Being a legend means more than just winning. It's more than athletic ability, accurate jump shots, and winning titles.
It's how you act.
It's being humble when you could scream that you are the best in the world. It's caring about the game you play so much, and that you would never harm. It's upholding what it means to be an honorable player and living up to both your name and your word, not because it's all you have, but because you have fans.
You have children who look up to you, teenagers that thrive on your every move, adults that escape into the thrill that is each moment of your glory. It's because of this, because of these people, that you have to be more.
Michael Jordan was everything. When Michael retired, every time he retired, he held a small press conference and then he hung his Air Jordans on the door on the way out.
When Michael came back, all he said was "I'm back" and the world's media came alive to the tune of what it means to see His Airness do it again. He didn't create the spectacle because he could. All he did was announce his return.
And ever since then, we've been waiting and praying for that combination of jaw-dropping basketball ability and class. That legendary icon who would be the Air Apparent to the man most see as the greatest player of all time.
Most people LeBron James was that new icon. In fact, if you tried to tell them otherwise, you'd have a hard fought debate. Yet James has yet to win a championship.
He was so good in the eyes of many that he was already there and his story was perfect, every bit as good as Jordan's was. All he needed was the hardware.
And then the circus came to town.
LeBron's fans watched in horror as team after team fed "The King's" ego, which grew to mythic sizes. In fact, I hear Japan's on high alert to watch out for that ego, as it could rise from the depths at any time and destroy the city.
His self-image reached such a point that he even needed an hour long national media coverage special to deliver news which most athletes do either at a small press conference or via fax.
It was unreal. It was a spectacle. It was everything Jordan would have never done. Not only that, James was no longer a leader, instead he was following others on a path to the hardware he needed to pass Jordan's legend.
And in doing so, Jordan remains both "The King" and "His Airness" as well as the greatest of all time, no matter what James does now.
Just like that, the debate's over.
But to those of you who are disillusioned and thought that LeBron was better than this, more than this, I remind you that he's seldom had the class and distinction of a true leader.
Think back to the 2009 playoffs. Remember how he walked off court, beaten and bitter, and didn't shake his opponent's hands. It was small, but people noticed. And people noticed because even Kobe Bryant, with his previously thought to be biggest-ego-of-all-time, shakes your hand if you win. That's just etiquette, no matter how massive your ego may be.
Not only that, but James doesn't follow through with the things he says he will do. If you say you'll be in the 2010 dunk competition and your fans sit on the edge of their seat for a year waiting for the event, it behooves you to be in that competition.
Showing another juvenile, not-quite-Michael-Jordan, chink in his armor, James told the world emphatically that he would be in the 2010 competition during the 2009 all-star weekend, overshadowing some of that year's events to steal the spotlight for himself and, just before the event this last year, he quietly bows out with little said, aside from a very brief press statement.
His desire to be center stage made yet another classless show on stage.
Yes, he dunks well in games, he plays well, he may even win his first title next year in Miami's version of the big three - but this guy's legend will never overshadow Michael Jordan's.
Michael stood up before anyone who wanted to compete against him and, in the end, he was always the heroic icon. Win, lose, or draw, if Michael lost, he'd shake the hand of the day's victor, look them in the eye, and pay them the respect which a winner in a competition deserves.
He had to, they beat his team, it was only natural he pay them respect. If he said he'd be there to compete for something, even if he might lose, he was there.
What would Michael's legend be if he hadn't faced off the second time with Dominic Wilkins? What would his legend be if she stormed off the arena floor after losing to the Pistons in 1990 or to the Magic in 1995? Would Larry Bird, one of the NBA's greatest legends, have compared Michael with God if he had snubbed him at the end of the game?
I'm sorry, LeBron. I was a fan of your game, but your character leaves a lot to be desired. I don't recall Michael ever holding Chicago hostage an entire season with rumors of taking his career to New York, or holding a nationally televised event to tell everyone he would be doing anything.
The problem is, once you've done things like this, it's impossible to undo them when it comes to people looking back and remembering you.
Sure you'll have the hardware, but the legend - the legend you wanted to build - is dead.
Long Live King Jordan.
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