When LeBron James stopped on a dime, spun over his right shoulder and blew past Paul George for a game-winning layup on Wednesday night, he wasn't just giving the Miami Heat a 1-0 lead over the Indiana Pacers in their Eastern Conference finals matchup.
He was also proving Michael Jordan wrong—again.
When James received the inbound pass, George's momentary imbalance allowed James to drive to his left for the score. However, if Jordan's assessment of James' game had been correct, LeBron would have pulled up for a jumper rather than finishing at the rim.
Speaking with ESPN's Wright Thompson for a fantastic profile that ran earlier this year in celebration of MJ's 50th birthday, Jordan spoke at length about LeBron and how he would guard the four-time MVP if he were still playing.
"So if I have to guard him," Jordan said, "I'm gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he's gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he's going to the hole and I can't stop him. So I ain't letting him go right."
It seems His Airness' scouting report got back to James, and he made a point of addressing it in his meeting with the media on Thursday.
"That theory is wrong, I guess," James said (per ESPN's Brian Windhorst).
This isn't the first time James has responded to Jordan-related criticisms or comparisons. LeBron sent out a cryptic tweet in February to his eight-plus-million followers that made it clear he was looking to pave his own NBA legacy:
LeBron James @KingJames
I'm not MJ, I'm LJ2013-2-13 12:08:21
As noted by Windhorst, the stats are on James' side. According to Synergy Sports, which tracks each possession of every game for the NBA, James is quite adept at finishing when going to the left. He shot 56.3 percent in isolation situations when driving to the left, compared to a 48.5 percent success rate when going right.
James also tends to go left more than he does right. He made an astounding 76 percent of his shots in the restricted area during the regular season, the most among any player with at least 150 attempts, per NBA.com.
Though going left was a weak point earlier in his career, James expanded on his initial quote by saying that playing ambidextrously has been an emphasis dating back to his youth:
Frank Walker, my first basketball coach, taught me how to make a left-handed layup. He wouldn't let me dribble the ball until I got the steps down to make a left-handed layup consistently. We used to do it before practice every day. He always told me I'd be a much better player if I could make shots with both hands.
We all knew James was good and could finish with both hands. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this entire endeavor is that James heard Jordan's quotes in the first place and seems to have taken them to heart.
Throughout his career, Jordan was known for taking small slights and turning them into internal motivational ploys. The "Shrug Game" ended the Jordan vs. Clyde Drexler debate by itself, and his MVP losses to Charles Barkley and Karl Malone ended catastrophically for the two big men in the playoffs.
Maybe Jordan's jab at LeBron's left-handed drive game is working similarly for James. Either way, the Pacers learned the hard way not to cheat too far right on the planet's best player in Game 1.
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