LeBron James came into the league as one of the most-hyped prospects of the last 30 years. Though James lived up to every expectation he was faced with and more, one thing immediately distinguished James from his rivals: he dared to wear the number 23.
Once upon a time from 2003-2006, Carmelo Anthony was believed to be the better scorer, and Dwayne Wade was considered a bigger winner, but the mere fact that James dared to wear that number made him stand out even amongst colleagues like Anthony and Wade, bringing forth comparisons that could once be deemed blasphemous.
Fast forward to 2010.
LeBron James stands uncontested as the consensus greatest player alive…and the comparisons seem a lot less blasphemous.
Not nearly as much was expected of Derrick Rose. Prior to being knocked off by the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2005 playoffs, the Chicago Bulls’ most recent postseason moment involved Michael Jordan hitting the game-winning shot of the 1998 NBA Finals over Byron Russell.
The most groundbreaking moment for the Bulls since then involved the acquisition of Ben Wallace in 2006.
Considered to be a blockbuster move at the time, Wallace’s points, rebounds, and blocks all took a noticeable dip upon his arrival. Though Wallace did play a role in the team’s first (and only) playoff victory of the post-Jordan era, it wasn’t enough to propel the team back to contender status.
The next round, they were forced to bow out to the Pistons in six games.
When the Bulls entered the 2008 NBA Draft with a 1.7 percent chance to make the first pick, they miraculously won. With the selection of Rose, the Bulls became the team with the lowest odds of winning the draft to ever actually win the draft
Rose made an instant impact. Under his remarkable leadership, the team not only made the playoffs, but also pushed the then-defending World Champion Celtics to seven games in a series that featured seven overtimes.
Rose averaged over six rebounds and assists and better than 19 points per game on 49 percent shooting during in the series.
Now, he’s got another chance to shock the world.Make no mistake about it, LeBron James will lead his team to next round—probably, but I suppose none of this answers the title question.
In what way could Derrick Rose or even LeBron James vie for Jordan-level status in a first-round playoff series?
Well, for starters all of LeBron James’s accomplishments either rival Jordan’s now or eventually will, with the exception of one key category: championships.
LeBron has his second consecutive MVP award all but gift-wrapped, and he’s still only 25 years old.
How many more is he in store for?
Chicago-edition Jordan was 35 by the time he called it a career. Jordan had 14 years to gain all the accomplishments he did, and that’s counting his injury-riddled second season and his temporary retirement in ’93.
If James lasts as long as Jordan (a strong possibility given James’ extraordinary physique), there’s virtually no limit to what he can accomplish.
But if he wants to continue being hailed by the world as one of the greatest players of all time, he needs to win and win now.
Conversely, Rose faces little pressure. He’s already become the superstar the Bulls have yearning for since Jordan’s departure.
He may be light-years away from Jordan’s overall status, but when you watch him, you get the feel that you’re watching the beginning of something really special. Many of the NBA’s all-time greats started off as nuisances to the veteran-led teams above them.
Magic Johnson stole Julius Erving’s thunder in the Finals in 1980. From 1988-1991 Jordan was such a handful that the defensively specializing “Bad Boy” Pistons came up with a defensive strategy to specifically counteract him. Isiah Thomas of the same Pistons led the way against Larry Bird’s Celtics in five of the seven years after he was drafted in 1985, winning three of those series.
Rose has a ways to go before he can follow in the footsteps of the stars before him and capitalize on his humble beginnings but he’s made a hell of a start.
In his first two postseasons, both against 60+ win defensively oriented teams, Rose averages over five rebounds, seven assists, and 22 points per game on 48 percent shooting.
Just yesterday, behind a 31-point, seven-assist night, Rose led his Bulls over the heavily favored Cavaliers and will have a chance to tie the series at two wins apiece on Sunday.
So, yes, both James and Rose are trying to take a piece of Jordan’s pie.
Rose is trying to build upon his already considerable stature in the Bulls’ franchise, and James is trying to cement his status as the greatest player since Jordan—and maybe even become greater.
Neither will succeed in doing so from this series alone, but for whoever who wins, it will be a firm step in the right direction.