A great way to liven up any dull radio sports talk show is to bring up the topic of comparing players in various sports past and present and who is better. No particular topic garners as much debate and chatter as when sports fans start comparing different athletes. Whenever the name LeBron James comes up, people immediately like to compare him to the other greats of the NBA especially Michael Jordan. Some people even feel he is the greatest player of all time or will be after he finishes his career. Having watched a great deal of Jordan and now James, I would like to offer my take on this comparison.
First of all, I often wonder what criteria people use to determine whether Player A from 10,15 or 20 years ago is better than Player B from today. If you are a wise sports fan, you would consider a number of areas both individually and team. Individually, you have to look at the player’s statistics, all-star appearances and all league selections. Team wise, the playoff success and certainly the number of championship teams a player has been on certainly has to be weighed in as well. But the truth is, there have been many players past and present who have achieved great stats and much playoff success so what is it that really separates the really great ones such as Jordan from the rest of the pack?
In addition to the some of the things I threw out, I would like to add a few more things. Having great statistics does not mean jack if a player does not perform when the game is on the line. If a guy averages 30 points a game but only averages 4 points in the 4th quarter when many games are decided, what good is that? The mark of a truly great player is one who is clutch when the game is on the line. The same holds true for the playoffs when there is so much more pressure. The mark of a great player is one who takes his game to another level in the playoffs, see Michael Jordan. I have seen countless superstars in all sports have great regular seasons but wilt during the post season.
It looks great to have all those nice stats and scoring titles but is a player really making his team better? That is a crucial aspect of separating many players. Any superstar can win a championship with other superstars on his team but what about those who take a team of many overachievers and role players and takes them deep into the playoffs.
Now getting back to this comparison. The truth is the jury is still out on where LeBron stands among the greatest players of all time and to compare him to Jordan is still a bit too premature. Currently, James is at the same age as Jordan was when he began his reign of multiple championships. Both players have had their early difficulties in the playoffs. Only after some strong supporting casts where added did they start having success. I doubt Jordan would have won many championships without Scottie Pippen and James might not have ever won a title in Cleveland. Whether you like it or not, his decision to go to Miami was the right one in helping him win a championship.
As far as comparing their individual talents, both have certain advantages over the other. Jordan has been the best two-way player that the game has ever seen. People talk about his big scoring games and how he dominated the games with his offense but he was equally as effective on the defensive end. I don’t think LeBron is as versatile a scorer as Jordan was and probably not as strong of an individual defender. However, I think LeBron because of his size is able to guard more positions than Jordan. I think LeBron is the better passer. His vision to be able to see the floor is amazing for his size. He also is a better rebounder than Jordan. Of course, James is a bigger player than Jordan and Jordan was counted on to score more so that is why James could hold the edge in those categories.
Both players have some of the best individual skills the NBA has ever seen but here is where I give a huge edge to MJ. There has never been a more clutch player in the game than Jordan. If I had to pick one guy to deliver a huge shot for me, it would be Jordan not even close! One the other hand, James is still learning to deliver with the game on the line. The other night with his team needing a big bucket, James drove the lane and instead of going in for a layup or getting fouled, he decided to pass the ball to one of his big guys, who was standing on the 3 point line for a shot, not exactly the highest percentage shot at the time. A great player demands the ball in crunch time and is not afraid to shot the rock. It is not the first time LBJ has done this with the game on the line. He needs to take more shots and be more aggressive with his offense in the 4th quarter.
The next 5 years will really define where LeBron ranks among the all time greats. He has a big chance to add to his resume in this championship series. Yes, he does have a chance to become the greatest of all time but I need to see more from him to convince me that he will pass Jordan. It was no accident that MJ won 6 championships and probably would have had another if he had not retired and played baseball during his little leave from the game in the mid 90’s. There is no player I would rather have on the court in the playoffs than Jordan. That is what makes him the best player ever. There will be others in the future that will be compared to Jordan as well but do they have what it takes to lead a team to a championship? Until I see a player lead his team to 6 championships and pick up numerous playoff MVP’s, there should be no comparison and talk of someone being better than Jordan. He is the best ever and it will take a special player to top what he has accomplished.