Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Jordan vs. James

Normally, I only discuss Syracuse basketball, but I'll deviate today just for a topical opinion.  Like many fans, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch Michael Jordan and LeBron James both play in their primes.  They are both great players, and I really cannot tell you who is better. They are different style players in different eras; they are wired differently and approach the game differently on and off the court.

Detractors will point out that LeBron is only 3-6 in the NBA finals, while Jordan was 6-0.  LeBron’s teams have been the underdog in 7 of the 9 series they’ve played; Jordan’s teams were the favorite in all six finals.

LeBron carried teams to the finals that had no business being in the finals. At 22 years old he took the Cavaliers to their first NBA finals.  Jordan was injured most of his season when he was 22; his team was only 40-42 when he was 23.

LeBron played in two finals at age 22 and 26, before Jordan ever played in one.
Both players left a team and then returned to that same team.  We can see a clear impact each player had on his team, and what caliber player surrounded him. 

LeBron’s Cav’s were 61-21 in 2009-10.  He left the team for four years, and they went 19-63, 21-45, 24-58, and 33-49.  That was the worst record in the NBA for those four years, and they didn’t sniff the playoffs. LeBron returns and the team immediately goes to the NBA finals with a 53-29 record.
Jordan’s Bulls were 57-25 in 1992-93.  He left the team for two years, and they went 55-27, and 47-35. Note, in that second year, Jordan came back at the end of the season, the Bulls went 13-4; they were 34-31 without him.

Jordan’s teammates were good enough to make the playoffs with almost the identical record without him in 1993-94.  That’s not a knock on Jordan; that’s a comment on how good the teammates around him were.  They couldn’t produce in the playoffs without MJ; he was sorely missed for sure.  LeBron’s team was the worst in the NBA without him, and immediately went back to champion caliber upon his return.

Jordan’s teams won it all when he had great talent around him.  The fair knock on LeBron is that his ‘super team’ in Miami didn’t win it all every year; they only went 2-2 in the finals (though they did make the finals all four years).  Jordan never elevated a mediocre team to the finals.

LeBron has made the finals 8 years in a row, and is now 33 years old. Jordan, after three straight finals, walked away from the game at age 30, citing he was tired of the game.  Whether MJ walked away from the game on his own, or he was nudged out as a suspension for gambling is a matter of debate, but if you take MJ’s story at its face… he tired of it.  You can’t assume MJ would’ve won titles in those two years he walked away from the game, or for that matter, what if he had stayed… would he have been burned out before the second three peat era?

MJ played 41,011 minutes in his career; LeBron has 44,298 in his career, and is still going strong. 

Haters are always going to look for a way to tear down one or the other of the two players. Personally, I think Bill Russell, Kareem, and Wilt all deserve more consideration than they get. But I digress.  I just enjoy watching Jordan and James play.  Revel in their individual greatness, and the unique gifts to the game.

As a side note, Jordan probably played with better NBA talent his junior year at NC (Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith), than LeBron played with when he went to the finals in 2007 (Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas)

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