On the July 6 episode of ESPN's sports talk program First Take, the panel discussed LeBron James' new SLAM Magazine cover. On the cover, James is depicted triumphantly raising his arms (one holding his finals MVP trophy) with the headline "Hi Haters." For James fans and supporters, it was both validation and vindication for James and the proudest professional moment for a player who has been so maligned for never having won a title before.
However, for some on the First Take panel, namely Rob Parker, James' support of the cover via a tweet where he described the cover as "epic," was plenty of reason to call James out for being too sensitive to media scrutiny.
"I absolutely hate this cover because it shows how sensitive LeBron has been about his entire journey," said Parker. "I remember when Michael Jordan won his first title, he was criticized too, but he didn't let the critics effect him the way James does."
When Israel Gutierrez brings up Jordan's Hall-of-Fame induction speech, where Jordan spent part of the time blasting some of his critics, Parker immediately changed the subject and continued his rant about James' oversensitivity.
Parker's words were also echoed by Charles Barkley last season on The Dan LeBatard Show, when he called out both Heat players and fans for being too concerned with what their critics were saying.
Now, I'm in no position to question Parker's credentials as a journalist or sports expert. But my knowledge of the Michael Jordan era during his run with the Bulls both before and after NBA Finals success were filled with incidents that confirm Jordan's sensitivity to criticism. These were incidents that went unmentioned in Parker's assessment of Jordan's "thick skin."
Back in 1997, Jeff Van Gundy was coaching the New York Knicks (this was before ankle weight-gate and the Charlie Ward-P.J. Brown brawl). Prior to a game against the Bulls, he sounded off about how he felt that Jordan sought to befriend players before he tried to destroy them on the court. He even added that Jordan was a "con man" for good measure.
Jordan would go on to light the Knicks up for 51 points and offer some parting words in Van Gundy's ear as he sauntered off. Obviously, the media portrayed Jordan's response as "seeking motivation to give himself an edge."
Ironically, this was similar to a recent statement Skip Bayless made about LeBron James in the NBA Finals. Bayless said that the reason James won the finals was because his friendship with Durant made Durant less aggressive in the mental and physical approach against James.
James barely gave these words a second thought, knowing that quite frankly criticizing LeBron James is essentially Bayless' meal ticket at this point. However, contrast that with Jordan's angry 51-point game, harsh words at Van Gundy and a later mention during his Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech when Jordan unloaded on several of his critics including Van Gundy.
Michael Jordan was one of the greatest players of all time and I can say pretty confidently, as a Heat fan, that James will probably never eclipse Jordan's global impact on the NBA. But to say that Jordan "didn't care what people said about him" absolutely ignores NBA History to an embarrassing degree.
One moment during his Hall of Fame speech he criticizes former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. Bulls fans are very familiar with the statements and decisions Krause made during the Bulls' second 3-peat between 1996-98, and he was often blamed for breaking the Bulls up early and forcing Phil Jackson, Jordan and Scottie Pippen to leave Chicago.
But why is Jordan bringing up a statement that Krause made 11-years earlier ("organizations win titles") during one of the proudest moments of his post-playing life? Why is he still hanging onto this now? Can you image what the media would say if James brought up a statement made about him when he was still in high school? Parker and Bayless would be yelling from the rooftops about James' thin skin.
Another incident was also in 1997. Jordan was set to play the Seattle SuperSonics in a regular season game and Sonics coach George Karl said that Jordan "had become a jump shooter and was afraid of contact" In other words, Jordan could not handle physical play. Not surprisingly, Jordan had a huge 45-point game and said that "[Karl] wouldn't make statements like that if I played for the Sonics."
LeBron James admitted that in his first season with the Miami Heat, facing an unprecedented barrage of criticism, that he was listening too much to what people were saying. That desire to prove the critics wrong definitely impacted his play in last year's finals. This season was a different story. James even said after the finals that this season he made the conscious effort to block out what the detractors were saying and focus just on why he needs to do to help his team win.
Even on Jordan's worst day, he never experienced the level of sustained blasting that James has.
Sure Jordan had his critics. But once he won the title in 1991, he was given the credit and respect from the media and proclaimed the "best player on the planet" without a single "but" coming afterward. James is in the same position Jordan was in 1991, and is still facing criticism for liking a magazine cover story about him.
Jordan may have been the best player ever, but one wonders how he would have responded to the level of sustained criticism that James still endures, especially considering how he is still angry about comments made by Krause and Van Gundy years ago.
After 10 years of endless criticisms, James has finally learned to block it all out. Jordan brought his grievances with him to his Hall of Fame speech to settle old scores.
I think right now one could argue that Jordan leads James in another statistical category: Sensitivity.