Growing up in Washington State in the 90’s there was only one basketball team to root for. The Seattle SuperSonics.
Led by their trash talking point guard Gary Payton and enforced by the Reign Man himself, Shawn Kemp, that 90’s Sonics team invented “Lob City” before Blake Griffin was learning how to do long division.
Every year they’d get to the playoffs, they’d make it deep, they’d run into the Stockton/Malone Jazz, and the one year they made it through the West, they ran into Michael Jordan. That era’s Eastern roadblock. The man responsible for leaving an entire generation of greats wandering the corridors of the Hall of Fame like Gollum looking for a ring he’ll never get.
During the 90’s I didn’t appreciate Jordan. I watched from afar, annoyed by the off balance fade away jumpers that always went in, irritated that they got Dennis Rodman, when they were already so good. I never appreciated him until he was already gone.
I remember those early 2000’s, like some sad desert animal searching the sands for water, the league had no face. Shaq was dominating the league, a young kid named Kobe was showing you he was for real, and doing his best MJ impersonation.
The truth is though, after Michael won that last trophy with the Bulls the league had a bit of a problem. Who was the heir? Dominant centers come and go, they get injured, or in Shaq’s case, they get fat and slow and injured. Kobe and the Lakers did headline the era of 2000-2010 without a doubt. They won 5 championships, they were the dominant force in the Western conference and appeared contenders every year, but it was like the sequel to the Bulls era.
The plot seemed similar, the main character was a rip-off and it even had a Phil Jackson cameo, but in the end it just wasn’t quite as good as the original.
Michael Jordan never scored fewer than 15 points in a playoff game.
LeBron James has 6 such games in his career, all losses. pic.twitter.com/TP5GP9xUoK
— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) May 22, 2017
Along the way came a kid from Akron, Ohio named LeBron James. A talent like we’d never seen before; the quickness and skill of Jordan, the passing of Magic, the size of Karl Malone, and the IQ of Isiah Thomas. As if he’d been created in a lab by the basketball Gods. As ESPN magazine put a 16-year-old on the cover of their magazine we all thought, if he is half what we think he is going to be, he is going to be special.
14 years later, it’s safe to say he has been all we thought he’d be, and much, much more.
When I watch LeBron now, most of the time the things he does don’t even jump out at me because I’ve seen them so many times before. His brilliance is so consistent, sometimes when he makes a cross court bounce pass between 4 defenders that lands right where Kevin Love wants it, I have to double take and just smile as Love drains the three and points at James who is backpedaling nonchalantly, already planning his next attack.
Only because I’m sick of the “Jordan never had a bad playoff game like LeBron” crowd: pic.twitter.com/JV273S5mr4
— Damon Amendolara (@DAonCBS) May 23, 2017
Sometimes when I’m watching him press the ball up the court with speed rivaled only by John Wall or Russell Westbrook I forget that he’s a true 6’8”, I forget until he jumps over the opposing teams center and dunks the ball with fury, the defender left with two options, foul him hard and send him to the line for an and-one, or just get out of the way and hope you don’t end up on a poster.
The debate comes up this time of year every year. LeBron or Jordan?
Look, if you want to use rings as the measurement, Jordan wins, and he will always win, 6-0 is never changing now. However, if you look at the games for themselves, I just don’t think it’s an argument for one main reason; Jordan is not as big as LeBron. Jordan could guard 3 positions, 2 well. LeBron can guard 5 positions, and in today’s league, he guards all 5 well. LeBron is a superior passer, rebounder and defender in my opinion.
Yesterday proves LeBron James is the only challenger to Michael Jordan as 🐐 pic.twitter.com/WA3cUrotdO
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) May 22, 2017
He will never be the clutch shooter that Jordan was, he will never be the pure scorer that Jordan was, and he will never be able to take back 4 losses in the finals, or however many it may be by the end of his career.
I don’t think the debate should be whether James is better than Jordan, I think the debate is whether James has had the same lasting impression on the league as Jordan did.
That argument I think is easy to make. In 50 years I will tell my grandchildren about how I watched the greatest basketball player to ever play, dominate the league. Just like my Grandpa told me about Wilt Chamberlin, and just like my uncles talk about Jordan and Magic.
Remember when Michael Jordan did this in the Eastern Conference Finals? Bad games happen. pic.twitter.com/zQs6Cx5htR
— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) May 22, 2017
When Jordan was done playing I promised myself the next time a once in a generation type player came around I would stop my biases or team alliances and I would appreciate that player, I’d watch the games and I’d watch them dominate.
Well he’s dominating, and I’m appreciating every second of it.