Perspective is the end argument when it comes to unresolvable sports questions. We live in an age where talk and discussion is paramount regardless of whether we will ever find the answers or not. It is the very nature of sports talk radio. This weekend marks the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, and coincidentally, LeBron James has been playing historically unmatched basketball over the last few weeks (30 points a game, 60% shooting in 6 or more games in a row). It has been a golden opportunity for talk radio to once again highlight the oft-discussed topic of whether or not LeBron is as good, or better, than Michael Jordan.
The answer is simply: no. LeBron James will never be as good as Michael Jordan.
But the reasons behind the answer are more to do with perspective then it does with statistics. Numbers do play a big part, let’s not forget, 6 rings to 1, no final losses to 2. However, it’s a little more intangible than that.
I’m in my early 30s and during the height of Jordan’s powers I was a teen growing up in Indonesia. With feet firmly planted in Air Jordans and head soaring to the basket, there was a mystical element to Jordan. It was an aura of invincibility that made a scrawny Asian kid believe that while I would never make the NBA, the times I flew through the air in my backyard were just as great.
People talk a lot about intangibles and killer instinct. We know Jordan had it, and we know Kobe has it. The last few years have been about whether or not LeBron has it. We balked at this idea when he bailed on Cleveland, laughed when he no-showed in fourth quarters, and definitely believed he didn’t when the Heat came up short against Dallas. But last year, on their run to the championship, he showed something. And now, in their defence of the ring, he’s been playing like no other. Unstoppable, gazelle-like, men amongst the boys- LeBron is head and shoulders better than anyone else in the league.
Yet, LeBron is a victim of our time. Media oversaturation, promise, “The Chosen One”, everything rolled out on a red carpet since high school. Back in 2003, I wrote that the hype that followed LeBron would “devour everything in its path” and in a way, it devoured LeBron too. Every ounce of greatness he has achieved and will achieve will never match this generation’s ridiculous expectations.
IN A SEA OF TREES
Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins.
This is a list of Hall Of Famers who never won a ring because of Michael Jordan. This doesn’t include all of Reggie Miller’s teammates on those Pacer teams, Barkley’s, Ewing’s Knicks, Wilkins’ Hawks. And it doesn’t include Shawn Kemp. None of them won a ring because each year Michael Jordan and his Bulls stood in the way. The two years he went to play baseball were the only chance Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had to win theirs; otherwise they’d be on this list too.
Then there are those indelible Jordan moments. Over Ehlo, around Sam Perkins, over Ewing, all over Bird, one on one with Wilkins, from the free throw line, standing in the shadow of himself in Barcelona, the shoulder shrug, under the weather, off of Russell. It’s hard to quantify them because you couldn’t YouTube them 5 minutes after they happened- they were at times, mythical occurrences passed on by whispers and VHS videos, but they happened.Jordan had to play amongst the trees in his prime. He had to literally dunk over Patrick Ewing to get his rings, the best centre LeBron has to play against? Brook Lopez? Tyson Chandler? Only Dwight Howard could hold the paint against Olajuwon, Ewing and Robinson (although the way Howard is playing this year, we should think about scratching him off that list too). The calibre of talent Jordan had to overcome for his rings were named Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, Malone, Miller, Wilkins, Barkley and Magic. LeBron didn’t even show up for the fourth quarter against Tyson Chandler.
For LeBron, I will always remember the shot he hit against Orlando in the conference final as a watershed moment. And right now, I’ll remember how well he’s playing but for someone my age, LeBron’s memories will be The Decision, the Welcome Party and the time he dunked on poor old John Lucas.
This is because I didn’t grow up with LeBron. He’s not a basketball hero to me, just a commodity; a great ball of talent, energy and marketing. I figure this is how the older generation feel about Jordan and people like me when they talk about Bill Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem and Oscar. And I figure this is how LeBron’s fans will feel when in 20 years, whoever is top of the chain then, is compared to LeBron.
Maybe I just dislike LeBron and the NBA today. Or maybe we just know too much of LeBron, like we know too much of everyone these days.
We have tried in vain to find the next Jordan for more than a decade now. We’ve had a line of candidates who all fell short- Grant Hill, Kobe, Vince Carter- and most embarrassingly, Harold Miner- and now LeBron, who for all the talent in the world (which on a pure talent stand point, would probably surpass Jordan), falls short because he is the product of his generation.
But Jordan was Jordan; and for someone of my generation, a larger than life figure who at a given time was as famous as Muhammad Ali was in his prime, known to the citizens of America as he was known to a housewife somewhere in Southeast Asia. They invented The Jordan Rules to stop Michael, until this year, all you had to do was show up in the fourth quarter to stop LeBron.
Like LeBron, I am a product of my generation; pulled into the draw of the NBA when the Bad Boy Pistons had dethroned Magic’s Lakers. They were the villains of a sport in need of a hero. And through all the moments that transcended an entire generation, Number 23, who soared and graced the court like no one before or after, became that hero, the first and last Jordan.
This is an old VHS tape called ‘Michael Jordan’s Playground’ that I watched countless times marveling at the Jordan mystique. Most telling is Jordan describing the importance of determination and will in order to succeed and become the best.