Michael Jordan was the biggest star on Earth at a time where basketball was stalling.
He got knocked down, mentally and physically, in a time where the rules were different and thugs were able to impose their will on this, a non-contact sport. He rose above it all, hitting ‘The Shot’ and giving us ‘The Shrug’, all the while being famously intense to such an extent that he would punch on with teammates in practice and freeze out opponents on court.
I mean, he even defeated aliens in a movie.
He won whenever he made the NBA Finals, which is incredible when you consider he did it six times. Oh, and he was also MVP in all six of those series.
Now you could argue the quality of some of the opposition, but let’s not do that because he beat everyone who came across his path. The other side of the coin is that he lost three straight times in the first round, then once in the second round and twice more in the conference finals before scaling the mountain.
In those last three losses, their nemesis was the Detroit Pistons who made life a (physical) living hell for Jordan. Once he found his way past the Pistons, the only things that stopped him were retirement and/or boredom.
By any measure, Jordan was the greatest of his time. No-one had averaged more points, played better two-way basketball or simply, just won when he needed to. Across 13 seasons as a Chicago Bull, his numbers were beyond reprisal – 31.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.5 steals on impressive shooting percentages.
All that while playing almost 39 minutes a game and playing all 82 games in seven seasons and missing just another seven games in five other seasons combined.
Opposing arenas were littered in Bulls jerseys every night, much like they are with the Warriors in 2018. Everyone wanted a glimpse of the guy who would walk in and rip the heart out of your chest if it meant winning the game.
A few years back, LeBron James talked about chasing a ghost, with that ghost being Jordan. On Sunday night, James (aged 33) played all 48 minutes of an elimination playoff game in the cauldron that is Boston’s home floor and dominated, despite his best teammate being Jeff Green.
Granted, the opposition were missing their two best players but have the most versatile, switchable defence in basketball and based their entire scheme around stopping James, but it was futile. Oh, and they were undefeated through ten games at home and had everything going their way expect one key thing – they didn’t have The King.
That nickname has often seemed misplaced, as he bumbled his way through The Decision and found it hard to overpower J.J.Barea in the 2011 Finals. His body language has often left plenty to be desired, and he was widely criticised earlier in the playoffs for cruising through some games and looked disgusted with his teammates.
However, for all those flaws there can be no doubt now that he deserves his place alongside Jordan and a few others on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore. Detractors will argue that he won’t match Jordan’s title haul, and they will be right. But he is about to compete in his ninth NBA Finals series, and his eighth in succession.
His current team is so bereft of talent that it is remarkable that we are having this conversation again. If he needs to post up, he does that. In Game 6 against Boston, he closed the game with back-to-back fade away three pointers and does what he wants offensively. If his teammates had hit the wide-open shots he continued to tee up in Game 7, that game is done by half time.
He passes to the pocket of players, time and time again, who are paid to make open shots and they miss those shots – how is that his fault? If Steve Kerr misses a wide open shot from Jordan’s pass in the 1998 Finals, maybe the Bulls don’t win a ring?
Would Jordan have been chastised for making the right basketball move, and not shooting, when passing to a paid shooter who missed an open shot? I bet we wouldn’t have done.
To try and break down the numbers does not do James any justice. In season 15, Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be Game #100 for James without a miss. He averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists a game and shot 54.2 per cent from the field and has bumped those numbers up to 34.0, 9.2 and 8.8 at still 54.2 per cent from the field in the playoffs.
Aside from his rookie season, he has never slipped under 25 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists a game. His playoff record is even better, and he has won the last Game 7’s in which he has competed. He is 33 years old, and still clearly the best player in the game (some arguments have been made for Kevin Durant, but this year’s playoffs have put that nonsense to rest)
Going into today’s game, it was expected that he would throw up a 40-12-12 but also accepted that it may not be enough. For the basketball world to be so blasé about those numbers is absurd, and TV commentary coverage was moving between criticising him for not being aggressive enough (because, in Mark Jackson’s words, that’s what MJ would do) and praising him for being a facilitator.
But he did what he does, and what he always does, and we now move onto the NBA Finals and expect he will fly the flag but again lose against a far, far superior opponent. If he doesn’t win at least one game off his own back, he will be chastised.
If he cannot drag a fatally flawed team to a long series against a team that may have four of the best five players on the court, imbeciles will mock him and point to ‘another NBA Finals loss when MJ has none’.
To make this about Jordan versus James is pointless, and a waste of our time as fans. We should enjoy every minute of watching a guy who is crafting a career that is at least the equal of anyone else in NBA history. To argue against that is to argue against logic, should let’s all just sit back and acknowledge the Greatness that is LeBron.