Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Orville Higgins | LeBron James' defining moment

Published:Friday | June 2, 2017 | 6:00 AM

The big discussion in basketball circles is whether LeBron James' name can how be called in the same sentence as Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time.

This discussion has seen public opinion split right down the middle. The younger generation may be slightly leaning towards LeBron, while those who grew up watching Jordan in the 1980s and '90s are swearing that the comparison is almost blasphemous. A few years ago, such talk would have been considered disrespectful to Jordan, but as time has gone on, it is becoming harder and harder to not see LeBron as a legitimate challenger to His Airness' throne.

Those who insist that Jordan is better usually point to his impeccable record in the NBA finals. Six rings, six finals MVP awards, and never allowing a Game Seven. Jordan fans won't always mention, though, that he had several seasons when he was not the marauding force that he was in those NBA finals. On no fewer than three occasions, he failed to come out of the first round of the play-offs. Time will dim those memories, however, and he will be remembered for what he did as opposed to what he didn't do.

Jordan fans will also tell you that with an average of 30.1 points per game, he was the most dangerous offensive player of all time. It is also true that Jordan transcended the game. He was the face of basketball and did as much to popularise the sport as maybe any other man in any other game.

LeBron fans will argue that as an all-round player, the game has never seen his equal. He can be as dominant as Shaq in the paint, but can be as quick as anyone in the game. His scoring percentage per game is in the late 20s, which is among the best in NBA history, but when he puts his mind to it, he can be arguably the game's best passer and is also one of the best defensive players in the game. In last year's NBA finals, LeBron led his team in all five major statistical categories: blocks, steals, points, assists, and rebounds. That has never been done before.

It is difficult to argue that he may well have more strings to his bow than anybody who has ever played. Purely as a basketball talent, he is probably just as good as Jordan. Jordan scores approximately three points more per game than LeBron, but the stats sheet will tell you that he takes maybe three more shots per game. It's safe to say then that if LBJ had the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality that Jordan had, he could well average the same number of points per game.

 

Thrives under pressure

 

Maybe what separates them more than anything else is their mentality. Jordan was seen always as a competitor of no mean order. Put him on a basketball court and he seems prepared to die for the cause. He seemed to thrive under pressure.

Besides all that, he was easy on the eye, more so than maybe any other player, and certainly more than LeBron. For me, how you look is never as important as what you produce, but for millions of people, Jordan was the most entertaining dude to play the game. He appeared to defy gravity.

LeBron's Achilles heel has always been the tendency to just drift out of big games. In the 2011 finals for Miami Heat against Dallas, he had a meltdown that is still being discussed. He averaged a mere 16 points a game and seemed unwilling or unable to cope with the pressure. Since then, we have seen fewer of those games, but he reminded us all of that tendency to put in an inexplicable sub-par performance in Game Four of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston. Eleven points in the entire game. No shot attempts in the last five minutes.

The NBA finals started last night. If Cavs win the series, the crescendo backing LeBron will grow louder. We are not merely witnessing an NBA finals. We are witnessing whether LeBron will do enough to eclipse the ghost of Chicago.

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