A Perspective on LeBron James
In perhaps the pinnacle moment of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, having just battled back from the brink of a 3-1 series with the advantage to the Bulls, the perceived greatest player on the planet has carried much of the burden on fighting back to win this series against Chicago. LeBron has been nothing short of phenomenal from the game-winner in Game 4 (which was not a lucky bank shot like Derrick Rose’s game-winner the game before) or his dominating Game 5. Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying LeBron James’ greatness.
LeBron is also one of the most polarizing figures in sports, which is phenomenal by itself. It’s even been referenced in movies such as Bad Teacher; it seems that every avid fan of the sport of basketball is either a LeBron fanboy or the self-proclaimed number one LeBron hater. But why? What makes this well-mannered, soft spoken player be so polarizing? It’s nothing short of mind-blowing, considering that this man has been under the national spotlight since he was in middle school and has yet to be involved with any serious scandal or crime. The guy is all but spotless, and has been for nearly two decades. How can one man be so hated and scrutinized while being the most dominant force in basketball of his generation and being a model citizen?
The answer lies in two words. Two words everyone not living under a pile of rocks knows (even the people living under one or two have heard of them). Two words that ultimately have changed the entire perception of LeBron James in the minds of everyone in the sports world forever. What two words could possibly make such an impact on the entire perception of the greatest basketball player on the planet?
The first one is Michael, and the second one is Jordan.
It’s ultimately not about who is the better basketball player; that’s been debated millions of times too many. It doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t because of LeBron. LeBron has always wanted to be better than Jordan. He wore 23 in Cleveland when he was first drafted and wears it again now that he’s back (not to discount Miami, but that is coming soon). LeBron has “The Chosen One” tattooed on his body to declare to the world that he is the best. He is aware of the comparison and has embraced it his entire life. There is nothing wrong with that either; who wouldn’t want to be like Mike? And who wouldn’t want to be the greatest ever in whatever field they choose? This isn’t enough by itself to inspire the hatred LeBron receives. It’s not even the argument that those Jordan worshippers with red and black shrines in their houses bring up that Jordan went 6 for 6 in the finals (if it was all about rings, and Bill Russell nearly doubled Jordan up, then why do we even talk about Jordan?). The reason people hate LeBron and the real reason that the comparison between the two isn’t worth bringing up:
Even if LeBron wins 12 rings, LeBron’s success is less credible than Jordan’s.
Bold statement, sure. The dagger in the LeBron fanboys’ collective hearts is that LeBron could not win in the same fashion that Jordan did. Jordan built Chicago, LeBron bailed Cleveland to go win rings on a team that could compete for them without him. He left his home state and a city with huge billboards with his image, claiming “We are all Witnesses.” He has this entire “King James” persona, but runs from bad situations. Where will his jersey be retired? Will fans give the NBA’s greatest vagabond the same respect that they give Jordan, who lifted Chicago to championship level himself?
“But LeBron didn’t have anything around him!” Jordan didn’t either. Jordan built the Bulls.
“Jordan had Pippen!” Jordan made Pippen. Ask the Bad Boy Pistons what they thought of Pippen before Jordan transformed him into the winner he knew he needed.
“Being a great player isn’t about winning where you were drafted.” No, but it’s the principal. Jordan didn’t need to go searching for easy championships. LeBron did not get the job done before he left.
“Jordan played with the Wizards.” After he won six in Chicago.
“LeBron wanted to go get a championship, and he was coming back. It was his plan all along.” So, his plan was to run from his situation all along, and return when it was easier to win?
“LeBron’s still a better defender and passer!” Has his skillset been good enough to win it all without playing with the most star-studded line up in the NBA, by possibly the largest margin in the NBA ever?
“Wade and Bosh didn’t help him in Miami as much as people thought they would.” They’re still Wade and Bosh, and don’t forget Ray Allen. Their diminished skills are irrelevant in the discussion on his decision to play with stars rather than build his original team.
“He turned the Cavaliers around when he came back home.” He traded the declining veterans for younger, incredibly talented players Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. LeBron did not stick around through the tribulations of his team, but waited for them to figure out how to win before he came back.
“LeBron’s not done yet.” True, and before it’s all said and done he could be considered to be the greatest ever.
However, LeBron will never have done it in the same genuine way that Jordan did. He will never be Jordan in that regard, which serves as Jordan’s validation. We saw Jordan bring the Bulls up. We saw Jordan dominate. We have all heard the stories of just what a competitor Jordan was. Jordan refused to lose, and demanded the same from everyone around him. Jordan did not settle for “I have nothing around me to help me win.” Jordan was the ultimate competitor, and LeBron ultimately sacrificed some of this when he decided to create the Big Three in Miami, and then the new Big Three with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. This creates a rift that forever separates and muddies the comparison between the two players.
This is the polarizing element of LeBron. LeBron stole the fans’ chance to see him be the greatest in the same way that Jordan did. Despite his accomplishments and greatness, he simply will never be the winner Jordan was, even if we want him to be. Jordan sought championships, and LeBron seeks Jordan. It’s not the same and they aren’t the same, and fans are forced to put an asterisk after everything LeBron does because he seems unable to do it without going to the best possible situation he can. This asterisk robs from the enjoyment of watching LeBron dominate. It is somehow less pure, less honorable because LeBron wants to have a Jordan esque resume more than he wants to earn it himself, which is exactly why he will never be Jordan.