Last night’s fourth-quarter collapse serves as an instant reminder as to why LeBron James will never be Michael Jordan. Remember, Jordan’s Bulls were part of a monumental collapse in the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals game, too. Except Chicago was the victor, and Jordan the catalyst, with 39 points.
James disappeared in the fourth quarter Thursday night, scoring two points while going 0-4 from the floor, bringing back the voices of the "LeBron can’t close" detractors. It is not fair to say he can’t close, just that he is not going to consistently rip your heart out like Jordan did when the game was on the line.
Most importantly, James has won one NBA Finals game. Jordan has six rings. LeBron is in a great position to get himself a slew of rings with the Heat. Until that point, let’s not jump the gun and put him on top of the NBA’s greatest winner since Bill Russell.
Scottie Pippen inferred that James is a better all-around player than Michael Jordan, stating last week, “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game, but LeBron James may be the greatest player…because he is so potent offensively, but keeps everybody involved.” Who other than Pippen, Jordan’s running mate for all six titles, to know Jordan’s game and have an expert opinion on him, right?
Wrong. Scottie Pippen is a bitter man, stemming from a bitter contract dispute two decades ago that to this day is why he lingers on the Chicago Bulls payroll as "Ambassador." He never got the glory, never got the accolades and got paid less than today’s backups. And his bitterness is showing, wishing a few more shots came his way at the end of the game.
Pippen did touch on a common assertion from the pro-LeBron crowd, that James is a better passer. It is easy to look at the statistics and see that LeBron has averaged 7.0 assists per game for his career, compared to Jordan’s 5.3. Jordan, however, always played as part of a system, the Triangle Offense. He played as a true shooting guard, only dominating the ball when it was time to win the game. James has always been a ball-dominating point-forward, free to pound the ball at the top of the key until he makes a decision.
Michael Jordan was consumed by winning, obsessed by it. He didn’t just want to beat you; he wanted to destroy your soul in the process. LeBron doesn’t have that edge. LeBron has too much fun with basketball. It’s why he left Cleveland, to play with his buddies in beautiful South Beach. He didn’t like the pressure of having to score 40 points for his teams to win in the playoffs.
There is nothing wrong with playing a game for fun, but it’s also why there is not a killer lurking within LeBron. Mavericks comeback or Heat collapse, whatever you want to call it, just let it serve as a reminder: Michael Jordan is still the Greatest of All Time.