Column: LeBron James or Michael Jordan?

GVL / Courtesy -

GVL / Courtesy –

Danny Schwartz

You might be asking yourself, “Another LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan story, huh?” or even, “Haven’t we seen enough of this debate?” Well, as of Thursday, May 25, another chapter has been added to the saga.

The debate was reignited when James surpassed Jordan’s NBA all-time playoff scoring record, scoring 35 points against Boston Thursday night to reach 5,995 in his career. Jordan scored 5,987 in his postseason career.

In the same game, James’ Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Boston Celtics 135-102 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, advancing to the NBA Finals in the process.

So, the debate ensues. After the game Thursday, James was asked almost exclusively about the fact that he passed Jordan’s record. James was almost speechless.

“First of all, I wear the number (23) because of Mike,” James said. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just seeing what he was able to accomplish. When you’re growing up and you’re seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t ever believe I could be Mike.”

All week, publications and sports talk TV shows were bringing up the debate. They always forget one fact: No one in the history of sports was more hyped than James, and he doesn’t get enough credit for living up to it.

Jordan didn’t have even close to as much hype as James. Not only did Jordan end up being picked third overall out of college in the 1984 NBA Draft and not first overall out of high school like James, but he was brought into the biggest spotlight in a completely different era. For James, he was coming into the league right at the beginning of the internet era. Everyone with the internet could have an opinion and be heard by the masses. Jordan didn’t have that. James came into the league at a time when the spotlight was on players more than ever. Everywhere he went and everything he did was seen and criticized. James was under the ultimate microscope with people waiting for him to slip up and not be who they said he would be.

He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 17 years old, photographed in his high school basketball jersey with the words “Chosen One” in bold as the headline. There was even a memorable rumor that a team in Italy was willing to pay him $9 million to play for them out of high school.

He came into the league with every critic and scout saying he was going to be the next big thing, and that’s exactly what he became.

There’s a camp of people that argues James will never be as good as Jordan because he had to “take his talents to South Beach” and join up with his friends to win his first two NBA titles. Those same people forget all the help Jordan had on those legendary Chicago Bulls teams, with players like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, John Paxson and Horace Grant. The most notable teammate James had in his first run with the Cavaliers where he never won a championship was Zydrunas Ilgauskas. James has since returned to Cleveland,where he won his third championship and first with Cleveland last year with a supporting cast of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Right now, when I think of who is the “better basketball player” and who had more of an impact on the game, I’d go with Jordan. In 10 years, I might be giving a completely different answer. James is only 32 years old, and besides taking a couple games off during the regular season (which is a smart move in this day and age but has sparked its own debate), he has shown no signs of slowing down.

James has won three NBA Championships to Jordan’s six. But when Jordan was James’ current age of 32, he had the same number of championships under his belt: three.

Although James said he always wanted to be like Jordan, he has grown into a whole different player. James can do everything: score, pass, rebound, defend. He can bully other players on the court and dominate them like no other. He is a complete player and most importantly a great leader.

“I think the biggest thing for me sitting here today after breaking the all-time scoring record in playoff history is that I did it just being me,” James said after Thursday’s game.

James starts his road to his fourth NBA title and building on his legacy Thursday, June 1, as the Cavaliers head to Oakland, California, to take on the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. And whether he leads his team to back-to-back championships or not, he’ll do it just being himself.