As LeBron James embarks on his journey for a third championship ring, the similarities between he and Michael Jordan have never been fewer. James – the Jordan for this generation of millennials who are too young to remember “The Shrug” or the tongue and the 38 points in 44 minutes with the flu in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals – just accomplished something MJ never did in his illustrious career: LeBron is about to appear in the NBA Finals for the 6th consecutive season. Impressive? Without question. Historic? Definitely. Incredibly difficult and exhausting? No doubt.
LeBron deserves the praise he will receive for this accomplishment, and he deserves all other praise for his overall game and countless other record-setting, game-changing achievements over the course of his historically great career.
But as LeBron’s accolades grow and, even, surpass Jordan is some realms, I’m more confident than ever that James is not on Jordan’s level. A guy like LeBron James cannot be the face of the NBA and cannot hold the title of greatest player of all-time.
Take all of what I’m saying with the understanding that I’m a Detroit Pistons fan. I was a Pistons fan in the late 80s and early 90s and still a Pistons fan at the turn of the century. So of course, I have really never been in love with LeBron James – similarly I was never ever ever ever anything close to being a fan of Michael Jordan’s. But I think my allegiance to the Pistons allows me to compare these 2 all-time greats with the same cynical, envious eye.
I dislike LeBron for some of the same reasons I despised Jordan – Detroit rival, took over the league at a time when the Pistons were at the top, always getting the calls. A lot of jealousy and anger because the Pistons were about to take a back seat – as was most of the league. But that’s a fan for you.
Michael was mostly unlikeable to me because he couldn’t lose. He was as clutch as anyone who’s ever laced up a pair of, um well Jordans. And I hated every minute of it. Even when the Pistons “Bad Boy” Era faded away, I found myself actively rooting for anyone else to take down Jordan and the Bulls – Reggie Miller and the Pacers; the Knicks with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and John Starks; Stockton and Malone’s Jazz. I was tired of seeing Michael win.
The difference between the two – and depending on who you speak to, there are many – is one big thing and it’s the complete, number one, without-a-doubt reason that I can’t get with LeBron: maturity. I know what you’re saying – that’s the reason???!!! If it boils down to one word, then, yes – maturity is it.
I think back to how Michael behaved. He was no angel on the court. He did his share of tugging at the officials’ shirtsleeves and getting them to give him the benefit of the doubt. He pushed off – just ask Bryon Russell. He worked the refs. But that’s what stars do. The NBA is a players’ league – more specifically, it’s a superstars’ league. That’s just how it is.
So sure, LeBron does the same things MJ did and he does the same things his peers do – Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook. They all get the calls more often than not – they know it, we know it, and it’s ok. They should get the calls – fans pay to see those guys play and no one wants any of those guys anywhere but on the court. But what I’m talking about goes much deeper than just getting the superstar treatment on the floor. The immaturity I’m talking about is more in how LeBron behaves and how he responds when he gets caught being immature.
LeBron flops and then in postgame interviews says he has never flopped. He brings the circus to town when he travels from city to city when free agency comes calling. He takes a dive in a game when no one even touches him – then when asked afterwards if he was trying to embellish the call on the floor, he denies, denies, denies.
Time and time again, I get the feeling none of us know the real LeBron James. (Not that we really know who any of these athletes are deep down in their personal lives.) But more telling, I don’t think LeBron really knows who he is – and if he does, I don’t think he’s comfortable with it. That’s why he denies things that are silly to deny. That’s why he calls out his teammates in social media but then never really acknowledges doing it. That’s why he left Cleveland, then left Miami, and then, ultimately, returned to Cleveland. That’s why no coach really seems to be comfortable coaching James; in turn, that’s why James always is trying to run out his coaches only to, yep that’s right, deny it when pressed by reporters.
The LeBron-MJ comparisons have gone on since before James was drafted by the Cavs. But no matter how many titles James ends his phenomenal career with or how many MVPs he collects, he’s not like Michael. His game is close, but who James is differs greatly from Jordan. Maybe deep down James is more like Mike than we think – but we’ll never know because LeBron doesn’t know either.