Because this Bobcats-Heat playoff series contains two of the greatest players in basketball history -- Michael Jordan as Charlotte owner, LeBron James as Miami star -- the comparisons are inevitable.
LBJ or MJ? His Airness or the King? Who's better?
It is a worthy argument. James has forced himself into this discussion with NBA championships in each of the past two years.
But the answer to the question is the same as it was a decade ago. Jordan remains the greatest basketball player ever. LeBron has not scaled that mountain yet.
Because we see LeBron highlights every day, we sometimes forget how good Jordan was. Let's look at their playoff statistics, because I think both men would agree that the postseason is where reputations are made or broken.
MJ outscores LeBron in the playoffs, 33.4 to 28.1. OK, you say, but LeBron is the better passer and rebounder.
That's true. But how much better, really? LeBron in the playoffs has averaged 6.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds. Jordan averaged 5.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds.
So LeBron gets roughly one assist and two more rebounds per game than Jordan in the games that matter most. But Jordan scores five more points per game. And then there's the ultimate argument, perhaps best voiced by actor Jason Segel in the otherwise forgettable movie "Bad Teacher." It went like this:
Teacher: "You are out of your mind. There is no way LeBron will ever be Jordan."
Kid: "LeBron is a better rebounder and passer!"
Teacher: "Call me when LeBron has six championships!"
Kid: "That's your only argument?"
Teacher: "That's the only argument I need, Shawn!!"
Yes, Jordan has six championship rings. LeBron has two -- and I don't think he will get a third this season.
Rings aren't the only barometer, of course. Otherwise, Bill Russell with his 11 championships would be thought of as the game's greatest ever. It's more than that.
How about defense? I'd call it a draw. Yes, LeBron can also guard every position on the floor. He's two inches and 45 pounds heavier than Jordan was, and that means he's more of a physical presence.
But Jordan was a perennial first-team NBA defensive player as well. In Jordan's last game as a Chicago Bull in 1998, he not only scored 45 of Chicago's 87 points and hit the game-winning jumper against Utah, but he stole the ball from Karl Malone to set it up. James is bigger and more physical, but Jordan in his prime was quicker.
Competitiveness? I'd rate MJ a bit higher. LeBron wants very badly to win. Jordan would all but kill himself to win.
Yes, I went to North Carolina and overlapped at Chapel Hill with Jordan for one year there. But I also made a pilgrimage to Ohio to see LeBron play while he was still in high school.
I loved watching Jordan play. I love watching LeBron play.
For me, it ultimately comes down to this when you are thinking about the "Greatest of All Time" title. With your team by one point and three seconds left, who do you want with the ball taking that shot?
I think almost all basketball fans outside of south Florida know the true answer in their hearts.
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