BY PATRICK KEARNEY
“I fell in Love with the game because of Mike”-LeBron James
Let me preface this piece by saying straight up that I cannot definitively say LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan. I never got the chance to watch Jordan in his prime, so all I can do is Youtube his highlights and compare his stats. What I have been able to do is witness the ups and downs of Lebron’s 14 seasons in the league. I watched Kobe. I watched Duncan. They’re not LeBron, but that discussion is for a different day. With The King heading into his 7th consecutive Finals, I felt compelled to write this piece seeing as I have spent damn near half of my life arguing about LeBron’s career. I am not here to say he is the GOAT, I am simply asking why he cannot be in the discussion. Hope you enjoy
Three world championship rings. Three Finals MVP’s. Four league MVP’s. Scoring champion. Eleven straight All-NBA first team selections…I won’t bore you any more with these accolades, but you get the point. Now, for any player not named LeBron James, this incomplete resume (the man is only 32 mind you) would be more than enough to garner eternal respect and adoration. Unfortunately, for some reason LeBron has always been and always will be the most polarizing player in the history of basketball, maybe even sports in general. There are the homers like myself, who were smitten with Lebron’s unselfish style of play combined with sheer athleticism and power that he has demonstrated since he made his NBA debut in 2003 at Sacramento. There are also the haters, many of whom believe that there will never be a better basketball player than Michael Jordan, and that LeBron is an overhyped, self-centered, flopping piece POS that will hopefully soon reach his demise. As a LeBron disciple, I have spent entirely too much of my time on Facebook and Twitter chirping back and forth about LeBron and how his legacy should be viewed. I realize that just because I have such strong convictions about The King does not in any way mean that these haters are wrong, but if you will allow me, I would like to walk through the ins and outs of this world wide polarization in the content of this article.
When LeBron first came into the league, he chose number 23, having idolized Michael Jordan his entire life. He then got a large tattoo on his back that reads “Chosen One.” I am willing to bet that if he could do it over again, he would never even think about getting that tattoo. He unintentionally linked his name with MJ for the rest of his career, and to this day, as LeBron said last year, he is chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan. Not only did the tattoo come off as arrogant, but it alienated the millions of people who had spent the previous decade watching Michael Jordan dominate the NBA. These people were more than likely going to hate LeBron anyway because they were scared of anyone who could possibly be seen as better than their idol, however this tattoo did LeBron no favors in the public image department. This is one issue that I will side with the Jordan fans, because having thought about it, if in a few years a player gets that tattoo or a similar one, I will be saying the exact same thing but comparing this player to LeBron instead of Jordan.
One issue that I will never, ever side with the Jordan fanatics on is the rings discussion. In my opinion, once you get more than two championships, you should not have that part of your resume nitpicked. Every time this discussion comes up, what do people say: “Jordan’s the GOAT, he has six rings.” First of all, if we’re judging greatness off of rings, Bill Russell is the greatest player of all-time with ELEVEN RINGS. Robert Horry has seven rings, Kareem has 6 and is the all-time leader in points in NBA history, so why is he not widely considered The GOAT? You can’t say Jordan is the GOAT based on rings, so what else is there? He averaged three more points per game than LeBron has so far, however he also took three more shots per game. LeBron just passed MJ in all-time playoff scoring, taking 120 less shots to do so. LeBron averages more rebounds, more assists, shoots a better percentage from 2 and a better percentage from 3 point land. Jordan shot a better free throw percentage, and averaged half a steal better per game than Bron does, however Bron just passed Jordan on the all-time playoff steals list. If you’re sitting there reading this and you are a Jordan homer, I am positively sure that none of these stats have changed your mind in the slightest. I am simply putting them in here to provide some perspective, seeing as it seems impossible for people to prove Jordan’s superiority without uttering the phrase “Six Rings.”
When it comes to The Decision, I am torn right down the middle about how I view the whole fiasco. On one hand, everyone forgets that the night LeBron aired The Decision from The Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut he raised several million dollars for that Boys and Girls Club location. Who else has ever raised that kind of money by simply choosing to leave a team and play elsewhere? Now, even LeBron himself has admitted that the premise of the entire thing was arrogant and not becoming of someone who has otherwise been an immaculate ambassador for the league and for the game of basketball. I remember sitting with my parents at a condo we were renting in Emerald Isle watching The Decision. Part of me really wanted him to stay in Cleveland and continue to try and bring home a championship to the deprived fans there. Part of me also wanted him to go to Chicago and join forces with Derrick Rose, however we all knew deep down that he would never go to the very team that MJ played for. When he announced he was going to Miami, I was pissed. I knew that whatever success he would have there would be marred with skepticism because of who he joined forces with. The irony of it all though, is that all LeBron heard for seven years in Cleveland was that he would never get a ring, and when he made a decision to better his position to acquire said rings, he gets publicly berated by every news outlet in America. Looking back on it, four straight finals appearances and two championship rings came of Lebron’s Decision, and I don’t think anyone can dispute the success and maturation of LeBron in Miami.
I would be remiss if I did not take some time to delve into the LeBron/Golden State saga that has transpired over the past two seasons, and will continue in just a few short days. Golden State was 73-9 last season, the best record of any team in the history of basketball in the regular season. Down 3-1 to this team with the weight of the world and the weight of his legacy on his shoulders, LeBron scored 41 points on the road in game 5, 41 points in game 6, and had a pedestrian by his standards 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in game 7. Please, for the love of God, how can you hate on that? Oh because Draymond Green was suspended for game 5? Where was Steph Curry or Klay Thompson then? Draymond played in games 6 and 7, what is the excuse there? Last year’s Finals performance is one of if not the greatest playoff performances of all time. LeBron honestly should have gotten Finals MVP the year before, when he willed the Cavs to 6 games without Kyrie or Kevin Love. Guess who got Finals MVP of that series…Andre Iguodala…for being the primary defender on LeBron. Folks, in that series LeBron averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists per game, and they gave the MVP to the dude who supposedly “guarded him.” Guess who got Finals MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals…Kawhi Leonard, also the primary defender on LeBron. In that series, he averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists a game…Let that sink in. The two times in the last seven years that LeBron hasn’t gotten the Finals MVP, the player who got it only did so because they managed to every so often barely slow LeBron down. If that doesn’t scream value, I don’t know what does folks.
Tomorrow, the Cavaliers will face the Warriors for the third time in a row in the Finals. There is an abundance of bad blood between the two powerhouses, and this Finals may be one of the best we have ever seen. The Warriors had the best regular season record of all time last year, and added arguably the second best player in the league to their squad in Kevin Durant. Were it not for the Cavaliers’ obscene annihilation of anyone in their path in these playoffs so far, I would say the Warriors win easily in 5 maybe 6. Having said that, LeBron is on a mission, and his sidekick in Kyrie Irving may be emerging as a top five player in the league. I am going on record to say I think Golden State will win in 6 or 7, but never count a team with LeBron James on the roster out. The man is in his seventh straight finals, still in his seemingly never ending prime, and is showing no signs of slowing down other than maybe his vertical dipping from 45 inches to 41 inches…Yes that was a joke. If the Cavs lose this series, do not feed into what I am sure will be the popular narrative that LeBron choked, isn’t clutch, and will never be Michael Jordan. Just appreciate the amazing basketball being played by both sides, and appreciate the winner no matter the outcome. Yes this will be very hard for me to do seeing as I love the Cavs more than I have ever loved a team other than NC State, however if I can applaud Steph Curry and the Warriors if they win this series, all of you Jordan fans can do the same for LeBron. Thank you for your time.