Monday, February 18, 2013

The Jordan - LeBron - Kobe Triangle

Every year we leave NBA All-Star weekend with a lot of excitement for the remainder of the season.  We also leave the weekend talking about a pointless story that will continue to perpetuate discussions over the next few weeks.  This year’s “gem” was Michael Jordan’s comment saying he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James.  The moment I saw the comments, I simply rolled my eyes and moved on.  Unfortunately the national media, along with a few personal friends, continue hammering the story at me to the point where I felt the need to respond.  I need to break it down in two different parts; so sit back and enjoy the ride!

The first thing I wanted to address was Jordan himself.  He almost seems hell bent on discrediting LeBron at every turn.  From comments like this one, or his comment that LeBron wouldn’t have been as successful in Jordan’s era, it just seems as though he has a personal vendetta against The King.  As I previously had written, LeBron makes us question what we have always known; Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time.  It seems that even Jordan himself is questioning this, and the hyper-competitive guy that he is, forces him to try and rip LeBron down.  Anyone who watched is Hall of Fame speech knows Jordan is a somewhat angry and vengeful person, who continued to rip his opponents in an arrogant speech regularly given by others in a humble way.

As all of this information kept trickling out, I could help but wonder, “What makes Michael Jordan’s opinion matter?”  I know that sounds almost blasphemous to question the almighty Jordan, but just hear me out on a couple of points.  I just want you to wonder where Jordan is coming from with his comments, and how is he qualified to make them.

All smiles with Kwame Brown
The biggest thing to consider is that just because you played the game, it doesn’t make you an expert on talent.  Jordan is not the best evaluator of talent the league has ever seen.  Let’s be honest.  If you need evidence, please see the 2001 NBA Draft in which Jordan drafted Kwame Brown with the first overall selection.  While hindsight is always 20/20, this one is a glaring as there were two tremendously talented players (Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol) drafted directly after Brown.  Heck, Jason Richardson and Joe Johnson would have been better selections!  Kwame Brown was never was going to be a star, as it was widely known that he simply did not care enough to be.  Jordan looked past all the looming issues and drafted him anyway.  This was simply the first stumbling block in historically unimpressive draft selections.  It can definitely be argued that while he was one of the greatest players to touch a basketball, he was as inept as an owner and talent evaluator.

Jordan’s competitiveness could be driving his hostility towards James, simply because LeBron has achieved benchmarks Jordan never did.  For example, in 2010, LeBron became the first player since “Pistol” Pete Maravich to put up 40 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.  Just recently, LeBron went on a historic run of 7 games scoring at least 30 points while shooting 60% or better from the field.  For someone like Jordan, it is simply unfathomable to see someone accomplish something he didn’t.

If rings matter, "Big Shot" Robert
Horry has 7...
Jordan also made the comment that no matter how he looks at it, 5 rings are better than 1.  I’m going to scream the next time I hear someone talk about rings.  Rings do not define player greatness.  Is Adam Morrison a better player than Karl Malone, simply because he has 2 rings?  Obviously not, except in Jordan’s world where rings are the only thing that matters.  I have some news for His Airness, though.  He is nowhere near the top of the rings list.  He’s tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Cousy with 6.  He trails Robert Horry, who has seven.  How about Bill Russell with his 11, including 2 as a player-coach?  That doesn’t even list all the bit players from the Celtics teams of the 50’s and 60’s that racked up rings.  The point is, rings don’t define you.  It’s an easy, cop out argument used by people who don’t want to really examine the facts.  We’re not talking about a 1-on-1 game here.  We’re talking about basketball, one of the best team games in the world.

What Jordan doesn’t seem to comprehend is that LeBron James doesn’t comprehend “me ball”.  He plays “we ball”, the way the game is supposed to be played.  James has the supreme talent to take over any game at any time.  Players like Jordan and Kobe Bryant seem to think that the only way to take over is to score alone and play hero ball.  Highlight jumpers over a triple team may look good on SportsCenter, but the smart basketball play is to find one of the open players for an uncontested look.

The Lakers were Diesel's team
This all leads me to a quick dissection of the LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant argument that Jordan initiated this past weekend.  As stated above, the rings argument is null and void.  It’s weak.  The fact of the matter is Kobe Bryant was handed rings the moment he walked on the court in LA.  He was given the most dominant big man of his era, Shaquille O’Neal.  He was given, arguably, one of the greatest coaches in history Phil Jackson.  The teams he was part of were stacked, and they likely left rings on the table because of personal issues.  Even during the time he won two more, Jackson was back guiding him.  They were gift-wrapped Pau Gasol, a multiple time All-Star and considered one of the best big men in the game.  He had Lamar Odom, who was the sixth man of the year candidate every season.  He also had the steady hand of Derek Fisher along with the emerging big man, Andrew Bynum.  It was nearly impossible to fail!

One man can only do so much.
Conversely, let’s look at the teams LeBron was surrounded by in Cleveland.  Coached by Mike Brown, who hasn’t done anything of note in the league outside of getting fired from the Cavaliers and the Lakers, there was no off court leadership.  If you look at the team LeBron single-handedly led to the Finals in 2007, you’ll see a team of back-ups and mid-level talent.  He elevated the play of Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, Eric Snow and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  Seriously, what he accomplished with this team is far better than anything Kobe has ever done.  Don’t believe me?  Take some time to look at the Kobe-led 2004-05 Lakers.  Jackson and O’Neal were gone.  It was the Kobe Show and what happened?  They were below average and missed the playoffs.  This was 8 seasons into his career, after winning 3 titles.  There is no excuse for the drop off.  It all boils down to one thing; leadership.  Kobe Bryant is not a leader of men.  He is divisive, dismissive and self-absorbed.  He’s too busy pointing his finger elsewhere to recognize that he is a big part of the problem.  LeBron is the ultimate teammate.  He holds others accountable, but will take the heat himself when needed.  It’s a night and day comparison.

Kobe also had the benefit of growing into a franchise player.  He did not have to carry the Lakers franchise until the trade of Shaq to Miami.  It was never Kobe’s team until the aforementioned 2004-05 season.  He had Phil Jackson guiding him.  LeBron was given Paul Silas and Mike Brown, neither of which has a strong track record of player development.  Cleveland was his franchise and it took them to heights they never reached before.  Due to Cleveland’s management, and their inability to build a strong team around him, he left.  As I have previously written, there’s a ton of reasons he left but the crux of it had to be the obvious inability to help him.  He understands something so few do; teams win titles, not individuals.

The general consensus in the media is that LeBron James is the unquestioned, best player on the planet.  It’s hard to argue it, and it has been this way for quite some time.  I find it interesting that despite the accolades and accomplishments of Kobe Bryant, he was never considered that.  There may have been a season here or there where he was considered in that realm, but never the way LeBron is.  He will go down as one of the all-time best, but never the greatest.  I think that’s one of the subtle reasons Jordan loves him; he doesn’t contest the throne no matter how many rings he has.

Two of the greats battling.  LeBron
leads their series 13-6.
The only good thing about this argument is that we can quantify it with stats and facts.  LeBron and Kobe have played head to head 19 times and because of their ages, the argument is valid.  While Kobe is slightly older, they are still close enough in age that their individual team battles matter for the discussion.  Without further ado, here’s a quick snapshot of their head to head battles:

LeBron James

13 wins, 6 losses

40.8 Minutes per game

46.1% Shooting

27.9 Points per game

7.7 Rebounds per game

7.3 Assists per game

3.6 Turnovers

Kobe Bryant

6 wins, 13 losses

37.6 Minutes per game

41.9% Shooting

25.3 Points per game

4.9 Rebounds per game

4.9 Assists per game

3.4 Turnovers

So Mr. Jordan, let me get this straight.  You prefer a player who shoots worse, scores less, grabs fewer boards and dishes out fewer assists while losing over a player better in every category except turnovers (and really, it is a total of 5 turnovers in 19 games).  The head to head match up matters in this argument and the clear winner is LeBron James.

So what did we learn?  I think this weekend we learned that Michael Jordan is not a good judge of talent, which we all kind of knew given the state of the Charlotte Bobcats.  We learned that Jordan seemingly has something against LeBron James.  We learned that Jordan sees his insane competitiveness and self-importance in Kobe Bryant.  We’ve learned that Jordan thinks higher of himself than anyone could possibly imagine.

What else did we learn?  We’ll listen to anything we can when it pertains to Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

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