Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Air Jordan or The King?

Does anyone remember back in May when Scottie Pippen made this statement?: "Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play the game. I may go so far as saying LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game."  I'm sure you do, it created quite the buzz.  And now that James is on a scoring frenzy and rewriting the record books, the ever-popular debate is back in full force.  It is all over SportsCenter, Pardon the Interruption, First Take, etc. So I thought I would bring it here.

Now, I am by no means a basketball genius, and I certainly was not alive to see Michael play.  But, I have seen Lebron and I have watched countless MJ highlights (that makes me credible, right?). Both players are immensely talented. I believe that both have a great work ethic. Both are fantastic on both ends of the court. Both can score from anywhere on the floor. And both can seemingly "fly".

LeBron James is essentially a freight train that pummels his way through opposing defenses. He is very talented on the defensive end (4-time All Defensive 1st Team).  He loves to get his teammates involved (6.9 assits per game career average).  He is also a very good scorer with the ability to hit the outside shot or get to the hole and finish at the rim. One thing that always impresses me about LeBron is his ability to play and guard any position on the floor. Obviously, some of that has to do with his God given size, but not all of it. ESPN's Israel Gutierrez stated recently said "the way I see it, it took last year’s playoffs for LeBron to realize just how dominant he can be. Now he realizes that, yes, he can be in Jordan’s neighborhood by the time he retires, so he’s setting goals and making it happen."

Michael Jordan was a prototypical scorer. He could shake a defender and get to the paint with ease and finish with a dunk or one of his signature "circus shots." He could shoot the three, as well as pull up and hit a mid-range jumper. He was also very good at the fade away jumper, which he developed over the course of his career. Since I gave you a few stats for LeBron I will give you some for Jordan as well. He was a 9-time All-Defensive first team selection, 5-time league MVP, and finished his career averaging 30 points and 5 assists a game. Of course, Michael is also known for his "clutchness" and ability to take over a game at any moment.

With that said, I do not believe that a fair comparison can be made just yet. Jordan's career is finished and LeBron's career is not. Through the first 9 years of LeBron's career his numbers are very much worthy of this discussion. But, the difference is MJ had already won three rings, while LeBron has only won one.

But for this argument's sake I will side with "His Airness." He was an exciting player with a will to win that was second to none. He also finished his career with six rings and six Finals MVP's.  With that said, it can be expected that LeBron will play at least 10 more years, barring injury. So, who is to say that by that time LeBron won't have more rings than Michael? I guess we will have to wait to find out.

So this is my question(s) for you: Who do you believe to be the better player? And why? If MJ, do you think LeBron can or will pass him? I really appreciate your comments and would love to hear your opinion on the subject.


  1. I think the answer depends on the perspective of the person answering. I may blog about that later. For now, here is my answer from my perspective:

    Jordan is the best player ever because of what he did. He was drafted by a terrible team. After taking that team further and further into the playoffs each of his first several seasons, he finally won one in 1991 and basically never lost again until he retired.

    After being drafted to this bad team, very few good players ever joined him. Pippen was great but people (like me) who watched every Bulls game from the early 80s to the late 90s remember Pippen as a guy who didn't really score in big moments. He didn't want the ball in those moments. And guys like Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and BJ Armstrong quickly proved themselves to be "not so good" immediately after they stopped sharing the court with MJ after his retirement.

    So in many ways, MJ did all of this by himself. Some may argue, but as I said, I watched almost every game and I was a die hard fan. I remember being frustrated that no one else was willing or able to make a difference when it mattered. And I remember constantly being relieved that MJ would always answer the bell. And I remember thinking to myself "I am so glad he is on 'my team' because having him basically means we will never lose."

    So in my opinion James will have to win titles for the next 5 or 6 years without ever failing to do so to surpass MJ. But even doing so may not convince me because MJ didn't bring in guys from around the league to "help" him win titles like Lebron and Wade have done. I don't buy the stuff about "MJ had Pippen." Pippen is no Wade. And Horace grant is definitely no Bosh.

    Special Note: My argument is about winning. If the argument were about statistics or all around play, I would say these things:

    1) When MJ played the game was officiated in a way that allowed defenders to grab, hit, and hold. Since then, basketball has changed. I saw MJ quoted in the past year or so saying he would score 50 in today's game. I believe that to be true.

    2) Lebron is a great all around player and specifically a very good defender. MJ was absolutely the best defender in the league when he played. He locked the opposing shooting guard down every time. Period.

    3) Lebron gets a lot of credit for being a great passer. MJ was every bit as good at creating. Assists per game for great players like Lebron, MJ, Wilt, and Kobe is a number that can be "managed." Kobe has recently decided to create for others. So now he gets double-digit assists regularly. It's a switch that can be flipped automatically by guys like that who are the best players in the world and who constantly face double and triple teams. MJ could have averaged as many assists as Stockton had he chosen.

    But MJ had a good goal: to win. And he did that. All the time. So Lebron can match him by doing that, too.

    Disclosure: I am biased by the fact that there is really only one sports team that I call "my team." The Bulls. And they are my team because of MJ.

  2. I will begin my answer by saying this: I think it is easy for people under 25 (like myself) to say that Lebron is better than MJ in each player's respective 'prime'. I think this is said because people under 25 were never really able to watch (and remember) MJ in his prime. MJ won his last title in '98. Anyone 25 years-old or younger, would have been 11 years old (at the oldest) at the time of MJ's last title.

    With that said, I believe MJ is the best professional basketball player of all time. I have three reasons (besides seeing MJ in his prime) for believing this:

    1. The argument of "MJ never had the players around him that Lebron has" holds very much validity. If Pippen, Rodman, or Grant had never played with Jordan, I don't believe their names would ever be brought up in a conversation about basketball. The most points Rodman ever averaged in a single season was 11.6. In no other season did he average double-digits. While Pippen averaged over 20 pts four times, Wade has averaged 20+ points in 9 seasons (having currently played 8 less seasons than Rodman). Bosh, the third best player on the Heat, is better than any of MJ's supporting cast ever, in my opinion.

    2. Old footage. Thankfully, we live in an age where we can summon old MJ footage at the click of a button. From doing this many times, I have seen the way MJ played the game versus LJ. MJ played with grace and his game was virtually flawless. Lebron seemingly 'travels' (and gets away with it) on every other play, because modern day refereeing has done away with the 'travel' call. Add on the fact that MJ is considered one of the most 'clutch' players to ever play and Lebron has attained the reputation of a 'choker' in big moments (barring a few recent successful plays). LeBron was a choker in Cleveland, but all of a sudden he's a winner with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh around him. LeBron's clutch gene didn't change, his teammates did. Jordan never lost a Championship series.

    3. I believe the quality of defense was better in the 'MJ era' as well. It is apparent that the quality of defense in the League has declined over the years. Despite his size advantage and having never played in a league built around rebound snatching bigs like Michael, LJ only brings down one more rebound a game compared to Jordan. LJ only averages 2 more assists than MJ, but if you're LJ, why not dish it to Bosh or Wade? The 'assist' argument can actually be used to MJ's advantage. He simply wanted the ball. He wanted the ball late, he wanted the ball early.

    With this being said, I take nothing away from Lebron. I believe he is the second greatest player to ever play the game. No doubt. This is just my humble opinion.

    Alos, the 'Jordan' shoe is far superior to 'Lebrons'....that has to count for something.

  3. I agree with pretty much everything that each of you has said. I love Michael Jordan (though I did not get to see him play in his prime). And I also love LeBron James.

    Chris, I'm not entirely sure the comparison of Rodman to Wade, points wise, is very fair. While I do think that Wade is a better player, I don't think Rodman is in the Hall of Fame because he was a scorer. He made his name on the defensive end and rebounding. At least I think so.

    And here is a little tidbit on LeBron and his postseason game winning shot attempts. Since 2003, LeBron is 5/12 on shots in the playoffs where he had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, with 24 seconds left in the game. That is a pretty clutch situation, and he has hit his fair share. Now I am not saying that to spite MJ, because I agree he was more "clutch" than James is now. But, I think we tend to claim James is a "choker" because we compare him to someone who was so good at hitting the big shot.