By Michael LeCompte
Throughout the NBA Finals, which the Warriors won 4-2, commentators constantly compared LeBron James to Michael Jordan. These comparisons are nothing new, they’ve been made since James entered the NBA right out of high-school and he’s been touted as the NEXT GREATEST ever since, but the legend comparisons seemed to reach a crescendo during the Finals.
Really, though, there is no comparison to be made. As LeBron showed in falling short in the Finals yet again, he is no Jordan.
The NBA Finals were a compelling matchup and produced the highest TV ratings since Jordan’s last Championship with Chicago, but that is where any and all ties between Jordan and James as basketball players end.
Much was made of LeBron’s Jordan-like performance in the Finals, both in minutes played and points scored and a compelling case could be made that he deserved the MVP award, however, the only statistic that matters concerning LeBron and his legacy is that he lost in the Finals…again.
LeBron was playing in his fifth straight Finals (the previous four with Miami) and sixth overall (Cleveland in ’07). King James has now played in the same number of Finals as Air Jordan, yet he only has two rings to show for it.
Granted LeBron hasn’t always had the supporting cast in Cleveland that Jordan enjoyed in Chicago, but the fact remains that Jordan never lost in the Finals, while LeBron has now lost four times with rings on the line.
Perhaps it is unfair to even compare two players from different eras, but LeBron has been compared to Jordan since the age of 18, so why not highlight his shortcomings?
At 6’6″ and 215 pounds Jordan was the perfect mix of speed, power, and grace on the court. It looked as if he was gliding down the court and floating above it as he did seemingly whatever he wanted with the ball in his hands. Even if one were rooting against Chicago in the 1990’s they couldn’t help but marvel at the athleticism of Air Jordan.
On the biggest of stages, the NBA Finals, Jordan always seemed to be at his best (even when he felt his worst: the flu game in ’98). His competitive nature is legendary. When the Bulls made the Finals he simply refused to lose, elevating his game to otherworldly levels, regardless of the shortcomings of his team or how the game was being called.
That is perhaps the main difference between LeBron and Jordan. LeBron lacks that will to win that Jordan had. With the game on the line it always seemed as if Jordan couldn’t miss, while LeBron missed several clutch shots in these Finals. LeBron also seems to let outside forces affect his game in a way Jordan never would. Sure Jordan might bark at a ref when a call didn’t go his way, but then he would lower his head and take over the game, whereas LeBron whines, shakes his head, throws his arms up in disbelief, then proceeds to miss his next few shots.
Maybe it all happened too fast for LeBron. He entered the league out of high-school and has been told he’s great ever since. Maybe the multi-millions soften the blow of defeat for him and make losing acceptable in a way that it never could be for Jordan.
Jordan was perhaps the most marketable athlete ever, but he earned that privilege in a way LeBron didn’t, resulting in a stronger psyche and a better basketball game.
Jordan conditioned his body and polished his game for four years at the college level, while LeBron opted for the immediate millions of the NBA after high-school. Jordan spent his first six years in the NBA on mediocre Bulls teams and didn’t win the first of his six Championships until the age of 28.
At 30 LeBron he has now played in as many Finals as Jordan, however, with the minutes he continues to pile up, as exhibited in the Finals, it is certainly fair to speculate how many injury-free years he has left.
Standing 6’8″ and weighing 250 pounds LeBron’s game is more about power, overwhelming his opponent with blunt force, rather than the athleticism that Jordan exhibited.
Most agree that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever. The problem with the NEXT BIG THING (in this case LeBron James), though, is that we’ve already seen the original BIG THING. We’ve already seen the greatest, so while some love and some hate LeBron, most basketball fans outside of Cleveland can simply take him or leave him.
After Cleveland’s game 5 loss in the Finals LeBron said, “I’m not worried, I’m the best basketball player in the world.”
Perhaps the best basketball player in the world would not have to tell people he was the best, though? Jordan certainly never would have said that, he just would have shown it by going out and destroying the competition.
The comparisons between LeBron and Jordan will continue until the end of LeBron’s career when his legacy can be fully evaluated. The only stat that truly matters in discussions of “the greatest,” though, is Championships. Jordan went 6-6 in the Finals, LeBron is 2-4.
That, quite simply, is why Air Jordan will always be better than King James.