Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – Thanks to helping the Los Angeles Lakers securing their 17th NBA title and his fourth ring, it is time for the haters and critics to give LeBron James his damn respect.
In a post-game celebration speech shortly after being named NBA Finals MVP for the fourth time—joining Michael Jordan–as well as joining current teammate Danny Green, Robert Horry and John Salley to win titles with three different franchises, James called out his critics—as well as MJ fanboys—in demanding some respect.
In becoming the first player to ever win Finals MVP for three different franchises—Lakers (2020), Heat (2012 and 2013) and Cavaliers (2016) – James averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists.
With all due respect, if you’re a Jordan fan reading this—your boy has some company in the G.O.A.T. conversation. It’s time to stop living in denial.
While I’m fairly sure that you’ll cling to Jordan’s perfect 6-0 mark, while watching the Netflix tour de force documentary, The Last Dance for the umpteenth time, even you have to admit that what The King has done is nothing short of impressive and cannot be dismissed or ignored.
Listen. I get it. I understand that many of you want to eternally cling to the notion that your hero is immortal and can never be supplanted.
And yes, 6-0 vs. 4-6 isn’t exactly a fair comparison, but the eras are different.
Like you, I already know all the facts, stats and numbers where MJ holds the edge in terms of rings (6-4), NBA MVP’s (5-4), Finals MVP (6-4), scoring titles (10-1), All-Defensive (9-6) and Defensive Player of The year (1-0).
However—and I’m NOT disputing this at all—but while Jordan was the all-time greatest assassin and stone-cold killer to ever set foot on the hard wood, while Jordan was more of a cutt-throat scorer, James has always been more of a facilitator in choosing to defer to his teammates and letting the game come to him in various spots.
James edges Jordan in points (34,241-32,292), rebounds (9,405-6,672), assists (9,346-5,633), playoff points (7,491-5,987), rebounds (2,348-1,152), assists (1,871-1,022) and game-winning buzzer-beaters (5-3), LBJ edges MJ out in All-NBA selections (16-11), All-Star selections (16-14) and is tied with Jordan in All-Star MVP’s with three each.
LBJ didn’t need to be a ball-hog or need a special set of “rules’” that Jordan got back in his day, either.
Cull from all the minute data above, and all of us will cherry-pick various stats to make our own pro MJ-LBJ arguments.
Winning a title ain’t easy, but winning a title in the age of free agency, player movement in forming super teams, supermax contracts, and especially during a global pandemic in 2020, in unique circumstances during COVID, puts LBJ on even par with his Airness.
While Jordan helped lead the second-greatest NBA team ever in the 72-win Bulls, James led his hometown Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit on the road in a Game 7 vs. the first-ever unanimous MVP and a 73-win Warriors team in 2016.
Perhaps that’s the Cleveland sports homer coming out in me, but facts are facts, and that cannot be denied.
I’ll concede that Jordan broke my heart with ‘The Shot’ and his Bulls teams regularly defeating my beloved Cavs, but at the same time, I can say that while James broke both mine and my city’s heart in deciding to take his talents to South Beach, MJ doesn’t deserve to get a pass for his first “retirement” due to his well-publicized gambling and various off-the-court issues, to play baseball.
The same people who hate on James for jumping teams to chase rings need to look in the mirror in how Jordan suddenly—and abruptly quit—on the Bulls.
Those are F-A-C-T-S. Don’t @ me.
It was the way that James left that made him a reviled villain, but it was also the way he redeemed himself in besting Steph Curry and silencing the Oracle in Oakland that cemented his legacy.
With all due respect, and not to disrespect the great organization that is the “Heat Culture”, and the dysfunctional lottery-bound one in the Cavaliers, but winning titles in Miami and Cleveland are one thing, but you win a title wearing the Lakers storied purple and gold, it’s a wrap.
Other than perhaps their long-time rivals and hated nemesis’ from Boston, no other franchise oozes tradition, titles and championships like the Lakers.
Arguably, the league’s most storied and iconic franchise and brand, James helping the Lakers claim their 17th title is akin to winning a World Series wearing the fabled pinstripes of the New York Yankees, and adds that extra “extra” of winning one in L.A.
Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is a great city that is a proud sports town, and has produced some great ballers, but it doesn’t beat LA. Aside from beating the Lakers in ‘91, Los Angeles is hoops heaven, where the stars come out, you go for a show, you got to be seen to be seen at, and when you have a franchise that EASILY lays claim to roughly a quarter of the game’s greatest 100 players ever beginning with George Mikan all the way to The Logo, Wilt, Magic, Kareem, Shaq and the late Kobe, you’re not even considered a true “Laker” until you win at least one title.
L.A. loves winners. Facts. Bottom line. Period.
Chicago was considered an NBA backwater barely drawing 9,000 at the old Chicago Stadium before the Bulls drafted MJ in ‘84. The Lakers were just coming off getting destroyed by the hated Celtics at the same time, but has already won two of the five titles in—1980 and 1982—that they’d claim in the decade.
While Jordan had the tougher road in playing in the more physical NBA with hard fouls, hand-checking and the rugged play of the Bad Boys, James played in a more shooting-three point friendly age of softness, The Warriors dynasty and the Gregg Popovich Spurs led by Tim Duncan, Tony Park and Manu Ginobili.
This debate will be one that rages for years, and well beyond this column. Both players have their dedicated and hard-core group of fans. While i will concede that Jordan is the G.O.A.T.—provisionally—LeBron doing what he did for the Lakers keeps the LBJ-MJ debate going a bit longer, and if he wins another two or three, then all hops fans will HAVE to revisit the topic sooner than they want to.