COMMENTARY | If he could be like Mike.
You remember the commercials, right? Those Gatorade ads with the catchy tunes in the 90s when Michael Jordan reigned as basketball's most gifted player. Everyone wanted to be like Mike. Today, that claim belongs to LeBron James. Problem is, King James will never reach His Airness' stature.
Jordan may have been the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen. Pound for pound. Position for position. His drive to win superseded that of anyone in the game today, and his six NBA titles are a testament to his impact on the sport. Heck, Michael was so good he got bored after three titles to try baseball, only to return nearly two years later to win three more straight NBA championships.
But it's more than winning the NBA title on more fingers than a hand yields that made Jordan the best. He was elusive, athletic, tenacious on defense, a great shooter, had surreal leaping and hang-time skills -- reference his slam dunk titles by visiting an old YouTube video of the 1987 and 1988 dunk contests -- and played with his share of physicality. MJ was the best. He could take anyone guarding him off the dribble, could pull up after leaving a would-be defender foolishly flailing in unoccupied space -- see Bryon Russell, Utah Jazz, circa 1998 NBA Finals, or Craig Ehlo, Cleveland Cavaliers, 1986 NBA playoffs -- and he had post-up, turnaround-jumper skills that maybe only Hakeem Olajuwon was more adept at perfecting.
Michael was, flat out, the most athletic all-around player the NBA has ever seen. That's a matter-of-fact generational statement.
LeBron wants to be put in that class. Truth is, he never will. Even if James were to win four more titles, he still won't be as good as Jordan with everything he brings to the table. LeBron is blessed with an inhumane physique, locomotive explosiveness and a power about his jumping skills. King James can score in a variety of ways, as could Jordan, pass off and defend with the best of them. Both Jordan and James won their first NBA titles at age 27. LeBron has a chance to match Jordan by winning a third straight title at age 29 in 2014.
But here's why he's not as good as Jordan:
He didn't come into the league with the same type of shooting pedigree Jordan possessed. MJ was a 51.5-percent shooter in his first year in the NBA. LBJ shot 41.7-percent as a rookie. LeBron has had to work on his shot to improve. Michael was simply gifted from the beginning.
Jordan could beat you with his mind. He could beat teams with his back to the basket. He could beat you staring down your pupils with dozens of feet, other defenders and the basket safely behind you. LeBron beats teams in open space, catching fast-break, full-court alley-oops. He beats defenders by blowing by them with his power and speed. He doesn't beat them with an ability to shake a defender, and even he admits he can't beat even Indiana unless he has help from his Big Three. Michael never showed signs of weakness.
It took a connection with two other marquee players for LeBron to win an NBA title. Michael did it with Scottie Pippen, whose value, debatably, might not be as good as Dwyane Wade when you start comparing apples to oranges. But that's a whole different argument.
The Jordan Rules -- the defensive schemes designed to stop MJ and his individual offensive juggernaut -- couldn't be upheld. He came out of retirement following his experiment with minor league baseball to win three more titles and average over 28 points per game in his first three full seasons back from baseball. In his first full year back with the Bulls, Jordan scored 30.4 points per game. First of all, LeBron would never try to play another sport, even though many have suggested he would make a phenomenal tight end. Secondly, when James nears his-mid 30s, he'll need more than an aged Dwyane Wade to clutch the gold ball again.
When Jordan won his last title in 1998, he was 34. If six years from now James owns his sixth NBA crown, we'll revisit this issue. Bottom line, Michael was a winner by himself. He took games over repeatedly on his own. James has done that occasionally, but he has a long ways to go to catch up to MJ's shadow.
Jim McCurdy is a freelance sports writer based in Miami. He has written for major publications around the country. Follow him on Twitter at @irishcurds.
- Sports & Recreation
- Michael Jordan
- LeBron James