As LeBron James enters his 12th season, I have to scratch my head and wonder why this superstar, this basketball phenomenon, gets so little love from his superstar predecessors.
Few, if any, have ever had to deal with the immediate pressures and expectations as the ones that were placed on this young high school student’s shoulders. Michael Jordan, as great as he was, was just another good prospect coming out of North Carolina. As the legend has grown, many don’t even remember that Jordan was only the 3rd pick in his draft. Talented sure, but by no means did he earn his status as the greatest basketball player on the planet until much later. The point is that he had the opportunity to find himself and grow into those shoes, an opportunity LeBron never had.
After 11 seasons and two NBA Championships, two Finals MVPs, five Finals appearances, four League MVPs, 10 All-Star appearances, 8 All NBA First Teams, 5 All NBA First Defensive Teams, it is fair to say LeBron has met those heavy expectations on the court.
Still, the old guard cannot let this young man enjoy his accomplishments without sniping at every opportunity. Not outright attacks mind you, they are aware enough to refrain from such things, but at the same time they seldom miss an opportunity to get in a shot when they can.
For instance, when LeBron joined the US National Team on his way to his second Olympic Gold Medal, the critics couldn’t resist in comparing his team to the “Dream Team.” You know, the “true” American National Team of all-time.
Others have talked about such things as stopping him by simply not letting him go left, or turning him into a jump shooter, or the fact that what he does is okay for today’s game, but don’t forget how much more physical things used to be. You know, in the good old days.
He’s won two championships, why not six?
For me, the topper in all this was Magic Johnson’s unbelievably ridiculous statement that Michael Jordan would beat LeBron in a one-on-one match up 10 out of 10 times.
Seldom have I ever heard somebody with such incredible basketball intelligence say something so stupendously stupid. Does Magic really believe that or is he simply defending his contemporary and his era? Only he really knows, but what he doesn’t seem to realize is when he says things like that nobody comes out looking good.
I wondered why Magic couldn’t even give LeBron one game. Not even one stinking game. When he says 10 out of 10 what he is actually saying is that LeBron doesn’t even belong on the court with Michael. Utterly absurd and, in my opinion, utterly untrue.
I can’t ever remember hearing one of Michael Jordan’s predecessors talk about how to neutralize him, or openly criticize his game and how to expose his flaws. Never. Especially not in such an obviously personal manner.
Even if the feelings were there, which they almost certainly were, those retired stars were big enough to realize that their time had passed and the NBA had new stars on the scene. Better? Maybe, maybe not. But as time puts distance between the old stars and their former greatness, newer will always appear better in the present. That is just the way of things.
For his part, LeBron has shown a maturity beyond his years. He has taken it all in stride, although we know deep down how he must really feel. Just an occasional monster dunk and a stare down, that’s about we get out of him.
Going back to Magic’s statement for moment:
For the record, Michael was a great basketball player. By far the greatest of his time and arguably the greatest of all time. In a one-on-one match up with LeBron he would have the advantage in technical skill, quickness and a laser sharp focus. In the entire history of professional basketball perhaps the only person who could have matched Michael Jordan’s pure will would have been the great Bill Russell.
However, LeBron brings superior size, strength, overall athletic ability and a generally under-rated ability to shoot the ball. In fact, through his first 11 seasons LeBron has shot 34.09% from beyond the 3 point arc. Michael, through his first 11 seasons? 30.70%.
How would Michael cover LeBron in the post? Also, he had better not miss many shots since LeBron has a huge advantage in size and jumping ability. Sorry, but LeBron beats Michael Jordan one-on-one probably six, maybe seven times out of ten.
I am not writing this to trash Michael Jordan, but at the same time let’s not let the legend cloud the reality. People seem to think that Michael showed up and suddenly he was this irresistible force that couldn’t be stopped. Michael, as great as he was, never won anything until Scottie Pippin and Phil Jackson showed up. And by the way, he never won anything after they were gone either. Year after year we all asked, will Michael ever be able to get past the Pistons? Will this great player ever be able to win it all?
The past is just that, the past. Those players had their time and now their accomplishments have to speak for themselves. To all of you out there, show a little class and let LeBron have his time.