I’m going to type a sentence now that is likely to make thousands of additional people think I have the brains of a lentil (which may be true, but my keyboarding skills are far superior):
LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.
“This man is crazy,” sings the chorus of conventional wisdom.
“Jordan was a five-time league MVP. James has one MVP award, last year, although he appears to be a lock for No. 2 this year.
“Jordan was All-NBA First Team 10 times. James is headed for his fourth time on the list.'
“Jordan was a 14-time All-Star. Today is James’s sixth All-Star Game.
“Jordan made All-Defensive First Team nine times. James received his first such honor last year.'
“Jordan holds the NBA record for highest regular-season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and playoff scoring average (33.4 ppg). James stands at 27.8 ppg for his career in the regular season and 29.4 in the playoffs.'
“If all that weren’t enough, the clincher is that Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. James has zero and has made it to the finals only once, 2007, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs."
The chorus is literally gasping to catch its breath now. Which gives me an opening to make my case.
First, it’s silly to compare career accomplishments when one player’s career is over and the other is only approaching its prime. Jordan played 13 full seasons and parts of two others. James is halfway through his seventh season.
Second, while the chorus will bleat until its dying breath that James can never be considered an all-time great until he wins multiple championships, this is also silly.
Jordan didn’t win his first championship until his seventh season. James is in his seventh season.
James’ team has the league’s best record and is 2-0 against the defending champs, the Los Angles Lakers. So this might be the year he starts on a string of team championships. For the time being, however, his fingers remain ringless.
Another reason to discount the titles-won credential is that basketball is not tennis. A player can never be more than one-fifth of the team on the floor. And until he becomes a free agent, no pro player can control what team he’s on.
Jordan simply had better teams. And the clearest evidence is this weekend.
Despite the Cavaliers having the league’s best record, not a single Cavalier other than James was picked for any of the All-Star Weekend activities.
How do you get the league’s best record without having more than one of the league’s best players? By having the best player. Ever.
Jordan played with all-stars Scottie Pippen (selected seven times and likely a Hall of Famer), Dennis Rodman (twice an All-Star), Horace Grant, and Bill Cartwright.
On the current Cavaliers roster, James has point guard Mo Williams, who was named an All-Star reserve for the first time in his career last year. But that was only because Jameer Nelson got hurt.
He has Shaquille O’Neal. But Shaq is playing 23 minutes a night and, by his own admission, is in the twilight of his Hall-of-Fame career. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, an all-star in 2003 and 2005, plays 20 minutes a night and backs up Shaq.
That’s the quantitative evidence. The qualitative side comes down to this:
James can do more than Jordan.
Unquestionably the greatest player of his generation, Jordan could play three positions well: point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. The bigger, stronger, and probably faster James can play the one through four. And like Magic Johnson, he could probably embarrass all but the tallest and bulkiest centers in the league.
Jordan may hold the record for highest regular-season scoring average, but James averages more assists per game—6.9 for his career versus 5.3 for Jordan—and rebounds, 7.0 versus 6.2.
Both players possess incredible determination and confidence. At his peak, Jordan could put games away in the fourth-quarter almost single-handedly. It was clear that he knew he could do it.
While it’s foolish to read too much into one performance, anyone who watched James’ most recent game, a 115-106 win at home against the Orlando Magic, noticed that same aura of invincibility emerge from James in the final minutes.
With under three minutes to play and the Cavs leading by seven, James made three jump shots, including a three-pointer, and he fed O’Neal for a layup.
His last shot was a ridiculous, low-percentage, Jordanesque turnaround jumper. He appeared to be shooting on instinct alone, not even aiming at the basket. In it went. The home crowd went wild and the Magic wilted.
Magical stuff. Just like Jordan.
Only time will tell if James can surpass the accomplishments of Jordan’s incomparable career. But just looking at individual ability, James has shown us he has more to work with.
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