Let me preface the rest of my subsequent pot-stirring, blasphemous column with the fact that I’ve been a Bulls’ fan since the mid-1980s when a certain No. 23 arrived in Chicago.
Michael Jordan was my favorite player. I had a Jordan jersey and had the third release of his famous Air Jordan Nike high-top shoes. Looking back, those black, white and red basketball shoes weren’t aesthetically pleasing, but they were popular for a teenager to be wearing.
I cheered for Jordan and the Bulls through all six of their NBA titles. I’d still cheer for them now if their upper management team of John Paxson and Gar Forman could actually make smart decisions, but that’s a nauseating topic for another day.
Mind you, I wasn’t a big fan of Michael the person, just the basketball player.
LeBron James, on the other hand, is a much better person … and the most-talented basketball player to ever lace it up.
(I’m hoping my boss and fellow Bulls’ fan Adam Parkhouse will forgive me, and I’m sure former colleague of his, Drew White, will be angry at my thoughts. I’m not sure how my former colleague, Aaron McKrell, will react when he reads this in Pennsylvania since he likes both players.)
Yep, I said it, and I’m prepared for the outrage from all the Michael Jordan lovers who have some sort of misconstrued, vociferous hatred for LeBron.
This didn’t just pop in my mind after LeBron passed Michael on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list during Thursday night’s 135-102 trouncing of the Boston Celtics to win the Eastern Conference Finals 4-1.
Granted, it does enhance LeBron’s standing among the all-time greats since he also third all-time in playoff assists (behind Magic Johnson and John Stockton), sixth all-time in playoff rebounds (Bill Russell is far and away the leader with more than 4,000, while LeBron has 1,862) and second all-time in playoff steals behind — uh-oh, here comes more blasphemy with another Bulls’ fan favorite — Scottie Pippen, whom LeBron could pass in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors since he’s just 13 behind Pip.
The numbers aren’t that relevant, anyway. LeBron has played in 33 more playoff games than Michael (212 to 179), so it’s just natural that the most talented all-around player would eventually pass the best scorer eventually since LeBron did start playing in the NBA three years earlier, age-wise, than Michael.
Also, Michael was a pure scorer who worked hard at getting better at other parts of the game. Remember, he actually got cut from his junior varsity high school basketball team before eventually starring at North Carolina — though it’s debatable if he even was the best player on those Tarheels’ squads.
A friend of mine debating this LeBron vs. Jordan topic with me said that Michael had a “transcendent greatness.” That would be wrong in my eyes. At the age Michael was recovering from that JV cut, LeBron was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News and had his games televised on ESPN before he was even picked first overall in the 2003 NBA Draft.
LeBron had greatness and cheesy nicknames (“King James”, “The Chosen One”) bestowed upon him and had to live up to that pressure — which he has, reaching his seventh straight NBA Finals and eighth overall.
I’d prefer to call Michael the hardest-working basketball player ever since he rose from being cut to being the second or third option on North Carolina (James Worthy and Sam Perkins were pretty darn good when Jordan arrived in Chapel Hill, N.C.) to overcoming the perception from teammates, fans and other players in the league in his first few years that he was a selfish ball-hog and one dimensional.
LeBron actually doesn’t like being compared to Michael, though he admits he chose the number 23 because Michael was his favorite player as a kid.
“It’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who’s the greatest, but it’s never talked about in the NFL who’s the greatest quarterback,” James said after Thursday’s game. “It’s just like (Dan) Marino, (John) Elway, (Peyton) Manning, (Tom) Brady, all great quarterbacks. It should be the same for us. We go out and just try to be as great as we can be every night. Always trying to compare people, either living or still playing or not playing, it’s great for barbershops, but for me I’m just trying to put my mark on the game and leave a legacy behind.”
Michael also wasn’t a good person. His personal life is littered with immoral choices and he held a hateful grudge against former Bulls’ general manager Jerry Krause for years — even calling out the GM during his own hall of fame speech when it should have been out of his mind for years.
LeBron might be one of the most moral players in a league filled with players over the years who would embarrass their parents (anyone recall Shawn Kemp’s seven children with six women, or former San Antonio Spurs’ forward Willie Anderson’s nine children with seven women, or former Bulls’ bench player Jason Caffey’s 10 kids with eight women, or former Houston Rockets’ star Calvin Murphy’s 14 kids with nine women).
LeBron married his high school sweetheart, Savannah Brinson, and has three children with her. He’s an active supporter of the Boys & Girls Club of America and his LeBron James Family Foundation is very active in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, with numerous causes.
But this isn’t about LeBron and Michael as people. In that respect, Michael couldn’t hold a candle to “The King.” But from a player standpoint, you can’t go wrong with either one. And comparing them is quite fruitless — great for barbershops and newspaper columns, but not to be taken seriously.
I just think LeBron is more physically talented — he can guard any position, is a better passer and rebounder, and makes his teammates better. Don’t you remember the bunch of bums on the Cavaliers that LeBron carried to the NBA Finals in 2007? Michael didn’t do that until guys like Pippen, Paxson and Horace Grant got better around him.
Sorry, but if you need to take away my Bulls fan card, so be it. I’ll be rotting for LeBron and the Cavs to beat a team with a couple reprehensible people on it (namely, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant).
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at email@example.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.