The Cleveland Cavaliers had the second best player in NBA history, as Michael Jordan edges out LeBron for No. 1.
A documentary like the Last Dance can create creates of recency. Heck, I’ll admit, it, I’m guilty of it. Go back to 2016 when the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title and you’ll find that I was ready to fight anyone who said Michael Jordan was better than LeBron James.
Winning a title in Cleveland was the equivalent of winning three Larry O’Brien trophies, I argued.
While Cleveland’s championship run ages like a fine wine for the historical fete of defeating a supposedly invincible 73-win Golden State Warriors team, and then overcoming a 3-1 lead in the Finals, there just isn’t a world where I can pick Lebron over Michael Jordan.
You’re doing it again!
The Last Dance, which you just finished watching 12 hours ago, has you biased toward Jordan.
It’d certainly be hard to defend myself after my earlier confession, but when I think about the debate between the undisputed top two players to ever grace the NBA, I answered these to questions.
1. With the game on the line, who are you giving the ball to?
It could probably be debated in its own docuseries, but it took me a half second to answer. I’m 99 percent sure LeBron’s going to get it done. I’m 100 percent certain Michael’s going to get me the win.
This has nothing to do with Kyrie Irving owning the biggest shot in Cleveland baseball history. LeBron had the equivalent of a game winning shot with his come-out-of-nowhere block of Andre Iguodala. If LeBron doesn’t play Superman there, the Cavs don’t win.
Michael had his failures, too, which you wouldn’t know as seemingly the first eight episodes of The Last Dance had Michael making everything.
But even though Michael had games where he didn’t hit the shot, there was a mystique about Jordan that LeBron just never had. Trust in Mike, and everything’s going to be OK.
Jordan and the NBA became center stage in my mind during the 1992 Finals. The image that stands out in my mind is Jordan shrugging after abusing the Blazers.
This guy was never going to lose. Perhaps it was childhood naivety and the eagerness to build heroes out of pro athletes as nine-year olds will do. Jordan was never going to lose, no matter who you threw at him.
The stats reflect that, as he MJ was credited with eliminating 20 future Hall of FAmers during their run. Amazingly, he played in just two Game 7’s, despite facing some truly great players and teams.
2. The ring chasing
That the Last Dance aired the same quote in episodes No. 1 and 10 tells you everything you need to know about Jordan’s competitive drive.
Jordan wanted to the Bulls to regarded in the same breath as the Lakers and Celtics in terms of NBA dynasties. As The Last Dance demonstrated, the Chicago Bulls WERE basektball in the 1990s.
That’s what Cleveland thought they were getting with LeBron when the Cavaliers drafted him No. 1 in 2003. Fans across northeast Ohio thought this native son was going to put the Cavaliers in the same conversation.
Yet, James never signed a max contract with the Cavaliers. He was perceived as taking the easy way out, teaming up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami after the infamous “Decision.”
Was this just an upfront look at the generational divide? LeBron was a product of the AAU culture. Form your best team and go out and win. It took Jordan six years to get to his first Finals. He didn’t run off to join Bird’s Celtics or The Bad Boy Pistons.
In staying with the Bulls, Jordan built up capital everyone else who came into the locker room had to respect. There was scene in which Jordan talked about Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr joining the team. They didn’t know the struggle. They were joining an already championship caliber team–because of MJ.
As for James in MIami, those Heat teams went to four straight finals, winning two. With a fellow Hall of Famer at his side, in addition to a perennial All-Star in Chris Bosh, all James got was a split.
That speaks volumes as to what Jordan did with the Bulls and his unblemished record in the Finals.
The Heat days are critical in comparing Jordan’s and LeBron’s careers because James was viewed as playing with an inferior roster during his first go-round with the Cavaliers.
That wasn’t the case with the Heat. He had the team he wanted, and failed twice.
When he came back, the Cavs were in a better situation. We all knew Irving was special. The Cavs also had the No. 1 pick. LeBron knew he could make it work in Cleveland. Andrew Wiggins was flipped for Kevin Love and the rest is history.
Then he left again. It’s hard to argue he was ring chasing in LA, as the Lakers roster in the summer of 2018 was pitiful. That said, it didn’t take long for a new super team together, as the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis, a player ESPN listed as being one of the greatest 50 players ever.
Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amico wrote it best when comparing Jordan and LeBron, stating that both men wanted to win, but Jordan wanted it more.
There was a scene that closed out one of the episodes, in which Jordan came to tears describing the way he played the game and the expectation he had of others. It was unforgettable and cements his drive as the game’s G.O.A.T.