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Friday, June 21, 2013

Why LJ Is not MJ

Let me just say that I am strictly a "front runner" when it comes to the NBA. While I pulled for the Hawks and the Hornets/Bobcats/Hornets, they've rarely offered enough to demand my singular loyalty. As a fan free agent, I just picked up whatever team had players that I liked or caught my interest.

In the late 70s through the early 90s, I loved Magic Johnson and the Lakers. In the late 80s through the 90s, I loved MJ and the Bulls. And right now, I enjoy watching the Miami Heat.

No, I'm not a "fan" of the Heat. But with an NBA season that is 20 games too long, the high-flying playground act keeps my interest during game 44 on a Tuesday night in February. That's what it takes to keep my attention during a grueling NBA season, even when there is no football to watch.

I admire and respect the Spurs, but I never became a fan. I need more than basketball fundamentals to keep my attention, so I pulled for the Heat during these finals. (Although I wouldn't have been upset at all to see the Spurs win).

This lack of loyalty means that I'm a fan of interesting NBA rather than a fan of any particular NBA team. This thing with Miami has been nothing but interesting, ever since the ridiculous Justin Bieber-esque entrance made by the "Big 3" in 2010. There is one aspect, however, that doesn't interest me at all, and those are the comparisons of LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

LeBron is not Jordan. Never will be, and it's not even close.

This doesn't mean LeBron is better or worse. I would argue that the two are so vastly different in their style, approach, and personality that you really can't compare them. Here are  reasons why LJ is not, and never will be, MJ:

1. LeBron is like-able, and he likes to be like-able:  LeBron enjoys being "one of the guys." He likes having Dwayne Wade as a sidekick (and occasionally the driver). He wants to get his teammates involved in the game and enjoys watching them succeed. You can see it in his game and in his attitude, and I believe that's why he sometimes waits so long to take over a game (just watch the game 6 replay).
     Jordan got his teammates involved if he had to, but couldn't have cared less about their success. It could have been Barkley or Ewing or Bird or Cliff Levingston beside him, as long as he won the game. His only drive was to win, and he didn't care if it meant punching Will Perdue in the face to make it happen.

2. No one has a motor that matches Jordan:  LJ is a physical presence that may be unlike anything the NBA has ever seen. But he's not a fan of contact, and he will say that he's "tired" at times.
     It's hard to imagine MJ ever admitting to fatigue or shying away from contact or worrying about getting other players involved in an elimination game. LJ may have played 50 minutes in a game, but no one could play 50 minutes with the intensity of MJ.

3. LJ gets his team involved because he's a better passer than MJ:  It's just a fact. LeBron is a terrific passer, in spite of the fact that he looks to pass too often. MJ improved his passing and facilitating throughout his career, but he never looked to utilize his vision or passing the way that LJ does. Which leads to another point...

4. MJ improved on his flaws better than LJ has--to this point:  Jordan was a highlight reel for his first five seasons. By season 6, he began to improve his shooting and his team play (he also got a much better team around him). By his retirement, he was one of the best all-around players in history.
     LJ has improved, but he has some aspects of his game that are still very lacking. He still doesn't post up nearly enough. He waits for contact on the drive instead of focusing on the basket. While he works incredibly hard, it remains to be seen if he will make the ongoing improvements he needs to win more titles.

5. Time & social media makes a difference:  You're always better after you left than when you were there. I remember MJ as a player who could do no wrong, who was beloved and embraced as the greatest. This is revisionist history.
     We have a terrible tendency to overstate the present, but we also over-glorify the past. There was a lot of criticism of Jordan as a showboat, nothing but a great athlete with a basketball in hand. Old Celtic fans said he was good, but would never match Red Auerbach's teams. People doubted that he'd ever win a title or ever fully come back from his baseball hiatus.
     Let's also remember that Jordan was a notorious gambler, drinker, and suffered from some domestic problems. People inappropriately questioned whether or not the death of his father in 1993 was connected to his gambling.
     As mentally tough and emotionally hardened as he was, how would Jordan respond to the every-game scrutiny and constant media coverage that LeBron endures? I doubt seriously that he would get a pass for his indiscretions in the modern world of social media.
     I'm not trying to create a ready-made excuse for LJ if he doesn't win 6 titles, but it is a vastly different sports world from the day of MJ.  

6. The only separation right now is championships:  I don't think that LeBron is going to change his personality and suddenly turn into MJ. Right now, MJ is 6-0 in championships, while LJ is 2-2. There are a million reasons for that, but those are the raw numbers. Here's the thing:  If LJ wins 4 more, we can talk about who was the best. Right now, LJ is the King, but MJ is still the Greatest.

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