Michael Jordan, who turned 50 on Sunday, was the greatest and the most extraordinary. For the rest of the weekend, he will be showered with birthday wishes from NBA players and legends, and he will be glorified and greatly remembered for revolutionizing the game of basketball.
The fans of the 90s were fortunate to embrace the life of Air Jordan: the greatest NBA player of all time, the most unstoppable assassin of all time, the smartest marketer of all time, the savviest shoe salesman of all time.
But now, we’re obligated to compare LeBron James to Jordan, the only player to ever solidify his legacy that no one else will ever match. When he dominated, won six championships, five MVPs and 10 scoring titles, the Chicago Bulls lit it up.
For now — at least — heh stands alone and remains the greatest to ever step foot onto a hardwood floor, captivating spectators with his infamous tongue that he stuck out while he slashed to the basket, floated through the air and levitated at the rim.
He stepped onto the court and dazzled our hearts in critical moments, taking over a game single handedly and building a dynasty in Chicago, a town that has lauded the former Bulls megastar as a messiah.
It would be premature, not to mention a shame, to call James the next Jordan — legend and hero evermore — certainly when some believe James lost his claim to all-time greatness after bailing on Cleveland to form the Superteam in Miami.
Jordan was unmatched, never to be reproduced, a prolific scorer and a superstar whose basketball theatrics were compelling. If James continues to thrive, amass multiple championships and make his home in Miami, he can elevate himself to the status of an all-time great in his sport.
But even if he does win seven titles, James won’t ever surpass MJ, not in basketball’s modern era, not in an era when the league is built around an influx of new talent and superstars, such as Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
For one, James fled Cleveland, settled in South Beach and grew into his role, becoming the team’s No. 1 scorer after joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. For another, he’s the most hated pro athlete since “The Decision” telecast when he announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach.
James abruptly left his native home to play for the Miami Heat. His critics and Cleveland fans bash him, they despise him. Jordan was an instrumental part of the Bulls success. LeBron was essentially culpable for the Cavaliers languishing, for Cleveland’s economy deflating as businesses took a drastic hit after he left, especially in the first season without their King.
While some don’t care for James, some will actually get over his narcissistic infomercial. It’s unfortunate James won’t ever gain the adulation of the fans like Jordan after his distasteful decision to walk out on a city that welcomed him, admired him, empowered him and immortalized him.
Cleveland fans won’t ever succumb to reality and put aside the bitterness after James led the Heat to an NBA title a year ago. He has shown humility, grace and class, then regretted his selfish act that was a publicity disaster.
So now he’s loved or loathed, praised or criticized while everybody adores MJ, even when he had a reputation for being cocky and egocentric. More telling was what he accomplished on the court, not off the court — where he had gambling problems and wasn’t always too compassionate about sharing and donating his wealth to unprivileged children.
But more telling than anything was his reversed layups, windmill and vicious dunks in an era when he reigned supreme. We used to gather by the TV regularly during NBA season, delighted to watch Jordan play, but not everyone braces him or herself for James whenever Heat games are nationally televised.
As for James, unlike Jordan, some viewers are filled with anger and hate, not over the fact that he hyped up himself by manipulating ESPN into airing a one-hour TV special. Of course, he’s a good player but he’s not the most likable person and, if anything, he’s not the next Jordan.
When Jordan played ball, he was the face of the NBA, the symbol of the sport, compelling enough to keep us all begging for more. He attracted our attention and indeed we watched, as everyone became obsessed with the world-famous star. The legacy Jordan left is unparalleled, never to be breakable but to forever remain intact and there’s no other player, including LeBron, who’ll ever come close to a superlative Jordan.
There’s little question, though he’s delivered jaw-dropping performances, that he must continue to win championships to rank among the best in NBA history. Right now, as it stands, he does not fit in with Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on James to see if he can transform the landscape of pro basketball just as Jordan did during his long tenure.
The reality of this game is that a player is usually defined by the number of championships he wins. But over the years, we’ve still paid our profound respect to Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins, Pete Maravich and George Gervin.
It has been a frenzied week, and the noise revolves around the endless debates as to whether Bryant is better than James, or whether James is better than Bryant. Jordan is the talk of the weekend as well, and as the legend should be, he’s celebrated like royalty — and rightfully so — he deserves all the plaudits in the world.
He’s worked and earned it and, damn right, Jordan warrants applause. The most noticeable star of the 1992 Dream Team would be Jordan and, as we all know, he’s made shots and slammed down signature dunks that made highlight reels to separate him from other players.
The tough-driven, unstoppable Bulls were fortunate to have a player as unthinkably great as Jordan, and they turned out to be dominant and eventful with Michael’s presence, with just about every game nationally televised.
Jordan, unlike most players, was a national star, just as his legacy is a national conversation. It’s probably OK to note that James has a remarkably crafty all-around game, and less than a year ago as a member of the Heat, he claimed his first NBA championship ring and flaunts it proudly after putting in the hours of hard work.
The number of championships keeps him off the list of NBA legends, but no matter what he does during his relentless career, he won’t ever match Jordan, who is the most decorated player in the history of the NBA.
That’s because Jordan was his own player, sustained greatness in a different era and won titles with a less talented supporting cast. As for James, he won his with Wade and Bosh, two NBA stars who agreed to team up for championships.
For those who don’t remember or were 80s babies, Jordan averaged 37 points per game in the 1986-87 season. There’s no doubt, like Jordan, that James will be in the Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt, like Jordan, that he will be celebrated for his individual accolades.
He’s a three-time MVP and became the first player in NBA history to score more than 30 points while shooting 60 percent for six straight games. This season alone, he’s averaging 27. 3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, while shooting a staggering 56.5-percent.
But it couldn’t be more obvious that Jordan wore down bodies, beat his opponents, broke ankles, drove to the basket and finished at the rim with his competitive nature and brilliance. There was no stopping Jordan, not even when he was suffering from flu-like symptoms and still scored 38 points in Game 5 of the 97 NBA Finals.
That night, he was exhausted, sick and weak, but somehow he led the Bulls to a pivotal win against the Utah Jazz. Jordan is known for “The Shot,” a game-winning shot he hit over Craig Ehlo in 89 when he was in his prime. The truth about James is that he’s marveled at and truly is growing into a South Beach icon, gradually becoming a global superstar.
It is to his credit that he’s accepted the leadership role in Miami and has become more than just a playmaker after scoring and taking over late in the games during pressured situations. But he’s never earned 10 triple-doubles in 11 games and, in the game today, it just seems rare — could be done, but very rare in the modern era.
That happened when Jordan played. He had 10 triple-doubles in 11 games, something no one else has ever done, not even Bryant. No player can score 40 points, dish out 11 assists and grab 7 rebounds in the second of back-to-back games against the Detroit Pistons. Jordan, to be quite honest, retired as the greatest in NBA history.
It’s an understatement if one thinks differently about Jordan, who was a more efficient scorer than James and Bryant. If James stays healthy, with skill sets identical to Jordan’s, he can dominate his era. But for now, and maybe not ever, you can’t compare James to Jordan. It is inevitable but it won’t make sense until James becomes as good as Jordan.
The ultimate birthday present for Jordan, if anything, is what he has attained to become the greatest NBA legend to ever live.