In case you haven’t heard, last week was Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday. Of course, there was plenty of deserved reminiscing in the form of countdowns, lists, highlights and a few interviews between cigars. It was great.
Except for one thing: ESPN’s relentless, tired quest to equate LeBron James to Jordan. It was all over the place, and it was filthy. ESPN was tripping over itself using Jordan’s semi-century as a way to create LBJ news, including but certainly not limited to: covering Isaiah Thomas saying that LeBron is a better athlete than Jordan, posting a video discussing how Jordan played with easier NBA rules than LeBron, Cherry-picking stats to create records for LeBron that sort-of compare to Jordan, comparing the two in a head-to-head 100 point breakdown (Jordan won by 1.5 points) and most overtly, just plain writing an article headlined “Comparing LeBron to Jordan.”
I understand that there is a need for news stations to manufacture stories that grossly exaggerate the importance of the present, but is nothing sacred? I’ve written about comparing players to Michael Jordan before, so I won’t go there again. In short, Jordan transcends sports. Not that I didn’t say “transcended.” Anyone else remember when he made the New Orleans Hornets change their name to the New Orleans Pelicans so his franchise could get its old nickname back? He’s still out there, and he still carries a lot of weight.
You know where I saw Jordan last? Less than 24 hours ago. One of the 49ers brass was on TV talking about Colin Kaepernick, and he was wearing Jordan gear. That’s right, nerdy front-office guys in other sports are Jordan fans. Guys who own teams don’t wear their own gear that puts money back into their own pockets in favor of associating themselves with MJ.
In regards to the LeBron/Jordan thing, the comparisons aren’t really there. I mean, they are both really, really good basketball players, but that’s about where it stops. Jordan was a wing scoring specialist and an intense man-to-man defender. LeBron is more of an all-around expert. He drives, he passes, he rebounds and he does them all well, but he’s not the best the Association’s ever seen at any one specific skill.
Let’s talk championships, both quality and method. Actually, the best way to show that there’s no comparison is to stop right now.
Here’s what I’ll say about LeBron, he sometimes gets into a gear where he completely takes over all aspects of a game. Jordan had it too except, with one caveat: MJ didn’t have “gears.”
LeBron is a great basketball player, but Jordan was a great competitor, and that is what made him elite. LeBron wants to be the best basketball player ever? That’s great, but as bas as he wants that, Jordan wants even more to be the guy who correctly predicts the first luggage out of the baggage claim at the airport. Jordan didn’t just want to be memorable at basketball or even sports, he just had a bizarre psychology need to win. It didn’t matter what the stakes were, Jordan had to be the best at everything.
As far as actual basketball goes, Kobe Bryant is by far the natural comparison to Jordan. Same position, similar number of rings, even the same coach. People who know Kobe always point to his incessant drive and his crazy pursuit of improvement. Kobe’s probably the closest he game will get to Jordan for a while.
Where does that leave LeBron? He’s 6’8,” 250, can play basically any position and his real edge is a superior court vision. Sound familiar? Shouldn’t the bar for LeBron be Magic Johnson? Magic might not be the best ever, but he’s pretty damn close and the way he plays is a much better match for LeBron’s style.
Happy Belated Birthday, MJ. Do us all a favor and lace ‘em up one more time for Charlotte’s last home game. Call it a 50th birthday present to the fans.