I can live with someone accusing LeBron James of attempting to boost jersey sales. I can live with someone expressing disappointment with LeBron for not keeping the number that’s become so integrated into his personality and flair.
I cannot live with someone equating either Julius Erving or Bill Russell to Michael Jordan.
Russell’s 11 championships came from a league offering eight total teams. Yes, Russell was a great player, and he deserves his due respect—but no, he is not in the iconic category of Michael Jordan.
First, Jordan dominated in a league much greater in team quantity and talent than the one Russell picked clean.
Second, when placed into its proper context, 11 championships against seven opponents doesn’t equate to the highest scoring average in NBA history (particularly considering the fact that his average was marred by his stint in Washington), the spearheading of the most winning season in the history of the NBA, or the distinction of being the only player in the history of the game with a defensive player of the year and a scoring champion award in his resume.
Dr. J’s success is also dwarfed by Jordan’s.
The good doctor lost twice in the NBA Finals, once sporting a 2-0 lead over the Portland Trailblazers and later against a Lakers team missing star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the deciding Game Six.
Jordan never lost in the Finals—no matter who he played, no matter who was injured, no matter what.
Accomplishments aside, Jordan is hands-down the most electrifying player to touch a ball of any shape. Period.
Neither Dr. J nor Russell revolutionized or popularized the game the way Jordan did. Hell, the man hasn’t been in a playoff series in more than a decade and you still can’t walk through a basketball court without seeing his merchandise.
Russell was given his respect when the NBA Finals MVP award was named in his honor, and Dr. J remains one of the most iconic players in Sixers history.
But at the end of the day, both were merely great players—not the greatest.
All due to respect to both, nobody looks for the next Dr. J or Bill Russell.
People have been trying to anoint a new Michael Jordan practically since the final buzzer in Game Six of the ’98 Finals.
If LeBron wants the league to retire the number of the greatest player in its history, so be it. As amazing as LeBron has become, even he still pays ultimate homage to His Airness.
So should you.