Comparisons are inevitable whether they are just or not. In baseball, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams have always been the standard bearers in terms of greatness. In football, names like Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton and Jim Brown have typically been used to compare contemporaries too and in basketball the names of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan are most prevalent.
As the Miami Heat fell 114-104 last night to the San Antonio Spurs, the obvious discussions of greatness were flowing like Niagara Falls on social media. Should the Spurs be able to take one of the final two games in Miami to clinch the title, questions of just how great LeBron James really is will be asked millions of times.
Another NBA Finals loss for James would make him 1-3 in the Finals. Now the way sports works, James could very well go off in the final two games and this entire discussion could take a drastically different turn. But right now, fair or not, the comparison to Michael Jordan will never leave James and that’s only going to get worse should the Heat lose.
I often try not to really count James’ first appearance in the Finals because he literally carried the Cleveland Cavaliers there on his back before being swept by the Spurs but it still goes in the books as a loss. Toss in the fact that he shot around 30% in those Finals and it doesn’t help his case much. James and the Heat would also lose to Dallas in six games and before James finally earned his first title beating Oklahoma City last year.
Last night in San Antonio, James scored 25 points on 8 for 22 shooting and added six rebounds. While the point total is respectable, consider James was 1 for 8 with Boris Diaw guarding him. Several times James settled for long jump shots that wouldn’t fall. With James struggling against Diaw, the “experts” of social media couldn’t help resist comments like “Jordan would have never been shut down in the Finals.”
Depending upon your point of view, in Jordan’s first four Finals appearances he averaged about 33 points per game and his lowest point total was 22 points that came in a deciding game six blowout over Seattle. James’ Finals average is about ten points less and his lowest point total in the Finals is 14.
Comparisons such as this are always subjective because of the opponent, the style of play and of course ability of teammates around said player, but that doesn’t mean they are going to stop. Personally, I believe James is more gifted in terms of his overall athletic ability. About 2-3″ taller than Jordan and another 40lbs heavier, his athleticism is probably better than that of Jordan but the one area James will never be able to match Jordan is mentally.
In my four plus decades of watching sports, I have never seen a player in any team sport with a greater will to win than Michael Jordan. While his methods did not always endear him to his teammates, they were nevertheless effective and produced six championships in six Finals appearances.
James still has the opportunity to help the Heat win the final two games and should he be the dominant force he can be, he will have survived another season of comparisons to Jordan. A loss where he does little will harken back to the days of his past failures. Right now, it’s up to James to decide if this series will go the distance or not. He has that kind of talent. The question is, does he have the will and do you have the will to bet on him or against him?