Michael Jordan Breaks Down Blueprint for Defending LeBron James

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2013

Credit: The Basketball Jones
Credit: The Basketball Jones

The cycle of superstardom always remains the same.

The Old Star retires. The New Star is discovered. The New Star is inevitably compared to the Old Star.

Fans of the Old Star lament this comparison.

The New Star points out that he doesn't want to be the Old Star in the first place. The New Star eventually paves his own way and achieves greatness. The Old Star inevitably reminds everyone that the New Star would have struggled in his day.

Rinse and repeat.

Thus has always been the case for LeBron James and Michael Jordan, forever to be linked and compared, and forever to be fundamentally different players who deserve their own category of greatness.

Those comparisons have come out in full force once more, what with Jordan turning 50 on Sunday and James having become the first player in NBA history to score 30 points and shoot 60 percent from the field in six straight games last week.

And surely, Jordan's comments about how he might defend LeBron, made while he was watching the Heat play one evening and found in an article written on Jordan from Wright Thompson of ESPN, will only add kindling to the popular comparison:

The announcers gush about LeBron, mentioning him in the same sentence with Jordan, who hears every word. Those words have an effect on him. He stares at the TV and points out a flaw in LeBron's game.

"I study him," he says.

When LeBron goes right, he usually drives; when he goes left, he usually shoots a jumper. It has to do with his mechanics and how he loads the ball for release. "So if I have to guard him," Jordan says, "I'm gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he's gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he's going to the hole and I can't stop him. So I ain't letting him go right."

For the rest of the game, when LeBron gets the ball and starts his move, Jordan will call out some variation of "drive" or "shoot." 

It's a strategy that seems easier said than done. And with the way LeBron has been shooting of late, his jump shot may be the lesser of two evils, but not by much.

Then again, would you doubt Jordan in his prime pulling it off?

That section of Wright's piece—which I recommend you read, by the way, as it's a fantastic glimpse into Jordan at 50—is intriguing, if only to get a clearer picture of Jordan diagnosing and dissecting every minute detail during an NBA game.

Jordan's mental approach to the game was always overshadowed by his high-flying athleticism, well-documented intensity and competitive fire. But when you peel back the layers, he was also a student of the game and a very perceptive player.

There is the genius that Jordan and LeBron share: being so dominant that you dictate when an opponent has to completely adjust to your game.

But there is also genius in knowing your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, and taking away the former while exploiting the latter. It's a genius that LeBron seems to be learning, and one that Jordan displayed regularly during his career.

If these two met in their primes, I'm guessing Jordan would give LeBron fits and take the New Star out of his comfort zone. Then again, at some point, I highly doubt the Old Star would be able to shut down LeBron's unique blend of size, speed, athleticism and versatility.

If only I had a time machine to take LeBron back to Jordan's day and have the two play one-on-one. Now that would be fun.

If nothing else, I now know I would love to spend a few minutes every day watching film with Jordan. Sometimes I would ironically request we break down Steve Novak film, but mostly I would just want to see him provide a scouting report for trying to slow down LeBron.

The Old Star trying to put the New Star in perspective. The cycle of superstardom continues.

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