LeBron James said his motivation is chasing “the ghost played in Chicago” — Michael Jordan.
As it should be. LeBron will go down as one of the all-time NBA greats — he’s arguably the most physically gifted player the game has ever seen, and he’s already turned that into three rings (including ending Cleveland’s 52-year title drought) plus is a four-time MVP. LeBron should see chasing (arguably) the greatest player in NBA history as his goal. He should chase Jordan’s legacy the way Tom Brady should chase Joe Montana’s (and the next great QB will chase Brady).
Former Jordan teammate now turned agent B.J. Armstrong had some advice for LeBron as told to Chris Broussard of ESPN: The only way to truly catch Jordan is to abandon trying to be Jordan.
“Chasing a ghost is in make-believe land,” Armstrong told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation. “That’s far-out, that’s unattainable, that’s something you can’t achieve. This ain’t no ghost. If you want to do it, there’s a blueprint. It’s possible. There’s only one way to get there. It’s not possible for him to do what Jordan did because the circumstances are different, everything is different. What is possible for him is to be bigger than every situation that’s put in front of him, to dominate every situation that’s in front of him….
“This is to LeBron James: If you want to be the best, get rid of the comparisons,” Armstrong said. “Get rid of all the comparisons that are out there. That’s what Michael Jordan did. Jordan realized that in order to be the best, you had to get rid of all the comparisons.
“When you compared Jordan to somebody else, it made him more and more upset. That was with guys who played before him, guys he was playing against and guys in the future. He got upset every time [the media] got on TV and started comparing him to other people.”
There is a simple Zen-like truth here: The only way to approach a legacy of true greatness is to do it your way, in your time, not to be someone else.
I think LeBron is doing that. There will never be another Jordan, not simply on the court but more in the confluence of being the first global superstar where the brand — both his own and Nike — lifted himself and the game to levels of popularity it had never reached before (or sense). It can’t be done the same way, not in this fragmented media market, not in this era of social media and the 24-7 sports news cycle. Fans of a certain age have mythologized Jordan, but in reality, Twitter would have eviscerated him for playing baseball (actually, Twitter would have painted him as a guy who could never win the big one when the Pistons were beating him for years at the start of his career).
LeBron needs to be LeBron. If he wants to joke around some and have fun on the court at times, then have fun — this is a game. Because he doesn’t wear his competitiveness on his sleeve like Jordan doesn’t mean he will not do anything it takes to win. Because he doesn’t treat teammates with contempt (hello, punching Steve Kerr) doesn’t mean he’s not driven. There is more than one way to lead, more than one way to be a great player.
LeBron shouldn’t try to fit in Jordan’s mold; he should create his own.