Jordan V. LeBron
Beyond Wins & Losses
The Jordan versus Lebron debate has sprung up countless times on sports shows, talk radio, social media, and households across America (maybe even the world). Often times, people grab pieces of paper full of Stats written out to defend one player and dismiss the other. Some decide to compare the competition that they each had to face during their era. Others point out the Style of the NBA from rule changes to the emergence of the 3-point line domination.
Personally, I ignore these angles having made up my mind prior to digesting all of this information. First, I must say, all meaningful competition is settled on the court (..or as Michael Phelps would say, "in the pool.") Why? Because in the stressful moments of a game, a player who typically shoots 89% from the free throw line can miss both free throws, which gives the win to the opposing team. On the flip side, we've seen 60% free throw shooters make both free throws giving their team the Win.
Ultimately, how you respond in that moment matters most. And since Michael Jordan will never (ever) face LeBron James in an NBA game, all of this debate is pure speculation. That's why we actually have to play the game, ladies and gentlemen.
But there's no fun in that. Correct?
I grew up in the 80s and 90s, which may have influenced my decision and the reasons behind it a bit. However, I'm convinced this decision is a matter of principle. So, who's side are you on?
Team Jordan or Team LeBron?
It's Jordan, in my mind. As mentioned earlier, yes, you can put your Stats away. Everyone. On both sides. You can also leave out the comparisons of who their competition was or what the NBA rules are and were. I don't use any of that in my argument. And yes, I realize that Jordan played two years(?) with the Washington Wizards and wasn't exactly as good as he used to be from his Bulls' days.
So, Eric, what is in your argument? Come on, man!
Fine. Since you're in a rush. I like Jordan's response to losing better than LeBron's response to losing.
Can I respond, first, before the yelling?
Thank you. I watched the documentary about the Bulls entitled, "The Last Dance." Many a sports fan has seen it. Yes? My absolute favorite part of the docu-series is looking at the young Bulls' team sitting there staring into what seemed to be a black hole. They had just lost to the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs for the third year in a row. The last two playoff series losses were in the Eastern Conference Finals. This third playoff series loss was in Game 7 of the ECF.
Yep. They had those boys on the ropes and let 'em off the hook. And who got interviewed on the court right after the buzzer sounded ending the game? Jordan. Having to glare at the opposing side and grudgingly admit the Pistons were the better team that Series.
It was gut-wrenching. Embarrassing. No doubt, the doubts had to start creeping in. Could they EVER get passed this Detroit team that seemingly refused to move out of their path to the Finals?
At this crossroads, the Bulls organization, but especially the players, had to make a choice. There are really two roads they could have gone down and we've seen teams take both paths before, albeit separately.
The first path leads to blame. Finger-pointing. Maybe the coach isn't good enough. It wasn't like Phil Jackson had any Championship rings to speak of. When first hired, did anyone in the league really know who Phil Jackson was and what he was capable of?
What about Jordan? People were already saying he was a great talent, but couldn't lead the Bulls to a Title. His supporting cast? The Pistons routinely got in their head and under their skin during playoff matchups taking the young team out of their game. Maybe they'd never be ready. Was it time to give up? Break up the team? Trade young talent for more veteran players? It was a possibility, wasn't it?
The second path was the more difficult one. When the team was shown back in the gym (earlier the next morning?) after losing this Series against Detroit for the third straight year, they won me over. And at that moment, Jordan became my unquestioned favorite. Or ...the G.O.A.T.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is so easy, SO EASY, to justify a cut and run. Blow the team up. Fire the coach. Replace players, etc. After years of work, they still couldn't get over the hump. But, instead, they were stubborn enough (or crazy enough?) to refuse to go away. Determined to avenge their loss and shut the Pistons up once and for all.
Of course, you know the story, they did. Beating the Pistons in the ECF the following Season. Well, they swept the Pistons 4-0 with most of the Detroit players walking off the court to escape acknowledging their loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Yes, the Bulls could have gone south before winning a single Title. Instead, their stubbornness led to a 3-peat, which established a team that was never on the NBA map as contenders.
"Nice story, Eric, but LeBron went to the Finals 8-straight and 9 out of 10 years."
Yeah, but why am I putting Jordan ahead of LeBron? I like Jordan's response to losing. So, how does LeBron respond to losing? Let's see...
Drafted by the Cavs, LeBron was better than the hype, which is saying a lot considering he was already the Chosen One coming out of high school straight into the NBA. I watched this dude single-handedly bring down the Detroit Pistons to get Cleveland to the Finals. At that point, he was well on his way to challenging Jordan for G.O.A.T. status.
Losing to the Spurs in the Finals isn't terrible. Yes, the Cavs were swept, but I held great respect for LeBron's heroic effort. Yet, I have never seen him have a better performance than that.
How? Well, leaving Cleveland was expected. LeBron needed a better team around him for sure in order to compete for Titles. However, his response to losing became: I am going to out-talent the competition.
Hence, he took his talents to Miami to join forces with Wade and Bosh, which was supposed to be Wade and Carmelo Anthony, but Anthony re-signed with the Knicks for a bigger payday. D.Wade is my 2nd favorite player all-time. He already had a Title and Finals MVP in the trophy case. Bosh was already a multi-time NBA All-Star and the No.1 option on the Raptors.
It was a head-scratching moment for me. So, his response to losing was to recruit the No.1 option in Miami and the No.1 option in Toronto? Combined with his firepower and some NBA veterans in supporting roles to fill out the roster, they're just gonna win a Title like that?
Yep. Well, sort of. LeBron was in Miami for four years and led the team to the Finals all four years. However, simply trying to out-talent the league wasn't as easy as planned. The "not five, not six, not seven..." concept was taken off the table after the Spurs blew Miami off the court in the Finals at the end of Year 4.
Still, LeBron had led the team to back-to-back Titles. In his mind, he simply needed to recruit better talent. Hence, on LeBron's return to Cleveland, Kevin Love was recruited (Sorry, not sorry, Andrew Wiggins). I assume KLve was seen as a better 3-point shooter and all-around player compared to Chris Bosh. And Kyrie Irving ...well, Kyrie fell into recruitment as an upgrade to D.Wade. Younger, better handles, better 3-point shooter.
Okay, his response to losing in Miami was to recruit even better talent. Then, almost comically, the Cavs let Kyrie Irving walk out the door. But that's not the only reason LeBron's plan began to unravel.
After losing a 3-1 lead in the Finals against LeBron and the Cavs, the Golden State Warriors decided to do a little recruiting of their own since this how you wanna play it. But they recruited the 2nd best player in the league in Kevin Durant, who suddenly became the best player on the Warriors' team. You cannot make this stuff up.
I suppose LeBron didn't think someone could out-recruit him, but this quickly turned into a trend in the NBA. It was called, player empowerment, and it started to get ridiculous really fast.
Yes, I know some of you say the Boston Celtics really started all of this by teaming up Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce. I get it, but here's the problem: None of those players were ever in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Never. Let's say Jordan and LeBron are Tier 1 Players. KG, Pierce, and Allen are Tier 2 Players at best. So, of course, lesser Tier players aren't going to get the same scrutiny.
Kevin Durant is a Tier 1 Player, which is why the sports world lost its mind when he ended up with a Tier 1 team in Golden State. Saavy?
If you are a Tier 1 Player or close to it, you cannot take these short cuts. James Harden. Kawhi Leonard. Tier 1 to top Tier 2 Players. With great power comes great accountability, which means you just can't go around creating superteams literally overnight. They tried to get Giannis to do the same thing. "Leave Milwaukee. You'll NEVER Win a Championship in a small Market!" Blah, blah, blah. Then, Giannis Signs a huge Contract extension with the Bucks and wins the Title soon after without teaming up with other superstars. This saved the NBA from complete insanity.
Still, it got even more ridiculous. The Brooklyn Nets took it to its climax by not only adding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the roster, but James Harden, as well. How did that go? Harden is on the 76ers, now. K.D. threatened to leave the Nets. ...and Kyrie almost got kicked off the Nets for his conduct.
What's the principle issue here? Their response to losing.
Boys and girls, we pay attention to Jordan's repeat 3-peat. We see the Championship banners. Phil Jackson is a Hall of Fame Coach. Pippen is a Hall of Fame Player. Ladies and gentlemen, that's not where they started. Pippen was Drafted from the University of Central Arkansas. Horace Grant was Drafted out of college. Phil Jackson had never been a HC for an NBA team before.
Point being, they all grew together gradually, instead of this microwave approach to Titles. There was no Win Right Now mode. They had to develop their young talent into NBA All-Stars opposed to simply recruiting NBA All-Stars from another team.
That's what made the docu-series great. You saw a Chicago team at the bottom of the barrell lose, lose, and lose again while trying to claw their way to the top. And when they finally won their first Title, they 3-peated TWICE in eight Seasons. It's not just 6-0 in the Finals. These dudes won 3 straight twice in eight years, even with Jordan missing a year and change between 3-peats.
Now, some will say Jordan recruited Dennis Rodman. Isn't that similar to what LeBron is doing? Even if I give you that one, it's not the same. D.Rod is a specialist. The best, yes, but a specialist. Jordan was never handing the keys over to Rodman 'cause Lord only knows where Dennis would have gone. Rodman didn't need to score and wasn't really a scoring threat on the offensive end, which really made it 4-on-5. Plus, D.Rod's career wasn't doing so well at the time Chicago picked him up from the ..Spurs?
On the other hand, LeBron left Cleveland, again, to go to the Lakers. The Los Angeles Lakers had a lot of young talent and plenty of Draft Picks. Where's all that young talent and those Draft Picks today? Well, a ton of assets were lost in the Anthony Davis trade. Then, when A.D. couldn't stay healthy consistently, the Lakers gave away more assets to get Russell Westbrook. Then, when Westbrook didn't seem like he was a good fit for the team, LeBron apparently pressured the Lakers' front office give away the only two Draft Picks they have left. One Pick is in 2026 or 2027?
It's ridiculous because what do the Lakers have to show for it? A Bubble Championship?
Eric, why are you dismissing the Bubble?
Well, I did some digging (and correct me if I'm wrong). The standard NBA offseason is 20 weeks long. Meaning, once the Finals end, a Champion is crowned, about 20 weeks go by before the first game of the following regular Season starts. Of course, 82 games are played before going into the playoffs. Right?
March 11, 2020 is when the NBA suspended the Season because of the pandemic. The regular Season resumed on July 30, 2020 or about 20 weeks later. But instead of playing an 82-game regular Season after the 20-week break, a select group of teams played an 8-game regular Season before starting the playoffs. 8 games.
You cannot take the same amount of time off as a normal offseason and resume the previous Season with only 8 regular Season games. In what universe does that make any sense? I am sorry LeBron James and Commissioner Adam Silver. The Season was over. You needed to start a new Season without crowning a Champion for the previous Season. It feels bad. But that's fair.
Instead, the Lakers, including Anthony Davis, stayed surprisingly healthy during the 8-game regular Season and steam rolled everybody through the NBA Playoffs. Something the Lakers haven't been able to do with LeBron James before or after the Bubble. Then, they had the nerve to complain about not having a Championship Parade. For what?! You want a parade for that? Really? The Lakers?
Today, I assume LeBron is still trying to hand the keys over the Anthony Davis who is coming off yet another injury that had him sidelined for weeks. And yes, LeBron is still in Right Now Mode (how many years later after arriving in Miami is he in Right Now Mode?)
After playing in the NBA nearly 20 years and being in Right Now Mode for ...probably more than 10 years, he has a back-to-back in Miami, a single in Cleveland, and a Bubble Title (or whatever that was) in Los Angeles. Not a single 3-peat in sight with all the recruiting going on. And when the Lakers start losing a bunch, the media quickly begins to ask, "Is LeBron staying in L.A. or is he gonna go to a different team?"
At some point, boys and girls, you just gotta play. Draft well. Develop players. Plan for the future instead of being so short-sighted because the future turns into right now pretty fast.
In closing, ladies and gentlemen, losing is okay. It's okay to lose. Losing is a part of the growth process. We learn how to win through the losses. If every time you lose, you just get up and go to a better situation, when losing comes up again, you won't know how to handle it so you can get back to winning.
That's how the Running of the Bulls began. Through lessons learned in all of the losses, the team (the entire organization) learned how to win. And once they learned how to win, there was nothing else to learn. You know all the answers to the test. It's just a matter of executing the plays. Which turns into consistent good play or a 72-10 regular Season with a fourth Championship Win and the beginning of a second 3-peat.
But you cannot skip the losses and development process just to jump to consistent winning. That's not how it works in Sports or in Life. ecj
About the Creator
Eric C. Jackson
Sharing my passion for an eclectic group of Subjects including Fiction, Photography, and Gaming.
Great Article. I agree with you whole-heartedly. There is no question who the GOAT is, and the shuffling of players to try to create a dynasty is a severe injustice to the great Chicago, Boston and LA teams.