The question of who is currently the best player in the NBA was a hot topic, up until the long-awaited, so-called dream series, between the Cavs and the Lakers, was deferred, or even permanently ended, by the Orlando Magic's high-powered offense.
Still, candidates nominated, by most, including the most casual of fans, as well as the most respected journalists, which makes it a questionable assertion, include, almost exclusively, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Both players will likely continue to be considered as the best in the league by those to whom we cede authority over something every intelligent NBA fan is equally as capable of determining.
NBA legend, Jerry West gave a frank, intelligent analysis of why he believes LeBron James to be the best in the league, comparing his abilities to those of Michael Jordan, "His Airness," in a recent interview with Reuters:
"Michael Jordan was the best defensive player in the league, but he was also the best offensive player," said West. "It wasn't a one-year fluke, he proved it over time.
"LeBron James will do the same type of things because he's getting better. He's a much more effective shooter. When's he's making his shots from the outside, you can't play him."
"He's just too big, too strong, too quick. And he has incredible body control. But more than that, he's a great teammate. You can see his teammates love him."
On Kobe Bryant, West said the following:
"Even though it's hard for me to be objective, because I brought Kobe to Los Angeles, I do think LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a player."
This is as intelligent of an analysis as you're likely to get from the media, and, again, it comes from someone who actually knows the game. My only issue with it is what has bothered me when studying other, lesser proposals: no mention of Dwyane Wade.
In West's case, to be fair, he's not being asked, or at the least isn't expected, to discuss more than two players: LeBron and Kobe.
So, this is more about the state of mind of the various sports journalists and analysts out there, than about Mr. West and who he happened to discuss. Just ask yourself, "would this West story be that big if Mr. West chooses Wade over both LeBron and Kobe?"
What we have to ask ourselves is how the common practice, by sports analysts, of only bringing up Bryant and James, when it comes to this topic, be reconciled with the recent history of playoff basketball, during which only one player has played in a Jordan-like fashion: Dwyane Wade.
As stated, by West, in his interview with Reuters, it is undeniable that the Cavs rely heavily on James, and, without him, they would not be a top tier championship contender.
However, the fact that LeBron is of utmost importance to his team does not necessarily equal with the analysis that LeBron is the greatest player in the league and comparable, in anyway, to Michael Jordan.
Jordan comparisons are an old, tired, and failed, practice. Of late, Jordan comparisons have been made between "His Airness" and only a very few select players. In the past, however, guys like Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Vince Carter, even Shareef Abdur-Rahim, were compared to Jordan.
I think that it's safe to say, as those players approach the end of their careers, or already have, that these comparisons were poorly made: these players were not as dominant, in any facet of the game: scoring, clutch, leadership, defense, to the degree that Jordan was.
What's to say that the current crop of "Air-Apparents" are not also being wrongly compared to Jordan?
If you look at LeBron James, for example, most of his postseason appearances have been sub-par. He also disappears, at times, during playoff games (especially) and is prone to faltering under pressure.
During Zyndrunas Ilgauskas' prime, he had a solid partner with whom to win a title with. In fact, during many seasons when LeBron James played poorly, "Big Z" was at the top of his game, giving every big man he faced a run for his money.
Kobe Bryant is a more compelling comparison, he chews gum while he plays, he moves and shoots like Jordan, something that gives this long-time Knick fan painful flashbacks.
However, Kobe goes through spells where he disappears, heavily defers to others, in a way that, as legendary as Kobe is, was not characteristic of Jordan in his prime.
In addition, Kobe Bryant, when achieving success, has always had high caliber players to team up with: Shaquille O'Neal, of course, after which the Shaq-less Lakers became a perennial eighth seed.
After years of failure, the Lakers acquired a player that's a legitimate first option, in the NBA: Pau Gasol, and the Lakers returned to prominence.
In contrast, Michael Jordan played in series that saw his team, the Chicago Bulls, matchup against Patrick Ewing, Shaq and Alonzo Mourning with players like Luc Longley and Bill Cartwright.
John Paxson was put up against Isiah Thomas. Jordan, and sometimes Pippen, was the only star that his team had.
Still, whilst surrounded almost exclusively by role players, Jordan managed to overcome teams from what's possibly basketball's greatest era, insofar as talent is concerned, to win six championship rings.
The only player who, though given no mention as of late, performed Jordan-like heroics against a great team, i.e. the Mavs, during the Mavs-Heat 2006 NBA Finals, is Dwyane Wade.
Down 2-0, and about to fall down further, during each subsequent game, Wade's heroics and unstoppable fourth quarters, along with a few mistakes on the part of the Mavs (Jordan also benefited from those in his storied playoffs performances), led the Heat to shock the world by sweeping the next four games, winning Miami its first NBA championship, ever, in 2006.
If the question is who's the best in the league, Wade needs to be in that conversation. Three years ago, it's him, hands down. Right now, after injury problems and Shaq's departure, he's still in the conversation, but it's not clear-cut.
When it comes to filling Jordan's shoes, if actions speak louder than gimmicks and marketing, he arguably should be the most heavily considered candidate for the most Jordan-like player, since Jordan.
Even if he never again plays like he did against Dallas, I argue that it's the most Jordan-like that any player has played, when in a do-or-die playoff predicament, since Jordan.
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