That we are even having this conversation speaks to how well LeBron James is playing.
As a sports culture have mythologized Michael Jordan to the point he’s superhuman and unassailable. Nike deserves some credit for that. To mention anyone playing at a Jordan-like level is to bring out MJ’s defenders (does he really need defenders?) to point out his stats, or how he never lost in the finals, or how he played at this level for so long, or whatever line of defense they are offering. Even though nobody is questioning Jordan’s greatness.
But the fact remains that right now LeBron is playing at a Jordanesque level — six games in a row scoring 30 points and shooting better than 60 percent in each of those wins. Nobody has ever done that before. Combine it with his LeBron’s run of winning the NBA MVP last season, the finals MVP, a ring with the Heat then an Olympic gold medal — a one-year combo only accomplished by Jordan — and it’s hard not to make comparisons.
Because Jordan is the measuring stick and LeBron has started to come closer than anyone else ever has.
LeBron doesn’t want the comparisons.
That’s fair. He wants to be his own man. LeBron isn’t Jordan; they are different players in both style and temperament. They played in different eras (with different rules about defending on the perimeter).
Jordan is the measuring stick for a reason. While I would argue LeBron has played at a Jordan level the last year and a half, Jordan played at that peak level for six or seven years and has six rings to show for it. Jordan has 10 scoring titles, 5 MVPs and 6 glittering rings. LeBron isn’t there yet. In a long-view historical context Jordan is the better player. Of course, when you get into the historical context you have to bring in how Wilt Chamberlain dominated the league (he led the league in assists one season, just for fun), or Bill Russell (11 rings and as fierce a competitor as there has been), or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s ridiculous career numbers (six time MVP, six rings, most points scored in NBA history), or a number of other guys that should be in that conversation.
But Jordan is the most recent guy in that historical conversation, the guy we all saw play and dazzle us, the guy imprinted in our minds, and he’s the guy we measure all the great players of today against. Fair or not.
And the way LeBron is playing right now, we have to compare him in a historical context because he is unquestionably the best in the game right now.
LeBron is playing closer to Jordan’s level than anyone since Jordan himself retired from Chicago (I have blocked the Washington years out of my mind). In the past season and a half LeBron has been beter and more efficient than peak Kobe Bryant, than anyone since MJ himself.
Jordan is the historical measuring stick and while LeBron may not want out of that shadow the comparisons are unavoidable.
The question is how will we view those comparisons when LeBron retires someday?