Sunday, April 29, 2018

LeBron's The GOAT? Have We Forgotten About Michael Jordan?

LeBron James just played a fantastic Game 7. He tossed up a 45-9-7 on 16-26 shooting in an elimination game against what is at least an equal, if not slightly better, Indiana Pacers team.
LeBron is a monster of a basketball player. There are few guys in the history of the sport who could’ve played a game like he did today, in a pressurized situation like a Game 7.
We’ll probably, in our lifetimes, never see a player as good as LeBron again.
Now, is that enough praise for him for the LeBron fanboys? Is it enough for twentysomething year olds and the teenagers who think the NBA began in 2011?
The fact is, the entire “LeBron is the Greatest of All Time” debate is perhaps the dumbest one currently happening in sports. There’s no context to anything, no knowledge of the history of the game, rampant hyperbole, and intentional ignoring of facts that run counter to that narrative.
I’m supposed to believe that LeBron is now the GOAT because he needed seven games to beat a Pacer team that has one All Star who played in the series (Victor Oladipo)? I’m supposed to believe that LeBron is the best to ever do it because he made a buzzer beating three to win a non-elimination game in a first round series? I’m supposed to believe that LeBron is now better than Michael Jordan, despite the fact that he hasn’t really played defense at all since he arrived in Cleveland?
As great as LeBron was offensively in this series, and all year, he’s almost equally bad defensively. Remember Tristan Thompson’s block on Darren Collison in the 4th quarter? It was made possible because LeBron turned his head and allowed Collison to go right by him. 
LBJ never guards the best perimeter guy anymore, and instead stands five to ten feet off his man, sometimes playing passing lanes, but mostly, he just wanders away from his guy, hoping a rebound will bounce his way so he can pad his stats. We all kill Russell Westbrook for being a stat whore, but LeBron is almost as bad.
Here's some more context: LeBron, again, is inarguably a great player, but let’s not forget about how the rule and stylistic changes the past decade have made it increasingly easier for perimeter guys to get to the basket.  For example, the hand check, which was eliminated from the sport in the mid 2000s. For those of you that don’t know what I'm talking about, defenders used to be able to put a hand on an offensive player and literally push against them as they dribbled. It made it significantly easier for defenders to stay in front of attacking players, as they could guide or shove them away from the basket on their drives. During his entire career, defenders would put their hands on Jordan, and use this advantage to knock him off his drives and force him away from the basket. If you hand check in today’s league, they'll whistle you for a foul every single time. Add in the hard fouls at the basket, no defensive three second (so the defenders could just stand in the paint, waiting for drivers), and the grabbing off the ball as players attempted to run to get open, and offensive basketball was just more difficult during Jordan’s era. I’m not saying LeBron would be ineffective in the 1980s and 1990s, but it wouldn’t be a superhighway to the basket for him like it is now. Plus, with the increased emphasis on threes in today’s NBA, there are less big guys on the floor now than there’s ever been, which again, leads to less resistance at the rim when drivers get there. When LeBron led a miraculous 3-games-to-1 comeback against the Warriors in the 2016 Finals, he and Kyrie Irving benefitted significantly from the fact that Golden State’s only real rim protector, Andrew Bogut, was injured and missed the entire second half of the series. So once he got around his defender (which, again, is easier, due to no hand checking), there was no one waiting by the basket to challenge him.
BUT MATT! MICHAEL JORDAN PLAYED IN A WATERED DOWN ERA!!!!! Anyone that says this clearly knows nothing about the history of the game. Yes, and I’m leaving guys out, but Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Adrian Dantley, Dominique Wilkins, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Joe Dumars, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Sidney Moncrief, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Chris Mullin, and Isiah Thomas are a bunch of scrubs. And if you don’t know who all those guys are, then you probably don’t know enough about basketball to have an opinion on the LeBron-Jordan debate. That’s not to say that LeBron hasn’t played against good talent, but the idea that there was no talent or inferior talent  25 years ago is ludicrous. Don’t forget about this either: Jordan was 7-2 in his career against 60 win teams in the playoffs. LeBron is currently just 3-4. And for all this talk about how Jordan never played anyone tough in the Finals (which is also bogus), let’s not forget how abominable the East has been since LeBron has been in the league. How many “great teams” has he faced? The ’08 Celtics were probably the best, and he lost that series. It’s why Jordan beat twenty 50 win teams in the playoffs, while LeBron has only knocked off 13 of them. The truth is, the overwhelming majority of the talent in the league has been in the Western Conference since LeBron’s career started. I’m not saying his 7 straight Finals appearances are unimpressive, but he certainly wouldn’t have been there that many times in a row if he had been playing in the West his entire career.
But Matt! JORDAN NEVER BEAT LARRY BIRD IN THE PLAYOFFS! No, he didn’t, but so what? When Jordan played the Celtics in ’86 and ’87 in the first round, after MJ, the Celtics probably had the five or six next best players in the series. If LBJ ever played a team like that and lost, the millennial fanboys would get on Twitter and rant and rave about how LeBron didn’t have enough help. And that’s what they would’ve done if he had lost this series too. And it’s not like Jordan played like garbage against the Celtics. I mean, he did drop 63 points, a playoff record, on the road against arguably the greatest team of all time, the ’86 Celtics, when he was just 23 years old. 
And those Bulls teams in the mid-80s weren’t close to being competent, and yet, had to exist in what was a significantly more difficult Eastern Conference than the one LeBron has played in. Which is why LeBron was able to take a pretty mediocre Cavs team to the ’07 Finals. The East was terrible that year! The best team (Detroit) had no future Hall of Famers (except for maybe a past his prime Rasheed Wallace), and their best defender for LeBron, Tayshaun Prince, couldn’t have guarded him even if he had a taser. Replace LeBron with young MJ, and Mike gets to the rim at will (like LeBron did) and takes the Cavs to the Finals.
BUT MATT!!!!!!!! LEBRON KILLS JORDAN STATISTICALLY!!! Does he? Here are Jordan’s career averages:
30.1 points, 5.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds, .8 blocks, 2.3 steals, 49.7% shooting, 32.7% three point shooting, 83.5% free throw shooting
And here’s LeBron’s:
27.2 points, 7.2 assists, 7.4 rebounds, .8 blocks, 1.6 steals, 50.4% shooting, 34.4% three point shooting, 73.9% free throw shooting
Wait a second… so LeBron is better because of two passes and one rebound? What? Jordan scores more, at virtually the exact same efficiency, and is better from the foul line. Exactly how does LeBron crush him?
Sure, I’ll concede LeBron will eventually pass all his totals, because he’s already played more games than Jordan did in his entire career. LeBron’s longevity is a point in his favor. 
Just for fun, let’s look at their playoff numbers:
33.4 points, 5.7 assists, 6.4 rebounds, .9 blocks, 2.1 steals, 48.7% shooting, 33.2% three point shooting, 82.8% free throw shooting
28.5 points, 6.9 assists, 8.9 rebounds, 1 block, 1.8 steals, 48.7% shooting, 33% three point shooting, 74.5% free throw shooting
Again, basically the same story. And when consider these stats:
Championships: Jordan 6, LeBron 3
Finals MVPs: Jordan 6, LeBron 3
Regular Season MVPs: Jordan 5, LeBron 4
Scoring Titles: Jordan 10, LeBron 1
First Team All Defense: Jordan 9 times, LeBron 5 times
League Leader in Steals: Jordan 3 times, LeBron 0 times
40 Point Playoff Games: Jordan 38, LeBron 22
50 Point Playoff Games: Jordan 8, LeBron 0
40 Point Regular Season Games: Jordan 173, LeBron 49
50 Point Regular Season Games: Jordan 30, LeBron 10
Again, LeBron got four years of his prime with Dwyane Wade, who is better than anyone Jordan ever played with, including Scottie Pippen. Why do I say this? Because in 2006, Wade was the best player on a Miami Heat team that won the title. Pippen was a fantastic player, but he was never that good. Kyrie Irving is a multi time All Star, and certainly a better offensive player than Dennis Rodman ever dreamed of being, and Toni Kukoc was so “good” that when he was the best player on the 1999 post-Jordan Bulls, the team went 13-37. Even Chris Bosh made multiple All Star teams before he teamed up with LeBron. The role players on both teams are basically a wash. No, LeBron never played on a team as talented as Bird’s Celtics or Magic’s Lakers, but let’s not act like his teammates have been a bunch of middle schoolers either. And don’t forget about this little nugget: in the shot clock era, there have been 12 teams that won the championship, despite the fact that they got less than 70 points per game on average combined from every other player outside the leading scorer for the entire playoffs. 5 of the 12 have been Jordan title teams. Only one was a LeBron team.
What about it? It’s not Jordan’s greatest moment, but he also hadn’t played serious basketball in a year and a half outside a 17 game warmup at the end of the ’95 season. He was rusty! Plus, the Bulls didn’t have anyone to deal with Shaq, as he just absolutely destroyed them. And it’s not like Jordan was awful in that series; he averaged 31 a game and shot 47.7%. Sure, Nick Anderson stripped him from behind at the end of Game 1, but I’d take Jordan’s performance in that series over LeBron’s no show in the 2011 Finals against Dallas, where he looked legitimately scared and allowed himself to be guarded by J.J. Berea and Jason Terry. Not great. He scored 18 points COMBINED in the 6 fourth quarters of the series, and made Skip Bayless’s “Chosen One turned into the Frozen One” routine look legitimate.
Unfortunately, we’ve reached a time where people either didn’t see Jordan play, or have forgotten just how good he was. I’m only 25, and was just five when MJ won his last title in Chicago. But I also have a respect for the history of the game, and I’ve done research, watched old games, and read a zillion basketball books. I’ve read about how scary Jordan was to his peers, how he intimidated his competition for a solid decade, and how he became the most famous person in every single room he walked into. No one in the league reveres LeBron that way. None of LeBron’s buzzer beaters will ever top Jordan’s one of over Craig Ehlo to win the series in the ’89 First Round, or his game winner in Game 1 of the ’97 Finals. LeBron will never, and has never, destroyed one of his peers the way Jordan did to Clyde Drexler in the ’92 Finals. He’ll never average 41 points per game in the Finals, like how Jordan did in the ’93 Finals. He’ll never go 72-10. And he’ll certainly never drag a tired and banged up team to a title virtually all by himself, the way MJ did during Game 6 of the ’98 Finals. Let’s just be honest; he isn’t Jordan, and he never will be.
Here’s some Jordan game footage for you guys. Watch the man work.
Jordan drops 44 points (30 in the second half!) and hits the game winner over Craig Ehlo

Jordan scores 55 points in Game 4 of the 1993 NBA Finals

Jordan destroys the Knicks for 54 points in Game 4 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals

Jordan drops 55 on the Bullets in Game 2 of their 1997 First Round Series.

Jordan hits six threes in the first half of Game 1 of the '92 Finals

Jordan's final game as a Bull. He goes for 45 points, and hits the title winning shot with a push off on Bryon Russell.