron never will.
All in all, LeBron is no slouch. He will finish amongst the greatest to ever suit up. Maybe one day, Sega will make us a Jordan Vs. James throwback game to try and help the discussion. Until then, King James rules the current NBA but His Airness still rules the world.
I need to cool off. Until next time, remember, lucky wins are good wins. Refuse to lose Cuse! UNDEFEATACUSE!!!