Many thought this day would never come, until about three minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 5 between the Thunder and Heat. James and Bosh checked out, heading to the bench. He removed his headband, looked up to see the score and time remaining on the JumboTron and the realization hit everyone: The King has a ring.
Now that James has one under his belt, the expectations will kick into motion to live up to the predicted "not one, not two, not three…" championships at the beginning of last season. While a number of those criticizing him have been silenced, many will not rest until he passes or matches those won by Michael Jordan.
Seemingly, LeBron James is the only player who has been compared to Jordan’s accolades in a detrimental fashion, rather than one of basketball lore. Many wish to see Kobe Bryant to win another ring to match Jordan’s six, yet not in the subjective treatment James receives.
In a sense, it is unwarranted. People should not be so quick to compare achievements, but simultaneously, it is necessary. The following attempts to analyze the intertwined paths of LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
Jordan came into the league in 1984, drafted third overall behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. Many criticized the Portland Trailblazers for leaving Jordan and taking Bowie, but with Clyde Drexler already on the roster, it was a move that made sense.
He asserted himself as one of the best scorers in the game, averaging better than 28 points per game through his first eight seasons, excluding his sophomore year in which he broke his foot.
Prior to winning his first championship, Jordan accumulated two regular-season MVP awards, an All-Star Game MVP award, a Defensive Player of the Year award, the NBA Rookie of the Year award, seven All-Star selections, five All-NBA First Team selections, an All-NBA Second Team selection, four All-NBA Defensive First Team selections, an All-Rookie First Team selection, five scoring titles, two steals titles and two Slam Dunk Contest titles.
For a seven-year veteran, these are astonishing accolades. His individual accomplishments were spectacular in their own right, but Jordan was yet to encounter team success, being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round three consecutive seasons.
It wasn’t until the arrival and development of Scottie Pippen that Jordan and the Bulls were able to make the leap into the NBA’s elite teams.
After facing and being defeated by the Detroit Pistons in back-to-back-to-back postseasons, Chicago played them once again in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. The fourth time was the charm as they were able to surpass them, forcing one of the worst shows of sportsmanship seen in the NBA.
The Pistons left the court before the final buzzer, heading to the locker room without shaking the hands of any Chicago players, as the Bulls swept the series. They went on to defeat the LA Lakers, securing the first title of the premier ‘three-peat’.
LeBron James had a similar road to his first championship. Drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, he immediately made an impact. He became the best all-around player the NBA had seen in years, averaging 27.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists for his career.
Prior to holding the Larry O’Brien trophy above his head last week, James secured three regular-season MVP awards, two All-Star MVP awards, the NBA Rookie of the Year award, eight All-Star selections, six All-NBA First Team selections, two All-NBA Second Team selections, four NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, a NBA All-Rookie First Team selection and a scoring title.
Just like Jordan, James has gathered some serious NBA honors that will look terrific on his resume when he retires.
However, his struggles were well documented.
Despite leading the Cavs to five Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, two Eastern Conference Finals and one trip to the NBA Finals, James and his team couldn’t take the next step to a championship.
Much like MJ’s struggles against the Pistons, the Boston Celtics were James’ kryptonite. It wasn’t until joining Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat that James was able to exorcize his demons and defeat the Celtics. It is through this, that James and Jordan walk the same path.
Both of these two extraordinary players are completely different in their own right.
Jordan is the most efficient and prolific scorer the NBA has ever seen, dominating his opponent on both ends of the floor. James is the second coming of Magic Johnson; the size of a big man, but a playmaker at heart. He is almost a combination of Johnson and Jordan in a sense, as he is a much better scorer than Johnson was.
However, despite their individual successes and failures, they ultimately could not secure a championship without assistance. The two both needed someone who could unquestionably lead a team by themselves, yet could also play a secondary role. Jordan had Pippen, and now James has Wade.
Their positions might be different, but their responsibilities as the ‘sidekick’ are identical.
Not only does this eradicate the premise that a player should win a championship as the only star, but that it is almost impossible to do so.
Every great player has had an equally great teammate or two. Russell had Cousy and Havlicek, Abdul-Jabbar had Johnson, Bird had McHale and Parish, Jordan had Pippen, Duncan had Ginobili and Parker, O’Neal had Bryant and Bryant had Gasol, and now James has Wade and Bosh.
It is said the first championship is the hardest to win. If that is the case, James may very well be on his way to winning multiple titles before his career is over. Jordan secured his first ring at age 28, while LeBron nabbed his at age 27.
It is too cliché to predict this as the second coming of Jordan, but their personal accolades and their respective courses to the ultimate NBA prize are practically identical. Personal victories before team successes. To be selective and point out one particular instance: Jordan carried his team to a championship while Pippen battled back problems. James did the same this season, with Wade hobbling on an injured knee and Bosh combating an abdominal strain.
While it was Jordan’s sixth and this was James’ first, it could very well serve as a legendary connection: Jordan leading the Bulls to his last title, James leading the Heat to his first while the supporting cast was battered and bruised. It certainly sounds like it.
Only time will tell how many titles LeBron James will secure when it’s all said and done.