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.
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 a flopper.”
“I just don’t like his attitude.”
“I hate the way he left Cleveland.”
Fill in the blank.
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.