Who is better, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? A better question is who cares?
Throughout James’s career, talking heads have lamented the ringless fingers and the lack of ability to close out in a pinch.
“LeBron has often been an astonishing disaster with the clock ticking toward zeroes.”
“To imply that James is a better defender than Jordan is ridiculous.”
“Whatever LeBron James has done so far in his career, Michael Jordan has already accomplished, and did it better.”
LeBron James has set the NBA on fire with a singular, pointed mindset: Be the best I can be. He is not looking to be the next Michael Jordan; he is looking to be the best LeBron James. James even tweeted as much in February: “I’m not MJ, I’m LJ.”
The fact that the comparison exists is a compliment. James has lived up to stratospheric expectations that have been bestowed upon him since he was in high school, since he became “the King.” This comparison, however, always seems to detract from James’ game. It focuses on what he can’t do versus what he can.
James has always been a team-first player, something every basketball player should aspire to. He often has a proclivity to pass away the opportunity for the final, buzzerbeating shot to a teammate with a better chance. To ESPN “pundit” Skip Bayless, this is because LeBron lacks a “clutch gene.” Whereas, according to Bayless, Michael Jordan was born with an oversized one.
Even more, James took less money to sign in Miami. In the dollar-centric culture of basketball — and of sports — this is a rarity. Yet, he is harangued for deserting the team that drafted him to go down to glitzy South Florida.
Sure, LeBron found a team that had a better chance of winning a championship. Everyone wants to play for a winner. But because he did it away from the team that drafted him, the championship’s worth is lessened, as if it deserves an asterisk. Jordan won all six of his championships with the same team, the team that drafted him, the Chicago Bulls.
Both Jordan and James were in two very different situations when they were drafted.
James was taken by a team devoid of talent. He became the saving grace, the only reason the Cleveland Cavaliers went to the NBA Finals. His true worth revealed itself after he left, as the Cavs had the biggest single- season drop in wins in NBA history.
In his first five years with the Bulls, Jordan played with the likes of John Paxson, Horace Grant, Charles Oakley and Scottie Pippen, some of the more dominant players in the league at that time. In LeBron’s first five years with the Cavaliers, he played with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao, slightly above-average players in the league.
LeBron could have stayed with the Cavaliers and probably would have come up short year after year. He would have still been critiqued for his lack of rings. But at least he did it with the same team, whatever that means.
Michael Jordan and LeBron James are different players. They played different positions for different teams under different circumstances. They have different styles of play and different methods; they are not the same player. They are two of the greatest to ever play the game, and it should be left at that.
Preston Michelson is a senior at Palmer Trinity School where he is the public address announcer for all varsity sporting events. He is a frequent contributor to this newspaper and the opinions he expresses are his own and not necessarily those of the editors and publishers. Contact him on Twitter at @PrestonMich or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org