I feel bad for LeBron James. He can’t win.
At this point, there’s nothing he can do to stop this continual avalanche of vehement declarations that he’ll never be Michael Jordan. There’s no amount of points, assists, rebounds or even championships that LeBron can amass to forever put to rest the MJ/LBJ debate.
I can’t say that those declarations are wrong, but why are they so important?
LeBron can’t be Michael Jordan.
He’s LeBron James.
Why isn’t that good enough? Why is it that we’ve made his measure of greatness so specific? Dwyane Wade isn’t Michael Jordan, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Why is it so unacceptable for LeBron to just be LeBron?
We hold him to a higher standard because we can all recognize his transcendent ability.
Any basketball fan can watch one quarter of a Heat game and realize that LeBron is more gifted than anybody on the floor. Even in Tuesday night’s debacle, LeBron gave us a peek at his brilliance.
Double-teamed coming off a pick-and-roll, LeBron took one dribble backward, looked over Tyson Chandler and fired a pinpoint pass to a cutting Dwyane Wade for a dunk.
We see plays like that and wonder how anyone could ever stop him. We think that he should be able to astound us every time he touches the ball.
LeBron has made amazement so routine that we feel cheated when he doesn’t deliver. We think, “Michael would never let us down like that. Michael would always bring it.” Of course he would. That was in his DNA. Jordan's competitive fire burned hotter than any player’s ever has. That, above all, is what makes him the greatest of all time.
LeBron certainly doesn’t play with the same ferocity that MJ did, but could MJ execute a blow-by dunk with the same flair as LeBron? Could he elicit quite the same awed reaction from the crowd?
We can make all the comparisons we want, but isn’t the inimitable signature of each player’s game what makes basketball so compelling?
Think about the recent retirement of Shaquille O’Neal. The reason that we all loved Shaq was that he was so unique. We can rank him wherever we want among the great centers of all time, we can compare him to Wilt and Kareem and Russell, but regardless of how we choose to order our ranking, the fact remains that there was nobody quite like Shaq. Isn’t that what made him so great?
That’s how truly great players should be defined.
We should ask ourselves: Will I ever see another _______ again? The entrance exam for the Hall of Fame isn’t multiple choice. There aren’t specific criteria that every applicant must satisfy.
Regardless of the evaluations that we impose upon him, LeBron’s career is not a quest to check the right boxes. He’s writing his own exam. He’s creating his own boxes. LeBron should be evaluated based on what he’s capable of, not based on what we feel he owes us.
LeBron is still crafting his legacy. He’s only 25.
Tuesday’s game was a letdown by any standard, and tonight’s game will inevitably be better.
In either case, it doesn’t change the one thing that I know for sure about LeBron: There will never be another player quite like him.
The time to decide where he fits among the greats is still a long way out. Can’t we just enjoy him while he’s here?