These days it seems like professional sports are riddled with individual comparisons between elite players. From arguing whether Peyton Manning or Tom Brady is better under the helm at quarterback to whether Barry Bonds matches up against Hank Aaron’s staggering ability to hit the long ball, sports fans and analysts continuously search for the next clearly dominant player in their respective sport to debate about. But the question remains: How do you compare two professional athletes on an even playing field and still weigh in the statistics and intangibles that make the games worth watching?
This season, the NBA has given fans another chance to sling mud between its greatest players. On his way to leading the Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoffs for the first time in the last 13 years, 21-year-old LeBron James averaged over 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game in the regular season – a feat that has only been accomplished by the likes of basketball greats Michael Jordan, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. So, can sports aficionados rightfully justify a comparison between the youngster James and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Jordan at the same stage in their careers?
In their rookie seasons, both Jordan and James were able to transfer their teams from bottom feeders into formidable contenders. Jordan shot an impressive 28.2 points per game in his first season and led the Bulls to the NBA playoffs for the first of seven straight appearances before winning the national title with them three years in a row. James posted 20.9 points per game for the Cavaliers, but doubled Jordan’s average from the three-point line. However, in their second season in the league, James managed to overtake the offensive numbers Jordan posted, but Jordan was only able to play in 18 games due to a foot injury.
They may both sport the number 23 on the back of their jerseys, but James stands two inches taller and weighs over twenty pounds more than Jordan did in his first three seasons. They don’t even play the same position. While the shooting guard Jordan used his quickness to find open shots against stacked defenses and his profound boosties to leap to heights thought unattainable by humans, the shooting forward James uses his size and athletic ability to shoot and snatch rebounds over stellar defenses who focus their strategy exclusively on him. Comparing the two becomes a complicated endeavor.
While Jordan had a team to support him through most of his career, James has not been so fortunate in his first three years. Even though he is praised for his ability to unselfishly spread the ball to his less able teammates, James’s reliance on his subpar team members leaves him with even more gigantic Air Jordan’s to fill.
Take, for example, yesterday’s series-deciding game seven between the Detroit Pistons and James’s Cavs. James dominated the first half of play, recording 21 points, but when the Pistons stacked two, and sometimes three defenders, in his way, James was forced to do what any sane player would – pass the ball. Yet, this was his biggest fault in the game. With a supporting cast who only shot 31 percent from the field, James’s teammates completely let him down.
If James wants to be compared with the greatest basketball players of all time, then he is going to have to set a fire under his teammates’ asses instead of pouting on the sidelines between quarters. Michael Jordan was a leader, but if LeBron learns to be more selfish, he will be able to carry his teammates to a national title – or six.
Daily Nexus Sports Editor Jeff Gibson doesn’t like sharing his balls. So back off.