“The Lebron Legacy”
Is he better than Jordan? Can he even be considered better? Will he ever be better? I don’t know man. But I know that 1) I’m too young to have see the whole Jordan experience as it happened. And 2) Everything and anything that Lebron has done has coincided with me following the NBA like religion. I just have a more real feeling towards Lebron’s successes and failures than I’ll ever have of Jordan, so I don’t know how I can accurately compare them.
And it’s not just me – even the people old enough to have lived through and intensely consumed the Jordan era still have a more intimate experience with the Lebron era. It’s just different now. Twitter, League Pass, the 24/7 news cycle. It’s hard not to have stronger feeling about Lebron than you did about Jordan because Lebron is just a bigger part of your sports life than Jordan ever could be.
I don’t know if anyone is accurately qualified to compare the two of them because, well, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. It took Jordan until that 96 season to face the level of media scrutiny that Lebron faced in his senior year of high school. That’s just the reality of it. And I do think that added pressure played a huge role in how their careers played out.
Honestly, I think it’s unfair to seriously compare their careers in any rational way, for any even the smartest, most educated basketball minds. So far be it from me, a kid who was six when Jordan hit the shot on Bryan Russell, to be the one to compare them.
But fuck it… I’m doing it anyway.
Here’s my thing… Jordan’s run was and still is the most dominant run in NBA history.
Nobody owned the league the way he did from 90 to 98, gambling suspension not included. And he owned it because that’s the kind of guy he was. He could have cruised through seasons the way Lebron has, but he never considered that an option. And I think that force, that sheer dominance he decided to show at all times, is part of the reason the rest of the league never felt like they could beat him. They never saw a real chink in the armor. Opening night, a Tuesday in January, a Friday in March, or Game 6 of the Finals… Jordan was always Jordan. Opponents could never break that. And to compound that, his consistent dominance is also why Jordan’s teams always knew what they were. It’s Jordan’s team, we play this way every time, and we win like this.
On the flip side, Lebron was happy to take his foot off the gas pedal. He’s happy to pass the ball and cruise through quarters and give 70% effort because, at the end of the day, he knew he could turn it on when it mattered. And I can’t really blame him for that decision.
The problem is… that opened him up. He showed vulnerability because he knew he could autopilot his team to 55 wins a season. No matter how many different styles of play, no matter who was “the guy” on any given night, Lebron’s team is going to be a top two seed.
The results? 1) His teams look vulnerable to their opponents. 2) His teams lacked a certain continuity that was never in doubt with Jordan’s Bulls, short of the few months he came back in 94 when it had been Scotty’s team.
Is Lebron more naturally gifted than Michael Jordan? Probably. And if you put him in Jordan’s shoes, in that era, without social media, not necessarily knowing he couldn’t cruise through the season? Maybe he’s more successful that Jordan turned out to be.
But that cruise control he played on? That probably cost him a chance to ever be considered “better” than Michael Jordan. (In a weird way, that 07 Finals appearance was probably the worst thing that ever happened to Lebron. He was so good, and could beat the East’s best teams so early in his career, that he saw how easily he could cruise through the season.) He never “owned” the league the same way that Jordan did because he chose not to, and that has to be held against him. He didn’t “dominate” with the intensity that Jordan did from November to June because he didn’t feel a need to, and I think that probably cost him a ring or two.
So even if he does win this title, and maybe even two or three more after that, he’ll have never owned the league like Jordan did, and I think that counts for a lot in this argument.
And to be honest… with the sheer volume of talent… and sharing of information… and advancements in training… and universal understanding of “what it takes to be great” (something Jordan understood before most of his competition)… I think it’ll be impossible for anyone to stand that far above of the competition the way Jordan did in his time.
That doesn’t mean Lebron is far behind him, or that he can’t be the second best player ever. I think when it comes down to it, and the dust has settled on Lebron’s career, he will be the #2 behind Jordan by a considerable amount, if he’s not already. Lebron is great, and will continue to be great even if they don’t win this finals. I just don’t think he’ll
So that’s my schpiel. My little schtick. You can disagree, argue, fight, whatever. But I’ve heard enough from both sides in this argument to know that this is where I stand on Jordan vs. Lebron. For now, I guess.
Anyway, a few quick Notes on the Finals:
- I’m a big matchups guy. Matchups are the most important thing in this series. Who can reasonably handle who? Who can take advantages of cross-matchups in transition? Who’s gonna get killed on the pick-and-roll switches? That’s where the series is won.
- Is Iggy fresh enough to do what he did last year? I don’t know. Last year he was coming off a weeks rest after cruising through Houston guarding Trevor Ariza. This year he’s coming off arguably the most tiring 7 game series in league history guarding Kevin fucking Durant. That’s a huge difference. And if Cleveland can get this past five games, a worn-down Iggy might not be able to handle Lebron at that point.
- Who “wins” the Kyrie-Steph-JR-Klay cross matchup situation? There’s gonna be a LOT of Klay on Kyrie and JR on Steph situations in this series, and a lot of long shots that create long rebounds. The series might really be decided on which guard tandem can take advantage of having Steph or Kyrie on them on the break for transition threes. And yes, Cleveland can still obviously win this battle without being better. If Kyrie and JR give Cleveland 80%-85% of what Steph and Klay give GS, Cleveland wins the series.
- Is Harry Barnes ready to have a series? Basically, can he 1) hit enough shots to make Lebron work defensively, and 2) fill in respectively for Iggy while guarding Lebron.
- Is Golden State just going to murder Kevin Love on switches? Yes… the answer is probably yes.
- Will Draymond let Delly get under his skin? I mean… it’s just a matter of time. Watch out for Game 3 in Cleveland, possibly as a series-swinging suspension.
- Lebron has to just play the four all series, right? Yes, and that means probably guarding Draymond the way that Durant had to. Of course they can “hide” him on Iggy and Barnes. But when it comes down to crunch time and they need the shooting of Love or Frye over Tristan, Lebron is going to need to be the one playing those Steph-Draymond pick and rolls
- Are Shump AND J.R. going to show up? Because they both have to show up to win this series. JR has to hit shots the way he’s been hitting shots, and Shump has to hit enough of them to justify being on the floor to guard Steph and/or Klay.
- There’s a weird Kyrie-Delly-JR-Shump-Lebron at center lineup that they can throw out there to counter the “Death Lineup” of GS. I have no idea if it could work or not, but it is possible to put Delly and Shump on Steph and Klay while “hiding” Kyrie and JR on Iggy and Barnes, at least for short stretches. Just throwing it out there.
- Does Cleveland just revert back to the big Mosgov-Thompson lineup at points, knowing they at least have more shooting to spread the floor with Kyrie and JR this year than with Delly and Shump last year? Possibly. I think they chamber it tonight, but don’t be shocked to see it by the fourth quarter of game two.
- I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is where I’m at one hour before tip… this series absolutely goes seven games… and the Cavs win, in Oracle, in seven.
P.S. Yes, the Warriors “greatest season ever” is contingent on them winning this series. No shit.