Why LeBron Can Surpass Jordan, Whether You Like It Or Not

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With the Heat’s victory over the Spurs in game seven of the NBA Finals on Thursday, LeBron has two rings, and the discussion continues.

Does LeBron deserve to be in the conversation with Michael Jordan?

Let me give a brief, and perhaps obvious, answer: yes. If you’re cringing and wanting to yell at me right now, know that LeBron already has been in the conversation. Even the off-handed “LeBron is no Jordan” comments and facebook statuses confirm that this is something worth talking about. Nobody needs to take to facebook to let the world know they believe Brian Scalabrine is no Jordan; it is simply not necessary.

Nobody, including me, is saying LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan. Everybody respects Jordan’s numbers, talent, and lasting legacy, including the Miami Heat organization, which retired his number this year. However, LeBron is clearly on pace to surpass Jordan and should not be considered a lesser player. A few basic statistics comparing LeBron and Michael at age 28 support this claim:

At age 28, LeBron leads Michael in the following categories:

-2 Championships, to Jordan’s one

-4 Regular season MVPs, to Jordan’s two

-A better playoff winning percentage (.638) than Jordan (.587)

-More playoff winning series (19) than Jordan (13)

These stats are via Numbers Never Lie and can be seen in this video.

Yes, LeBron came into the league at age 18 while Jordan did not come into the league until he was 21, but both had similar beginnings in their careers: they showed signs of stardom and became crowd favorites early. Both missed the playoffs during their first NBA season. Jordan, like LeBron, was not without his playoff struggles: his Bulls could not overcome Isaiah Thomas’s Pistons in 3 consecutive playoffs before winning his first title.

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While Jordan is lauded as the best player in NBA history, James has become the most criticized player in NBA history, the player fans love to hate. This has to be in part due to the rise of social media. However, the point remains: fans and lukewarm fans alike love to hate LeBron. I have many friends who continue to watch the playoffs simply to root for the team playing against the Heat. I would argue this attitude is just as fair weather, if not more so, than deciding to cheer for LeBron and the Heat, but that is another issue completely. My question is, why do we as a culture idolize Jordan and run LeBron into the ground?

Here’s a summation of the arguments against LeBron I’ve heard:

“He’s cocky.”

“He’s a flopper.”

“I just don’t like his attitude.”

“I hate the way he left Cleveland.”

Fill in the blank.

Jordan?

Gambler.

Alcoholic.

Adulterer.

For crying out loud, Jordan LEFT THE GAME OF BASKETBALL for two years to play minor league baseball. Still listening? All sorts of conspiracy theories abound as to why he left the game; perhaps his gambling had gotten out of hand. His father’s murder was fresh; I cannot claim to know why he left. However, in his 1993 retirement interview, he used the phrase, “If David Stern will let me back in the game…” when asked about a possible return. Why, when not even prompted, would he mention the commissioner in this way? Watch the clip here, and skip to 4:07.

Everyone will say that until LeBron wins 6 titles, we cannot make the claim that he is equal or superior to Jordan. Fair enough. In the meantime, let’s stop acting like Jordan is superior because “he never needed a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.” All but one of his championships took 6 games. Is a championship somehow worth less if it takes 7 games? And for the sake of all that is good, can we please stop pretending like Jordan won all of those championships by himself? Yes, Jordan was clutch but he had Scottie Pippen averaging 20 points a game beside him and Dennis Rodman rebounding out of his mind. Rodman put up 21 rebounds in a game against Shaq (ever heard of him?) and the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron won the championship this year with an incredibly inconsistent Wade and lackluster Bosh, who scored as many points as I did in Game 7 of the finals.

LeBron may not have the titles Jordan has, but he is bigger, faster, and a better ball handler than Jordan was. He’s being asked to do just as much as Jordan was, if not more, and he deserves the credit for it.

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Why You Should Like LeBron James

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LeBron and the Heat are in the finals again, and the discussion has already begun: can can he pick up the first of the many rings he has promised the city of Miami? The answer is surely uncertain, especially if you were to ask a young player named Kevin Durant (Or his partner in crime, Russell Westbrook). What is clear is that most people outside of Miami will be rooting for the Thunder on principle.

People tend to bash LeBron for a lot of reasons. I believe most of the reasons people have for hating LeBron are rooted in hypocritical, illogical reasons. LeBron is not perfect, by any means, and he has made his mistakes, but the outspoken hatred for the guy has gone too far, and far too long.

1.    “The Decision” and lack of loyalty

Much of the “LeBron bashing” began when, on live television, he decided to take his talents to Miami for the 2010-2011 season. Most people would argue an hour-long special on EPSN wasn’t necessary. But the reality is, the media was making a huge deal of it that week already. No matter how he made his decision, it would have been blown way out of proportion by every network and LeBron would have taken the blame for it. In the end, he decided to go with a major sports network only after a large sum of money was donated to a charity. If you wanted to watch it, you knew where to find it. If you didn’t want to watch it, you could continue watching whatever it was you were already watching, or kept the tv off.

Then there are those raging Cleveland fans that claim he is not loyal and root for whoever the Heat are playing. I mean, Cleveland fans were practically begging LeBron to stay. What you need to realize is the NBA is big business. Why don’t you ask Chauncey Billups about loyalty; he was traded to Denver for an aging and unproductive Allen Iverson. Ask Joey Porter about loyalty, who was cut by the Steelers. These are only a few examples of guys who have been faithful to a team for years, and are cut. If LeBron had turned in two or three bad seasons in Cleveland, they would have been happy to let him go. In professional sports, there is a sad but true reality: great players who are loyal to their team for years at a time get cut for money or better, younger players. What LeBron did was no different. LeBron gave Cleveland the seven best years they have seen (first player to be named Rookie of the Year as well as MVP). He knows he needs to win championships, and felt that Miami was the best place to do that.

 2.    The Promise

Another thing that gets folks heated about LeBron is the manner in which he arrived in Miami: the raucous celebration with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and the promise of “not one, not two, not three…” championships. If this is the reason you have chosen to hate LeBron, fine. I’m not really going to defend the arrogant manner with which they confidently promised seven championships before winning one. But again, this is a program you did not have to tune in for. It was an exciting event that got the fans in Miami excited for their basketball team. Let them have it. And let’s not forget that Michael Jordan, who won 6 championships, didn’t win his first until he was 28, and LeBron is only 27. He is in his prime, and is playing the best basketball of his life right now. He’s far from the end of his career, and he’s only getting better.

Furthermore, since when should an NBA player not believe they have the capability to win championships? What about when Rasheed Wallace guaranteed games in Detroit? All that did was pump up the fans, and it put a little extra pressure (or maybe fueled the fire) on the opposing team. In LeBron’s case, it has caused opposing players to hate him and hate his team. And you know what? Good for them. I loved seeing Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo getting fired up on the court. At this level, and at this stage of the postseason, if you don’t hate the opposing team, you probably don’t care enough to want to win it all. And I can assure you LeBron cares. Why? Because he takes the pressure upon himself and performs.

If that reason isn’t enough it is this simple: it’s been two years. Let’s leave this one behind us.

3.    He’s Overrated

You may think LeBron is overrated, and I honestly don’t think there is any validity in that claim, so I won’t belabor this point. But the fact of the matter is, when LeBron promised all of those championships when he came to Miami, he truly did put the weight on his shoulders. And he has come through. Probably the weakest aspect of his game this postseason has been free throw shooting. But he still leads the league in both attempts and makes in free throws this postseason. He gets to the line when his team needs it. This postseason, he is averaging roughly 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. Are you kidding me?! Anyone who saw his 45-point performance in Boston during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last week knows that when the rubber meets the road, LeBron is the guy you want to have the ball. And if he doesn’t hit jump shots, he gets to the line like he did in game 7. He does it all: blocks shots, grabs rebounds, hits long 3’s, dunks, works in transition, and defends.

I will go so far as to argue that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. He will go down as one of the greatest of all-time. Scottie Pippen, who played alongside Michael Jordan (ever heard of him?) has claimed he believes James may be the best to ever play the game. I wouldn’t go that far, but it speaks volumes that he is a part of the conversation.

4.    He’s Classless on the Court

I’m going to keep this one short too. I’ve heard a lot of this: “LeBron whines too much on the court.” If that’s the reason you hate LeBron, look at Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, or even Dwayne Wade for crying out loud! Players all around the league get fired up and complain after a call doesn’t go their way. It’s not a justifiable reason to hate the guy.

There is also the argument of not shaking hands after games and after the ends of series. Watch any playoff series and you will consistently see players walking off the court without shaking hands with the opposing team. I’m not justifying it, but there are other players that do it. And these days, James is always out there shaking hands with opponents. Rondo and Garnett left Game 7 before the game was even over. In his interviews, LeBron speaks highly of the opposing team and always directs the attention to his supporting cast and talks about what a “team effort” it was. LeBron, as he has gotten older, has shown that he has class on the court and respect for the teams that come his way.

 5.    He Calls Himself “King James”

Finally, you probably hate him because he calls himself “King James.” As if he is the first guy in the NBA to have a nickname. Paul Pierce, “The Truth.” Dwight Howard, “Superman.” Allen Iverson, “The Answer.” Give me a break. Nicknames make the game more fun. And if it makes you hate him, then go ahead and hope your team beats the Heat, fine. That’s the way it should be. But don’t tell me he is the first NBA player to have an arrogant nickname.

Before we begin to demonize a team and call this matchup a “good vs. evil” round, let’s stop and think about things closely. If LeBron really is that different from a lot of NBA players I’ve seen, and you’re not convinced by this, go ahead and hate him. I know a lot of people do. But I’m convinced that LeBron is not the thug that this entire country makes him out to be. He’s a player that you, if you were honest with yourself, would want on your team—whatever team that may be.