It’s understandable why there is taboo about saying anyone could ever be better than Michael Jordan. He was 6-6 in NBA Finals appearances, he won the MVP in each of those Finals, he won five league MVP awards, he won ten scoring titles, he was one of the rare perimeter players to win Defensive Player of the Year, and he even averaged 37.5 points in an 82-gamen season while making just 12 three-pointers.
We get it, he transcended the sport.
Like anyone else, there is a possibility that Jordan could eventually be overshadowed by another talent. The media likes to deem the Vince Carters, Tracy McGradys and Jerry Stackhouses of the world the next Jordan, yet they all failed. Kobe Bryant won’t ever be a Jordan, LeBron James probably will suffer the same fate in terms of greatness. The real problem is why it’s a problem to even address the possibility.
Jordan’s greatness is unique in that his competitiveness will likely never be matched, no one will surpass that and that’s fine. But when talking about greatness, it goes past just how competitive someone was.
We can harp on LeBron’s failures in the two NBA Finals before his eventual title this past 2012 Playoffs, we can be redundant and say that Kobe the leader of a couple clunker teams that lost in ugly fashion, it happens. It happened to Jordan, too.
Jordan’s accolades aren’t without hardship. He played fifteen seasons, went home in nine of them. He’s lost games despite gargantuan efforts (see his 63 point performance versus the Celtics in 1986), he struggled versus the Pistons the same way that LeBron struggled versus the Celtics, they both kicked the door down in great fashion.
LeBron’s first nine seasons in the NBA don’t overshadow Jordan’s just in that he won a ring, that’s a pointless stat that implies that championships are won by one person. In LeBron’s first nine seasons, he’s been on Jordan’s level in terms of scoring, field goal percentage, shot-blocking and free throw attempts while being superior in rebounding, passing and shooting.
LeBron has already made twice as many threes in nine years than Jordan did in his entire career (917 to 581), his ability to take over a game in every way possible is evidenced by his career averages of 27/7/7 that no one else in NBA history has ever achieved.
Of course, some cynics and skeptics will interpret this as a means of saying LeBron WILL be better than Jordan, that he already IS or even that Jordan is a lesser player, overrated in some ways. No, this is just to say that it’s possible.
Although Jordan transcended the game, there are people who scored more points than him, that won more titles than him, that were more athletic and more all-around better. Oscar Robertson was seemingly the Jordan of his era in terms of build and dominance, who else do you know could average a triple-double for a season? Oh, that’s right, no one.
We’ve seen Kobe’s offensive arsenal prove more well-rounded than Jordan’s, we’ve seen guys come along and put up similar numbers to Jordan with bigger, stronger and faster bodies in LeBron James. It happens, there isn’t anything wrong with it.
One thing that comes with the exaggerated folklore of saying Jordan is seemingly untouchable is the undermining of the fortune he came into when it came to being a Bull.
Scottie Pippen was one of the two or three best small forwards ever, a perimeter defender that doesn’t come along often, if ever again. The same magic Phil Jackson worked with the Bulls in winning six titles in six appearances was worked in Los Angeles with five titles and seven appearances. Dennis Rodman was a Hall of Famer, Toni Kukoc was one of the best foreign players ever, Jordan wasn’t the ONLY constant that contributed to his greatness.
Had it not been for his two years of retirement that saw Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the best centers ever, would Jordan have been 6-6 in the NBA Finals considering Hakeem dominated the very position the Bulls were notoriously weakest? Circumstance can skew perception.
It’s why people harp more on the fact that LeBron lost two NBA Finals and overlook how bad the 2007 Cavaliers were, how he never played with a legitimate All-Star (no, Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas don’t count) until 2010, and it’s arguable that Dwyane Wade is declining at this point.
Jordan’s throne probably will go untouched, he may end up being overshadowed. Who is to say that he won’t?
Just as LeBron could just win one or two rings, he could go on a run of three or four titles before he’s 32. Who is to KNOW this won’t happen?
With his blend of scoring, passing, rebounding, elite defense and growing post game, LeBron’s 6’9, 275 pound frame can transcend basketball even more than he already has. He may not be the global icon Jordan was, he likely won’t touch Jordan in terms of “mental toughness”, but that’s somehow become an exaggerated way of claiming one isn’t “clutch”.
LeBron’s had clutch performances before these past playoffs. He hasn’t hit a bunch of game-winners but that’s because he’s contributed where games don’t tend to come down to the last minute when he’s on the court. Alas, why argue clutch when the numbers are the argument that trumps all?
We obsess with Jordan’s six rings because winning is all that matters, when do fans argue Bill Russell as one of the best players ever with an unmatched grit and competitive nature? Because that’s exactly what he was.
Alas, people are too removed that generation to understand that. Some of those same people are too fixated on the legend that comes with Jordan and his greatness, so fixated that they may end up being just as argumentative when someone comes along only to hear how they could never touch the same LeBron people continue to find ways to sell short.