Sports Commentary: Why LeBron James' Legacy Will Never Be Equal to Michael Jordan's
LeBron or Jordan?
If you ask most fans of the National Basketball Association, LeBron James and Michael Jordan are probably the two most popular NBA players of their respective generations. There's a topic that tends to strike a nerve in many basketball fans, yet, it's a topic that many have grown tired of hearing debated. As someone that straddles both parts of the fences when it comes to this topic, I can somewhat sympathize with those that have grown tired of this debate. However, I am also one of those fans whose own personal opinion on this topic keeps me talking about it with others. You could call it a guilty pleasure of sorts.
Being someone that grew up during the '80s and '90s, I'll admit being a bit more partial to the NBA of old compared to today's NBA. You can call it getting older or maybe not wanting to forget about my childhood, but the NBA had a different feel to it back then. For me, that feeling has been gone for quite some time. I still appreciate today's NBA however, which is why I can honestly see why the argument of who's the better player between James and Jordan in their primes continues to rage on.
A now-retired Michael Jordan is 22 years LeBron James' senior. Even in the unlikely event that they happened to play one-on-one today, a still in his prime LeBron James would likely defeat a 52-year-old Michael Jordan. I'd go even further and say that he would probably do it in a fairly easy fashion. We'll never know which player in their prime was the best, however, one thing I'm personally sure of is whose legacy will reign higher in my eyes when it's said and done.
For me personally, LeBron James will never have the impact nor legacy of Michael Jordan on the game of basketball. Yes, I indeed said legacy because contrary to popular belief, there are still athletes out there that care about the legacies they leave behind when they're done playing. Although I'm more partial to Michael Jordan, I want to acknowledge that LeBron James is an amazingly gifted player that has accomplished much in his career. The goal here is not to bash, but to give personal insight on why I feel that LeBron will always be a step behind Michael. I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this topic, nor am I an expert. I'm just a regular fan giving my thoughts.
Playing With Other Superstars
Free agency in today's NBA is much more different than previous years of past. When you take a look back at the NBA during the '80s and '90s, a good portion of the superstar caliber players spent most if not all of their careers with the same organization. A legendary name like Earvin "Magic" Johnson was associated with the Los Angeles Lakers, just like the name Larry Bird was known throughout his career for being a Boston Celtic.
While star NBA players of the past played together on the same teams, many of these players were drafted by and developed into stars by the organizations they played for. This is a practice that no longer holds much weight in today's NBA. Players like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are becoming increasingly rare. These are examples of players that spent their entire career with the same organization. When you take a closer look at LeBron James' career, you'll notice that besides his first seven years in the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he has played with a plethora of current superstar players.
During his tenure with the Miami Heat in which he appeared in four straight NBA Finals, James played alongside both Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. It can be argued that both Wade and Bosh were top ten players in the NBA at that current time. As a member of the Miami Heat, LeBron James did accomplish his goal of winning an NBA title. In fact, he accomplished it twice, which is a feat that should be admired since it's difficult to win back to back titles in any sport.
Now take a moment and imagine what it would have been like if Michael Jordan decided to leave Chicago and team up with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. This thought alone gives me the impression that there wouldn't have been much competition in the NBA if those three had decided to team up back then. Michael Jordan won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, but those teams weren't comprised of a slew of star players. Those teams consisted of players that brought individual pieces that were built around their star player; primarily through draft picks. Of course there were free agents brought in along the way, but those free agents were guys that helped provide a void to help get the Bulls over the top.
While I do recognize that the goal for NBA franchises and players is to win a championship, the idea of top-caliber players talking among each other in the off-season and making deals to play together doesn't appeal to me. One of the biggest arguments I hear in regards to LeBron James leaving Cleveland the first time was that he didn't have any help. If I recall correctly, didn't LeBron help lead the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007? Although they were swept and lost in the finals to the Spurs, the fact that the Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals proved that they only needed a few more pieces to get over the hump.
The Arrogance Factor
I believe that the majority of NBA players are fairly arrogant. While arrogance is a trait that I don't like or condone, I suppose it's understandable considering the amount of press, fame and stardom these players receive. During his time playing in the NBA, Michael Jordan was thought of as being arrogant by many of his critics. You certainly won't get an argument from me on that point. Jordan may have indeed been arrogant, but I feel that he also had a certain level of humility that helped him strive to become better.
I don't know LeBron James personally, but I feel that humility is a trait that he lacks to a certain extent. Think back nearly five years ago when James joined the Miami Heat in 2010. When the Miami Heat's "Big Three" was unveiled, LeBron James predicted a dynasty of multiple championships to come. Keep in mind that these guys had yet to even play together, so whether or not there would be any chemistry between the three was still undetermined. Yet, we saw what I viewed as an overly arrogant LeBron James already predicting a dynasty.
Confidence is a trait that every professional athlete should possess, but LeBron's outright arrogance at the time really deflated his public image to many outside of Miami. The entire spectacle of where James would be playing after becoming an unrestricted free agent, along with leaving Cleveland was where he lost me. Looking back at history, I do not ever recall seeing an elite NBA player having an entire television special to announce where they would be playing the following season.
Michael Jordan's path to becoming a winner in the NBA wasn't an easy one. During the 1980s, the NBA's Eastern Conference was primarily dominated by the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons. Jordan was a young player at that time, and the Chicago Bulls was a franchise that was in a phase of building. By the late '80s, the Bulls had become a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Jordan and the Bulls failed several times in getting back the Pistons and Celtics, but I feel that those losses helped make Jordan a better player.
I'm taking a guess at making the following assumption, but I think that Michael Jordan's humility towards the game of basketball is one of the reasons why he won six champions in a 10-year span throughout the 1990s. I think that Jordan felt that no matter how much success he obtained as a player in the NBA, he knew that there were always improvements needed to make his game better. One of my favorite quotes from Michael Jordan goes: I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. You can be a confident person, but still have a degree of humbleness to you.
Loyalty and Leadership
Michael Jordan spent the biggest portion of his playing career with the Chicago Bulls. The only time that Jordan wasn't in a Bulls uniform as a player was at the tail end of his career with the Washington Wizards. As great of a player and athlete as LeBron James is, I'm not entirely sure how loyal he is when it comes to playing for an organization.
It has already been established that LeBron James is willing to play with other star players, but he has also given many the impression that he's willing to go from one organization to the next in order to win. Throughout history, many players have left organizations to put themselves in better positions to win. However, I do not expect someone of a Michael Jordan or LeBron James caliber to do this consistently. Players of this caliber are regarded as being representatives of the franchise they're playing for, and we expect them to carry themselves accordingly.
LeBron James' loyalty was questioned by many when he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers organization back in 2010. Since James is an Ohio native, the move to leave the Cavaliers was viewed as a sign of betrayal by many. Now I personally don't feel that James should of left Cleveland, but if he felt like the team wasn't going anywhere with the group of guys they had, then I can somewhat understand his reasoning for leaving.
Now lets fast forward a bit to the 2014 NBA Finals. LeBron James and the Miami Heat found themselves playing for their third straight NBA title, which is a huge accomplishment in its own right. Miami would go on to lose the series 4 games to 1 in what many considered to be an almost embarrassing fashion to the San Antonio Spurs. Following the defeat to the Spurs, LeBron James decides to pack up his bags and go back home to Cleveland. I personally feel like he could have helped out his image by staying in Miami, and showing that he wouldn't up and run when times get hard.
I realize that professional sports is a business, however, certain levels of leadership and loyalty are expected from players of a certain caliber. Imagine how Michael Jordan's image would have looked if he decided to leave the Bulls when they were struggling to even make it out of the first round of the playoffs during the '80s. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Patrick Ewing are all great players that spent the majority of their careers with the same franchise, but never won a title. People don't look down upon athletes that are loyal, even if they retire without winning a title.
There have been some that have floated around the idea that James could possibly leave Cleveland again if he doesn't get the results he wants. A defiant James has stated that he wants to be in Cleveland for the long haul. However, it would be understandable if most people decided not to trust a guy who has shown in the past that he'll go wherever he needs to go in order to win.
Who Has Had The Greatest Impact On The Game Of Basketball?
For me, regardless of how many MVP's and NBA titles that LeBron James wins throughout his career, he will never have the legacy nor impact on the NBA that Michael Jordan has had. I acknowledge that LeBron James is an incredibly talented player that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame someday, but some of his career moves have not sat well with me personally.
Since I enjoyed what I consider to be the glory days of my childhood so much, I'll admit that I'm a bit more partial towards Michael Jordan, as well as the era of the NBA that I grew up on. Despite that, I will give LeBron James his just do when it comes to his impact on the game of basketball. James has put an imprint on the sport of basketball that is just as equivalent to Jordan's back in his era, but when it comes to legacy and being remembered, there's a difference from my perspective.
The talks of whose legacy will be greatest among James and Jordan will likely continue for years to come. However, no matter how you try to shape and cut the debates, it's extremely difficult to compare two players from different eras. Michael Jordan's legacy with the NBA has already been cemented, so there's nothing left for him to prove. LeBron James is still in his prime, and clearly has some more good years left in him. Although LeBron James will never have the level of impact on the game that Michael Jordan has had from where I see it, he is indeed forging his own legacy before our eyes. Whether his legacy comes out for better or for worse will be up for you to decide.
© 2015 Bradrick H.