Mon | May 22, 2017

Is LeBron still in Jordan’s shadow?

Published:Friday | May 29, 2015 | 5:00 AM
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In a matter of days, the winners of the 2014-2015 NBA Championship will be decided. It's a dream final. If the organisers had scripted it from the start, this is exactly how they would want it.

Stephen Curry, the hottest star in the league this year, and his marauding Golden State Warriors will be taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by the world's best player, LeBron James. The showdown will be a clash between the king and the pretender to the throne.

A lot more, though, is riding on the result of the NBA final. Michael Jordan's status as the best ever is now seriously being challenged. If LeBron can lead this Cavs team to the NBA title, his stock would now go through the roof. Michael Jordan's status as the greatest of all time is pretty much taken for granted. Another win for LeBron here and he would push his case to being further mentioned in the same breath. The difference in stats is not as far apart as some may believe.

 

ROUGHLY SAME AVERAGE

 

If we examine their records, Jordan beats him on points per game, but LeBron edges out Jordan in terms of both assists and rebounds per game. Jordan has a slight edge on him in terms of steals and both average roughly the same number of blocks per game. If we accept that both rebounds and assists contribute towards teams' offensive thrusts, it's not far-fetched to say that LeBron was just as much of an offensive threat to opposing teams as Jordan ever was.

What is interesting is that they have the same approximate percentage in terms of accuracy from the field, both shooting at a little over 49 per cent, which means, theoretically, that when they both shoot from the field, they roughly have the same likelihood of hitting the target. People see Jordan as more the quality scorer only because Jordan was more likely to shoot, while LeBron sees himself as much a facilitator as a scorer. In the dying stages, with a game

on the line, Jordan virtually demanded the ball, while James will make the final pass just as much as he would shoot. Jordan has an assassin mentality; he wants the responsibility. But LeBron will more likely look for who he thinks is in the best position.

People will readily point to Jordan's six rings as the real tiebreaker. Jordan has been to the Promised Land half a dozen times, in comparison to two from LeBron, but I have long maintained that team results can never be a fair reflection of individual accomplishments. Jordan's six rings were won with teams that were superior to the ones on which LeBron played. That Bulls team in the 1990s was one of the all-time great teams, and they were being coached by Phil Jackson, a coach who is in the conversation for being the greatest coach of all time. LeBron has won two titles with Erick Spoelstra, who was still learning the ropes as a coach in Miami. The Cavs are now in the NBA final with a man coaching in the NBA for the first time. That ought not to be taken for granted.

 

CONTEXT KEY

 

People point out that LeBron has lost three finals, while Jordan made it to six finals, winning all six, was MVP in all six, while never allowing a Game Seven. We must see it in context. When LeBron went to the final in 2007, his Cavs team had overachieved and stood no chance against the Spurs, while he lost two finals with Miami when other stars just didn't pull their weight.

Still, Jordan's records in NBA finals take some doing. It is clear that the higher the stakes, the more Jordan had the ability to up the ante. He was more competitive, had a greater killer instinct than LeBron in big moments and with NBA titles on the line.

The ability to put it all on the line in big moments is coming into LeBron's game. He has taken a team that was never really runaway favourites and taken them within four games of the NBA title. He has done it not just with skill, but with will. His next two best players were either out for the season or severely handicapped at different stages. If he beats the Golden State Warriors with his team, one will now have to accept that he is right there with anybody who has ever played.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.