LeBron James has already reached the goal that’s always seemed too high for anyone to grasp. Just don’t bother explaining why to a passionate majority of league followers.
In a story by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar admitted he remains driven – despite winning a third championship in historic fashion this past June – by the specter of surpassing Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time.
“My motivation,” James says, “is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.”
“My career is totally different than Michael Jordan’s,” he says. “What I’ve gone through is totally different than what he went through. What he did was unbelievable, and I watched it unfold. I looked up to him so much. I think it’s cool to put myself in position to be one of those great players, but if I can ever put myself in position to be the greatest player, that would be something extraordinary.”
James is right, of course. Comparing the careers and accomplishments of he and Jordan, a tired discussion that continues being conducted more than a decade after it was first broached, is an exercise in futility. Not only has the game changed immensely since Jordan’s heyday from the late 1980s to late 1990s, but the two shoulder far different on-court roles and played with far different supporting casts throughout their respective tenures.
Maybe more importantly, a player’s overall caliber shouldn’t be assessed by how many Larry O’Brien trophies he hoists. The NBA is indeed a superstar’s league, but one guy can’t win a championship by himself. Here’s the thing, too: James came closer to doing so against the Golden State Warriors a couple months back than any player in league history.
Before the Cavaliers won their first championship, the Jordan-James debate was somewhat dormant. Steph Curry led his team to 73 wins with an individual campaign unlike any this game had ever seen, while James both created and guided Cleveland through typical turmoil with another objectively excellent but relatively substandard year. A third name had entered the conversation at the very least, and ejected one from it entirely in the eyes of some.
That was premature. Curry’s ascent is ongoing; James reached his sustained playing peak in South Beach. The only way the latter can truly accomplish his goal is if he wins as many championships over the next several years as he has in the last 13 – and even that wouldn’t be enough. Why? Jordan’s record in the NBA Finals, as you know, is an unblemished 6-0.