IN the lead up to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meeting in the NBA Finals for the third straight season I’ve decided to do a daily feature piece leading up to the epic seven-game series. Legacies will be defined, reputations are on the line and the winner will claim bragging rights as the better team in this bitter, historic rivalry.
Day 1 – Steph Curry’s ‘Off Year’
Day 3 – How The Benchwarmers Stack Up
Day 5 – Ultimate NBA Finals Preview
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IT is the most talked-about storyline entering the 2017 NBA Finals. Can LeBron James surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest basketballer of all time? In the lead up to Thursday night, we have heard thousands of media personalities, former pros and every man, woman, dog and child voice their opinion on whether ‘The King’ can catch ‘The G.O.A.T’. Personally, I hate this argument and we won’t be able to come to a conclusion until we can stack one player’s entire body of work against the other at the end of LeBron’s career. But I tell you what, LeBron is inching closer to the top of the food chain day by day.
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ONE of the biggest reasons it’s tough to compare both players as it stands now is that everyone places different weightings on different achievements. The big knock on LeBron is his Finals record, claiming three titles in seven trips to the last series of the season. The people that use that for the sake of their argument’s love to point out that Jordan went 6-from-6. However, shouldn’t we give LeBron credit as he gears up for his eighth NBA Finals, including making the last dance in seven consecutive seasons?!
SOME people knock Jordan for missing a handful of seasons in his prime, while those same people pump up LeBron’s elite consistency and durability. However, shouldn’t we mention that whenever Jordan was in the NBA the title dreams and hopes of other Hall of Famers were non-existent. If Jordan had have stayed for the whole 1994 and 1995 season would Olajuwon even have a ring?
DON’T get me started on their different ages and different eras that they played in too. It makes it impossible to construct an argument in one player’s favour. At the start of LeBron’s career, big men like Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were the dominant forces in the NBA. 13 years later and the crafty, versatile guards in the mould of Russell Westbrook and James Harden are duking it out for MVP honours. The NBA is constantly evolving with a clear perimeter orientated feel in today’s game.
THE same differences can be said for when Jordan was in the NBA. In his rookie season (’84-’85) the Mavericks led the NBA with 1.9 three-point makes a game and only seven teams shot higher than 30% from deep. Those numbers in 1998, the year Jordan last won an NBA title? The Supersonics led the league with 7.6 makes a night and only one of the 29 teams in the league shot below 30%. As times change so does the league and both players have adapted their games and strengths to suit their era’s. Therefore looking at their three-point shooting, for example, is hard to analyse because of the way the league has valued that shot over the past 40 years.
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I honestly think that LeBron is more like Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan thanks, in large part, to his versatile playmaking and ability to make his teammates better. Jordan was somewhat feared by his teammates as he demanded the ultimate commitment and success day in day and out, while players take pay cuts to play alongside LeBron James. Don’t make the mistake in assuming that this is a knock against Michael though, I’m simply just stating that Jordan’s level of competitiveness and what he demanding from his teammates differed to the way LeBron goes about his business.
IF you had to choose one player to defend your life in a game of one-on-one you would still pick Jordan. If you were playing first to 11 and Jordan fell short (highly unlikely) he would DEMAND that you play to 21 or play a rematch. Fall short again and the cycle would repeat until one of two things happened. Jordan finally won a game or he literally died. There may be no athlete in history that has been more competitive than Michael Jordan.
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NOW that I have spent over 500 words and 6-7 minutes of your life making the case on why you can’t compare the pair, let’s take a quick glance at the position LeBron is in. Earlier this postseason he passed MJ for career playoff points. Jordan homers like to point out that he achieved his point total in fewer games, while those in LeBron’s camp point out that James reached the same total by shooting a better percentage. You can’t win a Jordan/LeBron debate…..yet. Comparing their credentials and success to date mean we are probably talking about the GOAT 1A and the GOAT 1B, but there is one factor James still has in his favour.
AT the tender age of 32 he still has plenty of gas in the tank and is on the verge of the biggest challenge in his career to date. If he beats this Warriors team he will overtake Jordan in the eyes of many. If he comes up short, for some that will mean the door is closed on his potential GOAT status. So what happens if the two same teams meet next year? Are the same stakes on the line? If he wins this one and loses next year to the same Warriors team does a win and a loss cancel out each other? What if James makes the next five NBA Finals and loses them all, do we penalise him for making THIRTEEN NBA Finals? What if he wins two or none or three or 37 more? All of these hypotheticals aren’t worth rehashing until the end of James’ career. However, for the first time in history, someone is close to Jordan. Your move LeBron.
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