The Lo Down: LeBron is No Jordan
If I had to choose between last Sunday’s Game of Thrones finale and the NBA Finals, it’d be the finale.
Readers of my column who are not GoT fans; be relieved you can now read till next April with minimal Game of Thrones interruption. But as a transition, who really had a worst Sunday night? The Lannister family or LeBron James; you can make a case for either, the state of the Miami Heat is the Game of Thrones equivalent to House Lannister...translation both are in complete disarray after a substantial fall from grace and with many unanswered questions looming in the near future. .
I’m still surprised LeBron James lost in such a humiliating manner (admittedly I checked out of game 5 at halftime). If there was a current player capable of a “Jordan-like” effort and a historic 3 to 1 comeback, my guess would have been LeBron James. With that said, I’m glad he didn’t because LeBron is no Jordan.
First, let’s put the ‘hey I just want to be me talk” aside; it’s a deflection statement used by every athlete, they will always be measured by the accomplishments of their peers. If you’re in the rarified air of greatness, then you’ll just so happen to be lucky enough to be compared to the greatest to ever play your game; to me that’s Michael Jordan if you’re talking professional basketball (congratulations LeBron!).
As you know now, LeBron did not achieve a historic comeback, it wasn’t even close. He was blown out in back to back games and in my opinion he didn’t just lose a game, he didn’t just lose a championship; he lost his best chance at taking control of his legacy. With the loss of this Championship, LeBron is right back where he began. LeBron James is basketball’s elite player with expectations beyond his control and instead in the hands of the viewing public.
Coming into this series, it was openly discussed; who (James or Duncan) has more to gain; to me it wasn’t even close. I remember that introduction like it was yesterday “not three, not four, not five…” you’re right LeBron, the number you actually meant to say was “Two” back to back, but still just “Two” .
Entering this series LeBron had the most to gain; win another title and…
- 3-peat, joining the company of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, and Jordan’s Bulls
- Gains leverage on his ridiculous expectations (you can just jump to 3:34)
- most likely captures another finals MVP
- undoubtedly answers the “opt-out” speculation
But to summarize, with another NBA championship LeBron James could have responded to his critics by not only achieving what he set out to do (3 championships and counting) but slam-dunking it with an exclamation point. How so? Well America doesn’t like when you get boastful, especially when its unearned, call it managing expectations but even Odysseus can lament you don’t go running around flaunting hubris (it never works out). But in a polarizing yet unsurprising way America becomes infatuated with those few that are outwardly ambitious and deliver (Dear Tim Tebow fan club…one plaque and bronze statue later). LeBron you had your chance, now I have no clue where your Odyssey ends...let the opt-out rumors begin, or even worse the absurd “Melo to Miami” discussion…gross.
I remember Michael Jordan (in an awkward Wizards blue uniform) playing against Kobe Bryant. The aspiring curmudgeon in me wanted to shake my fist at all the young NBA fans (keep in mind I’m feeling this way when I was 20) letting them know that this performance wasn’t even close to accurate and a prime Jordan would have cleaned the floor with this version of Kobe Bryant. So that same biased curmudgeon was glad this years’ NBA Finals ended with a Spurs Championship. The result arresting any young aspiring NBA fans dreams that LeBron is or will be the next "Jordan”, nope not going to happen, you'll have to save your hopes and bottle them up for the next Space Jam.
However the pragmatic and objective NBA fan in me is disappointed. No doubt, LeBron is the game’s best player; but this puts it to rest any comparison discussions among Jordan and James. How is that? After Jordan beat you, it was over, just ask the Utah Jazz. Jordan showed no mercy to his opponents, and arguably you could say not only was Jordan a better individual player, but he enhanced those around him even further. Jordan had Pippen; but to say Horace Grant was Chris Bosh is a vast under-appreciation of what Bosh use to do anchoring a forgotten Toronto franchise.
Comparing the two got me thinking about comparing opponents; so perhaps the excuse could be made “LeBron just ran into a better” opponent; but I’m not sure if these Spurs match up against the best of Jordan’s opponents, for me arguably the two best teams that Jordan faced would be arguably the 92-93 Phoenix Suns and the Stockton-Malone Jazz of 96-98. Both teams pushed Jordan to 6 games, however I believe in a head to head comparison, while the Jazz had the two hall of fame players, I favor the Charles Barkley led Suns (also his MVP season) with a deeper bench, here’s a statistical comparison of the teams (I used the 96-97 Jazz since of the two NBA Finals appearances against Jordan, the ’97 team had the more competitive series versus the Bulls).
92-93 Phoenix Suns
96-97 Utah Jazz
Then I compared them to the 2014 championship San Antonio Spurs, comparable; obviously accolades lead us to presume that the Spurs would result as victors in a hypothetical match up; but to bring it all together Jordan never allowed his opponents to adapt. There was no “second chance” against Jordan as displayed by the Utah Jazz. Once Michael Jordan beat you the first time, it was only going to be easier for him to defeat you. The thought of an opponent “figuring out” Jordan the way the San Antonio Spurs and Tim Duncan’s pre-series comments prefaced LeBron’s heat almost seemed like an open book test when you revisit the results of this NBA Finals and the two Spurs’ dominating wins in game 4 and game 5 (that’s right, this series didn’t even go 6…hard to believe isn’t it). The results tell a tale of Greg Popavich and Tim Duncan having their way with LeBron James undoubtedly.
13-14 San Antonio Spurs
At 29, there’s still basketball to be played for LeBron James. Jordan in comparison won his latter 3 championships beginning at age 33, retiring again at 36. So while LeBron’s “Odyssey” may have him in disarray and the Basketball Gods sentencing him to Limbo; there’s still plenty of time to complete his journey; but unclear how it will end.