So, it’s been two weeks since the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to take back the NBA crown. Much has been written about the teams, and the time since the Finals finished have been the most action packed in recent memory. Today’s world of news on demand and sporting hot takes lends itself to people being ‘the best’ this and ‘the worst’ that. In that trend, there has been plenty of talk over the last 20 years about so many players being the next Michael Jordan. I mean, no one can forget Harold Miner, right? The NBA was so desperate to anoint the new MJ that this guy was tagged as being the next big thing despite being a woeful NBA player who could dunk… and man could he DUNK.
He made a few dollars and disappeared quicker than he appeared. After years of trying (and failing) to find the Heir Apparent, the time has come to face facts – there will never be another MJ, but that doesn’t mean he will always be the best player ever.
Jordan was a 6-time NBA champion (and Finals MVP in each series), 11-time All-NBA player, 9-time All-defensive player and 5-time MVP (as well as having Karl Malone steal an award in an act that should have seen him arrested… hold that thought on Malone). He averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals a game while shooting 49.7% from the field (50.9% effective FG%) playing more than 38 minutes a game. His scoring average never once dipped below 28.2 points per game in a full season as a Chicago Bull and in a five year stretch from 1986-87 to 1990-91, capped by his first title, he averaged 33.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds and an insane 2.9 steals a game while only missing one total game. Those numbers are as elite as they are incredible, as are these 15 minutes of footage!
Today’s greatest player is LeBron James, a man who has polarised opinions since he entered the league after skipping college and he was appointed the chosen one from the moment he set foot on the NBA hardwood. James is a 3-time champion, 2-time Finals MVP, 4-time NBA MVP, 13-time All-Star and first team All-NBA player and 6-time All-Defensive player. He has just finished his 14th season and hasn’t missed a beat – to consider that for a minute is remarkable. His career averages are 27.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 50.1% from the field (53.6% effective FG%). He averaged career highs in both assists and rebounds in the recently completed season, and became the first player in NBA Finals history to average a triple-double in a series. His team did lose the series, but hold THAT thought as well.
To purely compare these two guys on statistics would do both a disservice, as would judging them purely on championships. Jordan won every NBA Finals in which he appeared, and was the best player in every series, while James has been champion just three times in eight Finals appearance and has been the best player in four, maybe five of those series. For those of you confused, I didn’t fail maths, but James was the best player on the floor in the 2015 NBA Finals despite Andre Iguodala winning the Finals MVP. Seriously, this decision doesn’t get enough heat as the most disgraceful NBA trophy award in history. James played almost 46 minutes a night and led the series in points, rebounds and assists; he was without his two All-Star teammates; and his best two teammates in the series were Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. Yet Iguodala won the MVP and HE FUCKING GUARDED LEBRON FOR MOST OF THE SERIES!? This decision makes the NBA Finals MVP one of the more meaningless awards in the sport. You could also argue he was the best player in the recently completed series where he couldn’t overcome four of the best 20 players in the league.
Jordan dominated every Finals series he played in bar one, the 1996 Finals against Seattle where George Karl waited three games before playing the best defensive guard of the 90’s (Gary Payton) on MJ. Amazing achievement, but a glance at who the Bulls defeated in their six titles tells a tale in it's self. The best side they beat were the 1993 Phoenix Suns; the Supersonics were solid but didn’t have the offense to out gun Chicago, the Utah Jazz were rewarded for a period of amazing consistency with two Finals appearances in the weakest time for NBA talent in the last 30 years (their third best player was Jeff Hornacek; John Stockton was elite but unable to impose himself against Chicago’s elite defence and Malone could never handle the pressure of the Finals, Game 5 of the 1997 Finals aside). In addition, the LA Lakers were expiring and Jordan was peaking in 1991 and the Portland Trailblazers were woefully over-matched in 1992. It could be argued that James has played six Finals series against two opponents far better than any team Jordan ever played in the San Antonio Sours and Golden State Warriors. Comparing across eras is often a moot point, but James has played against 26 All-Stars in his eight Finals appearances, while Jordan faced just eight. Additionally, for as good as Jordan was in the Finals, he failed to make the Finals in seven of his 13 seasons and was knocked out in the first round three times. James has never lost in the first round and has made the Finals in eight of his 14 seasons, playing against many more superstars than Jordan did.
None of this is to disparage Jordan, as he revolutionised the game and was the single person who kept the game alive throughout the 90’s when it was on its knees. He captured the imagination of an era of young fans, who all wanted to ‘Be Like Mike’ but how much of that was because he wasn’t only the brightest star but the only star. James is a 6’8”, 260-pound beast who moves as well as any player ever has, and sees passing lanes that no-one else does. No other player has been able to effectively defend four positions, without drop-off over such a period of time all the while being point guard and a dominant post scorer. This is not a guy who has been a flash in the pan for a season or two, or who drifts in and out of series and seasons. Apart from his rookie season he has averaged between 25 and 30 points, 6.0 and 8.6 rebounds and 6.0 and 8.7 assists a game for 13 straight seasons. That is video-game level numbers, a level of excellence and consistency which sports has never seen. He has been the best player in the league for eight years, a feat that only Jordan can match in the last 50 years and MJ did it against the likes of Malone, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and David Robinson as opposed to Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki.
James’ performances over these last three Finals series, against arguably the best team in NBA history has been wondrous. He has done physically all he can do, time after time and under the most scrutiny and despite opposition players threatening to shit on the Cavs floor.
The hatred for James is quite baffling; granted, The Decision was one of the more poorly constructed sports performances of our time. But, so what? Jordan left the game to play baseball (or got suspended by David Stern for illegal gambling, depending on who you believe), and then retired and came back when it suited him. The internet would have fucking explode if James did that today! No-one has ever been better through 14 seasons than James, and no-one has performed at a more consistent level for a longer period of time against quality opposition in the history of the game (before anyone says Bill Russell in the 60’s, go look at some footage from the NBA in that era – now, just pipe down).
The intent is not to degrade Jordan in any way, because there is a strong argument for him being the best player ever. It’s just that the argument for LeBron James having passed him is so strong, and it’s time we all appreciate that, even the haters.