LeBron James Could Be Next Michael Jordan: Why Scottie Pippen Is Right

Blair ChopinContributor IIIMay 27, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 26: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat celebrates after the Heat won 83-80 against the Chicago Bulls in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 26, 2011 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

There are sporting conversations that are not even worth having.

The conversation about whether someone will ever break Joe DiMaggio's 55-game hit streak in baseball; the conversation about if a pitcher will ever win over 30 games again; the conversation about if a coach will ever win over 10 titles again; the depressing conversation about whether we will ever have a playoff in college football; and the conversation about whether another athlete will ever sleep with more women than Tiger Woods or Wilt Chamberlain did. 

These conversations are not worth having because we have convinced ourselves that, logically, no one will break these records, no one will accomplish these feats, no coach will win that many titles, no college president would be unselfish enough to allow a playoff and no other athlete will be able to do what Wilt and Tiger did as many times as they did.

Another conversation that we used to throw into the "not even worth discussing" category was "Will we ever see another player as good as Michael Jordan?."

It just seemed like a stupid question.  It was a stupid question because we had never seen a player that had as many career-defining moments as Michael, as much marketability as Michael, as much determination as Michael and not even close to as much talent as MJ. 

All of the players we proclaimed as the next Jordan failed miserably.

We realized that Vince Carter would miss a whole season if he had the flu; that Allen Iverson did not even practice when Jordan was the greatest practice player ever; that Kobe Bryant killed his whole career by trying to be Jordan; that Grant Hill was too injury prone; that Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were just marketable to their cities; and that Tracy McGrady was one of the most underachieving players in the history of the NBA.

After a while, the search for the next Jordan became as stupid as searching for the next Beatles. 

So after about 2004 or 2005, we just started ignoring every great basketball player's achievements by saying that they "would never be Jordan" or that "Jordan would have done that better."  

It was almost like this new generation of NBA players was suffocating under the fact that they were not Michael Jordan: They were not chronically competitive; they were not compulsive gamblers; they did not practice everyday like it was their last; they did not stick their tongues out more than a drunk Gene Simmons; and most of their shoe deals were done under the table. 

The truth is that as long as NBA players strived to be Michael Jordan they would end up underachieving and crumbling under the weight of insane expectations.  The only way basketball fans were ever going to have a chance to compare someone to Jordan is if we saw a player who had just as much talent that seemed desperate to make his own mark. 

After Thursday night's Eastern Conference final game, we all wanted to say it but were sort of scared to.  After LeBron James almost single-handedly took a 15-point lead away from MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, we wanted to say that this was something that "Jordan would do."

We all felt sort of guilty and disrespectful doing it, but we knew that for the first time since Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, we were witnessing not only basketball greatness but a transcendent basketball moment.  We knew that this was a player with just as much talent as Jordan putting a banged-up team on his back and carrying them to the NBA Finals.  

It took one of Jordan's former teammates to remind us that it was OK to compare players to Michael.  It took one of Jordan's former teammates to remind us that it is OK to realize when a transcendent basketball moment is happening.  It just depends on our individual mindset to determine how long it takes us to decide that he might actually be right.

"Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game," said Scottie Pippen.  "But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game".  

The whole nation scoffed at Pippen as if he was crucifying not only his teammate but the greatest basketball player of all time; like Pippen was crossing the invisible line; like Pippen did not know that we stopped comparing basketball players to Jordan in 2005; like Pippen did not see Jordan play for all of these years. 

But anyone who watched LeBron single-handedly take his team to the NBA Finals last night knows that they have not seen a performance quite like this since Jordan many years ago.  These people are just in denial because of the perceived selfishness of "The Decision," the perceived flaws in LeBron's basketball game and how LeBron supposedly underachieved in Cleveland

Because of LeBron's supposedly egomaniacal "Decision," LeBron's supposedly flawed game and his "constant underachieving," he cannot be compared to who we have already decided is the greatest basketball player ever.

The first thing you will hear the Jordan people say is that "Jordan would never have sold his legacy like LeBron did when he went to Miami."  It can be argued that the only reason Jordan did not sell his legacy like LeBron did is because his team began to acquire really good players and solid role players. 

What if Scottie Pippen did not join the Bulls in the 1987-1988 season?  Would Jordan not then be tempted to join forces with another star player?  People just perceive that Jordan was going to stay in Chicago no matter what under the false logic that he could carry any bunch of scrubs to a world championship. 

In actuality, Jordan spent the first seven years of his career frustrated and without a title.  You know who spent their first seven years in Cleveland without a title?  LeBron James.

A thing that also gets lost in the constant drooling over Michael Jordan's greatness is that he did have some moments that can be considered as a lot more selfish than LeBron's "Decision."

After Jordan's first three-peat, he just decided to leave the sport and his teammates to go play baseball for a couple of years.  He may have gotten a little bit of a pass because of his name, but if LeBron were to do this selfish of a move today, he would have been crucified by the press. 

Jordan left his teammates and even left the game for reasons we still do not really know and got little flack for this action. 

For more of the "more selfish than Bron Bron" Michael, we can look no further than the book The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith.  This book characterizes Jordan as an egomaniacal jerk, a terrible teammate and someone who might have actually kept his team from winning in his early years. 

LeBron, on the other hand, is considered one of the better teammates in the league and the only thing people think has cost James titles is the crappy supporting casts he had in Cleveland.  And last I checked, James was not the GM of those teams—even though they would probably be better off if he was.

As good of a basketball player as Jordan was, his game did have flaws—like LeBron's game also has flaws.  Their has never been a basketball player that has every aspect of his game down to perfection (unless we went on a night out with Wilt). 

Even the great players have flaws but the key point here is that LeBron's game might actually have less flaws than Jordan's game.  LeBron can be considered a better passer and better rebounder right now than Jordan at his peak.  LeBron is slowly becoming just as good of a closer as Jordan was and is turning into just as good of a leader. 

So while LeBron's game still has flaws (can we get a jump shot? Can I buy a post game?), it may actually have less flaws than Jordan's game in Jordan's prime. 

The people who say that Jordan would have won a title with LeBron's supporting cast in Cleveland are completely wrong.  LeBron had one of the worst supporting casts we have ever seen surrounding a star player (it's pretty bad when these people have to resort to the "Kobe won three titles with Shaq and LeBron did not get one!" argument) and the Cavaliers this year were a complete disaster without him.

Compare this to Jordan's teams in Chicago who went deep into the playoffs while Jordan was off playing baseball.  So Jordan's team without him is deep in the playoffs and LeBron's team without him is going to have the first and fourth picks in the NBA draft

So how would Jordan have magically won tittles with LeBron's supporting cast in Cleveland?  How can anyone say that LeBron's supporting cast in Cleveland was even close to as good as Jordan's was in Chicago? 

So now the only thing LeBron James is missing from eclipsing Jordan is NBA titles.  It is crazy to say that LeBron cannot win more titles than Jordan in the next 10 years.  With the NBA turning into a league with just three to four powerhouses instead of 15 to 16 solid teams, the Heat will be one of the clear favorites every year. 

The Heat will also continue to add talent around Wade and James and this could turn into a dynasty.  The Heat could easily win eight titles in the next 10 years, LeBron could easily add five more MVPs and by the end of his career, James could have better statistics than Jordan. 

So why can't LeBron be a better player than Jordan eventually?

Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak may never be broken; we may never see another pitcher win more than 30 games; we may never see an NBA coach win titles like Phil Jackson did with the Bulls and the Lakers; we may never see a college football playoff; and no one will ever do the "extracurricular activities" like Tiger and Wilt did. 

But 10 years from now, LeBron James might end up being the greatest basketball player ever—whether we like it or not...


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