Anybody who seriously follows professional athletics (not those who paint themselves all kinds of funky colors to try to get themselves on television) knows there is no definitive way to compare ballplayers of different eras.
IN FACT, ONLY a fool would try to make such an argument seriously. Then again, we have a lot of fools amongst us.
So I’m sure we’re going to hear many people claim that LeBron (whose Miami Heat team won its second-straight NBA title this week, beating the San Antonio Spurs 4 games to 3 in the championship series) is the greatest. We can forget about anything “MJ” accomplished.
We’ll even get those people who will start screaming “six” over and over until they keel over dead from a heart attack. As in the fact that Chicago Bulls teams with Jordan managed to win 6 NBA titles.
Does this mean that if James-led Miami teams manage to come up with five more titles before the kid hangs up his sneakers, he will be the undisputed greatest dribbler ever??!?
IT’S A BATCH of nonsense to think either way. Because there’s nothing James could ever do to detract from the overall image that Jordan created – which went well beyond anything he ever did on the basketball court.
LeBron James is an athlete. Jordan took his skills into creating an image that for many will forever define professional basketball – often taking it to extremes where it seems like we couldn’t escape his image.
His restaurants. His shoes. His cologne. It was everywhere.
The closest one can find to Jordan in terms of celebrity professional athletes is baseball’s Babe Ruth. It doesn’t matter what “numbers” James puts up – his image doesn’t come close. Shaquille O'Neal was more of a celebrity than LeBron. Anybody who tries to get worked up is being ridiculous.
I BRING THIS issue up because I’m trying to anticipate many verbal brawls that could get way too physical (leave it to sports fans to think that their favorite team creates “life or death” issues).
I’m not arguing here that Jordan is better. Although if Jordan were just a ballplayer, I doubt Bulls fans would remember him any more fondly than Bob Love or Horace Grant, or basketball fans remembering Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul Jabbar!
They certainly wouldn’t have felt compelled to let him have his own NBA franchise – one that shows any skills he has about basketball are limited purely to what he once could do on the court. Nobody expects the Charlotte Hornets to match the Bulls anytime soon. One wonders if the Hornets will ever be as good as the Charlotte Knights -- the underachieving Chicago White Sox minor league affiliate?
In fact, in my mind, the thing for which LeBron James will be most remembered is that he seemed to trigger the modern trend of top-notch high school athletes skipping out on college altogether to jump to the NBA.
IT WORKED OUT for him, although most of them wash out. Anybody remember Eddy Curry – the onetime star of suburban Thornwood High School who didn’t lead the Bulls to anything significant and – the last I heard – was playing professionally in China?
I’m willing to concede that Jordan was the top ballplayer of his era, and James the best of what we see now. Although it’s bound to happen that in a couple of decades there will be somebody on the basketball court whom everybody will want to believe is THE BEST!!! because that’s all they’ve seen in person.
And a whole generation of kids of the future will think of LeBron as some old fool, the way that kids of today are too eager to think of Jordan as just another old fogy.
Besides, those of us in Chicago know full well that the sports team that “matters” these days is the Blackhawks – who could on Saturday put themselves only one win away from a second Stanley Cup hockey championship in four seasons.