So the single greatest athlete to ever dribble without using a napkin picks one player over another as the best of a current generation, and then lets fly he wouldn’t want to play with either of his two former legendary foes. Rather play against them and thrash them to within an inch of their jock liners.
Seriously, this is the best debate we hear babbling across the airwaves? Trying to make this some type of “cause hoops celebre” is a greater reach than trying to sell “Dance Your Ass Off” as an athletic event for the girth-challenged.
Consider this, then, a public service.
Michael Jordan rocked the basketball world with his geological plate pounding assertion that Kobe Bryant is a better player than LeBron James. What made this all the more entertaining is it came in the wake of LBJ’s ego being inflated well past the recommended “Jock PSI”, forcing the Miami Heat to have an emergency gas bag and attendant acting as his new personal concierge.
Thing is, Michael Jordan is right.
LeBron James wishes he were Kobe Bryant. Wishes he played for the LA Lakers. Can only dream about having a coach by the name of Phil Jackson drawing out plays and insuring a lot more zeroes on his next contract.
This is not to take away from the Miami Heat and Pat Riley’s DaVinci-like monetary brush strokes that put James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on the same stage. The possibility exists that Riley could be one day viewed as having pulled off the single greatest “legendary franchise creating” move since Gene Roddenberry told Jack Lord he was off his lei for wanting 50% ownership in “Star Trek” before agreeing to play Captain Kirk.
Though it could have led to one of the great lines in television history being, “Book ‘em, Spock-o!”
Kobe is a far superior player than James. He has bounced back from those still-questionable Rocky Mountain times to become the most irreplaceable floor leader in the NBA. We can only marvel at how he has subtly and effectively changed his game since becoming a hoops antique at 31. His performance in Game 5 of the playoff series against Oklahoma City has been well-documented and praised by veteran NBA viewers, proving that one line on the scorecard sometimes tells exceptionally little about an actual performance.
Let’s make it simple and harken back to one of the more well-worn argument starters of all-time. If I had one selection to start an NBA franchise in 2010, it would be Kobe Bryant. He has learned through his own personal failings and actually listening to the advice of others, a rare and often horrific thought for many star athletes of any era, and become the player who makes every single teammate better.
Thankfully for those who have run out of really juicy stories to rattle on about, Jordan didn’t stop there. He then slapped James in that distasteful and ballooning ego stating there is absolutely no way he would have conspired with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to coordinate all three playing in the same uniform.
Suddenly Jordan, joined in the verbal whacking by Charles “Never leave a good debate or a taco deal on the table” Barkely, became something of a pariah. No longer the greatest player the game has ever produced, but now just a bitter aging man who only wishes he could have cashed in like LeBron, won more titles, made more money, bagged more rings, and sucked more air out of every room he walked into.
Which might just have a few grains of truth.
But the evidence of history and a good amount of scattered observations don’t support that thinking under any logical circumstance.
Jordan was never jealous of what others might accomplish thanks to the actions of certain players in his very first All-Star game in his very first season.
Isiah Thomas led a contingent of whiny superstars that turned the game into a new episode of “Jocks and Jerks”. So upset were they about the media spotlight focusing on Jordan that they, in effect, froze him out of the game and refused to pass him the ball. This would insure, they foolishly told themselves, that this gangly kid would learn his place in the game.
Mission accomplished. It took MJ a few years and being busted three straight seasons by Thomas and the body banging Detroit Pistons. But in 1991, when Jordan and his Bulls gored the Pistons in an Eastern Conference sweep, Thomas wore his diapers again and organized a walk off the court in the final minute of the final game to avoid shaking hands with his new Daddy.
Over the seasons, Jordan was made a better player by the likes of Pippen, Grant, Paxson and Rodman. But he raised their game to levels they would never have experienced while on the floor with any other player of the era.
Something James has yet to master. And to some, doesn’t seem interested in making part of his repertoire.
Jordan took what was given him and forged rings. LeBron took what was given him and failed to raise his game that extra notch. And there will always be those who will wonder if his final Series with the Cavaliers was mentally tainted by the knowledge no matter what happened here, he was heading for star billing in a title troika that would show his hometown Cavaliers how they failed to service his needs.
Jordan thrived on great rivalries. He relished in the stage that he happily shared with Bird and Magic, secure on the knowledge he would beat them and he would show everyone who truly was the greatest. Because playing against them, and not with them, made his legend even larger.
Michael Jordan owned Chicago. There was no reason to abdicate. He proved that greatness can and will succeed no matter who or what surrounds him. He earned the right to be the face of the NBA.
Thus far, LeBron James has only earned the right to cash a fat paycheck.