LeBron James has had an interesting, disappointing week as he and the Cleveland Cavaliers get ready for their showdown with the Golden State Warriors. It is part three of what has been an epic set of NBA Finals’ matchups. For LeBron James, it is more than the NBA championship on the line. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar is facing immortality going into the meeting with the Golden State Warriors.
As preposterous as it sounds, LeBron James’ legacy is still up for debate in the minds of many. You can call it fickle fandom and highly critical experts are in the front of the LeBron James debate. There is a huge contingent of people who doubt James’ place on the basketball hierarchy chart.
Much of their reasoning is that James is not Michael Jordan. The mere idea of comparing both players is controversial enough to start arguments.
No player in the history of the NBA has ever been the perceived standard bearer in the way that Michael Jordan has. Those who recall watching Michael Jordan play swears by him being the greatest player, if not of his generation, then all-time. During his ascension up the ranks, Jordan had to surpass Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just to name a few.
For LeBron James, it is Michael Jordan’s legacy as his biggest obstacle, not the Golden State Warriors. If that sounds unfair, it is because it is unfair. Just as it was unfair for Michael Jordan to be compared to the great players which came before him.
LeBron James has been labeled inferior to Michael Jordan for two reasons — he has lost in three NBA Finals appearances and some of the competition he has faced over the years pale in comparison to the Jordan era. Regardless of what he does, James will never be viewed as the equivalent of Jordan.
The comparisons have gone on for as long as James has been in the league. As recently as a couple of days ago, Fox Sports compared the teammates that the two have had over the years. The results would be a mild surprise.
“Despite a few close calls — and the late-90s Bulls being a far stronger team than most people realize — LeBron ‘wins’ this argument, claiming the better teammates in eight of the fourteen seasons in our comparison.”
LeBron James was given the edge on Michael Jordan in regards to teammates primarily because he was not the only alpha on his teams. Jordan had Scottie Pippen, a great player in his on right and arguably one of the top three perimeter defenders ever. While discussing the difference between the teammates, it was pointed out that James was able to occasionally relax come clutch time.
“LeBron, on the other hand, has had the luxury of relying on Wade and Kyrie Irving if he’s not up to the task of carrying the team in the clutch — and that desire to pass the rock in the closing minutes is the ultimate chasm between LeBron and Jordan.”
But offensively, having Pippen is not the same as having Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kyrie Irving. Wade and Bosh led their teams to the NBA playoffs, with Wade being the primary player on a championship team. Irving has quickly entered the discussion as a top 10 NBA player.
Distractions have taken place for both LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Jordan dealt with the death of his father in 1993. It was a murder case which just had a conviction (courtesy of CBS Sports) a few months ago.
Barely over a day before the NBA Finals are to start, LeBron James had his home in Los Angeles vandalized with a racial slur (courtesy of NPR) spray-painted on a wall. That is not a good way for him to start his quest to win his fourth NBA title. This is especially given the fact that he is facing a Warriors team that many people view as one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
If James defies the odds and wins, the debate regarding his basketball immortality should cease. Unfortunately, if he loses, those who are on the negative side of the discussion will come out and bash him.
After a long and successful career, LeBron James should not need to help lead the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Golden State Warriors. His place in the basketball pantheon should already be set in. The only difference is if he does win, perhaps he gets closer to Michael Jordan. It is an unfair discussion to have with LeBron James already winning championships.
Is LeBron James on the same level as Michael Jordan?
He does not have to be. James is a generational player in his own right with a game that cannot be compared, much like the great player he is always compared to. They both can share the stage as all-time generational players.
[Featured Image by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]