The month of February, proof that God enjoys a little sarcasm as much as anybody (that’s why it’s only 28 days), is more than half over. Hockey is again in full swing, March Madness approaches, the NBA playoff picture is beginning to take shape, and baseball is back, as images of spring training splash beautifully across the sports pages of America.
In the words of the great John Fogerty, “We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.” There is a bounce to the step of every sports-loving American, as we find ourselves on the brink of renewal and seasons of hope.
All, however, is not well, alas, for former Chicago White Sox farmhand Michael Jordan, as LeBron James of late has been doing things on the basketball court that nobody, including His Airness, has ever done before. Not that Jordan likely minds that, but know that this sudden talk of who might be the greatest of all time bothers him to no end. It is eating him alive.
(Ali, by the way, is The Greatest. Period. Just so we understand each other.)
While LeBron James currently lacks the championship pedigree of Michael Jordan (Mike 6, LeBron 1, but more on that later), he has, in 10 years in the NBA, demonstrated that by the time his career is over he will surely merit consideration as the greatest basketball player of all time — greater than anybody, including Michael Jordan.
This, as you can imagine, does not sit well with Mr. Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, currently the worst organization in professional sports, for if he holds nothing else amongst his riches — money, fame, planes, fast cars, fat cigars — he holds the firm knowledge that every man, woman and child (maybe even dogs and cats) live in the belief that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever. Which, in this corner, he still is. But will it be that way forever? Michael Jordan believes it should be put into law that it will.
All last week we were subjected to ad nauseam levels of reverence for Jordan’s 50th birthday, which happened to coincide with James playing the best basketball of his life, in turn, accelerating the inevitable comparison.
In response, Jordan told NBATV if he were starting a team from scratch, he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron, and you can’t argue taking Kobe over anybody, that’s for sure (kind of like having to settle for RGIII instead of Andrew Luck). Just keep in mind, this comes from the same talent evaluator who once started a team from scratch by selecting Kwame Brown over Pau Gasol.
“If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice,” Jordan said, “but five (titles) beats one every time I look at it.
“And not that (LeBron) won't get five. He may get more than that, but five is bigger than one.”
Again, not to argue Kobe over anybody, but in using this logic, we come to the conclusion that 11, the number of titles Bill Russell won as a player (in 13 seasons, no less), beats 6, the number of titles Jordan won, every time we look at it.
So does that make Bill Russell better than Jordan? Maybe he was, but not because of the number of titles he won. If that were the case, Sam Jones, who won 10 titles as a player, would have to be considered better than Jordan, as would Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Satch Sanders, John Havlicek (eight titles each), the unforgettable Jim Loscutoff (Jim Loscutoff?), Frank Ramsey and Robert Horry, all of whom won seven titles.
Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (like Henry Aaron, the most underrated player to play his sport ... Kareem gets no love) and Scottie Pippen are dead even with Jordan at six.
Not finished, Jordan then offered to “ESPN the Magazine” that LeBron would not be as successful as he is now if he had played during Jordan’s era in the ’80s and ’90s. Although he did say LeBron, Kobe, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are the only four players from the current era who could have made it then.
Whatever. The point is Michael Jordan needs to get over A.) LeBron James, or B.) turning 50, and stop being the mean old man in the neighborhood. Be gracious, or say nothing, Mike, and act in a manner befitting the so-called greatest of all time. Take the high road this time, and let history play out. Don’t be the adolescent bully you were during your Hall of Fame induction speech.
Of course, that’s likely who and what Michael Jordan is and has always been, and though it likely fueled his greatness on the court, it does nothing to become him as he enters middle age. Rather than worrying about meaningless small talk over who is better than whom, perhaps Jordan should channel his rage into his basketball team, then temper his ego and surround himself with sound basketball people to make the personnel decisions for him so that his franchise can become viable and strong.
Ownership of a team that makes championship run after championship run would be an added and wonderful legacy on top of an unparalleled playing career that will, or might not, have him remembered as the greatest player in NBA history.
Of course, if not for the tragedy of June 19, 1986, we might not even be having this conversation.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org