VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Ready to crown LeBron James GOAT over Michael Jordan after LBJ’s phenomenal performance this postseason?
To quote the late Keith Jackson: “Whoa, Nellie!”
As in, hold your horses there.
One fabulous postseason does not a GOAT make.
Unless you’ve been away seeking wisdom from a Himalayan know-it-all, you know that James has been on a remarkable tear in this season’s playoffs.
Lebron hit two buzzer-beating bombs that were not only game-winners but also series-turners in the first two rounds of Eastern Conference play.
First, LBJ connected on an 8-meter jumper versus Indiana to prevent his Cleveland team from falling into a never-before-escaped-from 0-3 hole.
Then in the Eastern semis, he banked in a runner from a difficult side angle to defeat Toronto. It put the Raptors down 3-0, instead of in a more manageable 1-2 position.
Against Boston in the East finals, James rallied the Cavs from a 2-3 deficit to reach his eighth straight final.
LBJ hit for 44 and 46 points in Games 4 and 6 against the Celtics and then threw in 35 in the clincher.
In Game 1 of the finals against Golden State, James poured in 51, becoming just the sixth player to hit for half-a-century in the championship series.
James-as-GOAT advocates noted LBJ’s last-second heroics in the opening two sets put James up 5-2 over MJ in number of buzzer-beating playoff game-winners.
Never mind that Jordan preferred not taking it to brink.
For some, James’ super-duper clutch ’18 playoff showing was enough for him to wrest GOAT honors away from Jordan.
Or at the very least, open discussions regarding that possibility.
Once again, MAS must caution those who are of this mind to please maintain equine control.
Let MAS splash your face with these key statistical categories in which James is still eating MJ’s dust, much like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness fields dined on the dirt/mud kicked up by Justify.
Playoff points per game: Jordan — 33.4 points per game; James 28.9.
Career ppg: His Airness — 30.1; LBJ — 27.2. (Also, Jordan has averaged over 30 points eight times, James twice.)
Finals MVPs: Michael — six; LeBron — three.
Scoring titles: Jordan 10 (including seven in a row before he retired to play professional baseball); James two.
All-Defensive team: MJ nine times; The King, six.
NBA MVP: Jordan — five; James — four.
And saving the best — i.e. most important in the eyes of many — for last: NBA titles won: Michael — six to LBJ’s three.
Numbers don’t lie.
And in any MJ-LBJ debate, they also don’t tell the whole story.
There’s also the possession of intangibles. In this department, to MAS’ mind, Jordan has it over James as well.
Admittedly, MAS’ own hoops career peaked when he was a starting guard on his junior high school team, only to go precipitously downhill thereafter.
Still, even he can see that Jordan had an innate ability to make those around him better. The same cannot be said for James.
Because of his magnificent ability, LBJ’s teams are always better for his physical presence. But he doesn’t possess the ability to simultaneously bring out the very best in them as individuals.
In short, Jordan willed the Bulls to their six titles by being a talented, overbearing tyrant who would verbally — and, if necessary, physically — keep his teammates in line if they strayed off title course.
His maties might not have cared for Michael’s often irascible, scowling ways but they acquiesced because they knew he had the team’s best interest in mind.
The booty of championship rings has a way of bringing people on board, even if a basketball Captain Bligh is leading the way.
MAS suspects James, as well-rounded as he has become as a player, has never quite possessed the TRUE leadership skills possessed by Jordan.
More the lip-service variety.
Did LeBron want titles for the team — or to enhance his own status?
He DID often appear quite self-centered.
Witness James’ over-the-top chest thumping and distorted-face posturing during these playoffs.
On the court, His Airness brought his group WITH him into battle. James’ mates seem to always be following BEHIND, rather than achieving alongside him.
Over the last few seasons, in particular, too often it’s become “The LeBron James Show” whenever things get sticky.
James takes over as the primary ball handler, either bulldozing his way to the hoop for a shot or firing away from deep.
Only if things are hopelessly closed off does he dish off to mates.
After Cleveland fell behind 0-2 versus the Celts, Cavs 3-point specialist J.R. Smith even said: “We have to make (James) feel confident to give us the ball so we can make the right play.”
Further, whereas Jordan’s alpha male dominance was felt mainly on the court and in the locker room, James’ sphere of influence seemed to extend beyond the players to not only the coach’s seat on the bench and into the office of the general manager but all the way up to the owner’s suite as well.
This, despite James’ denying such a situation exists.
Yet, coaches and players came and went the last two campaigns, seemingly at James’ behest.
MAS firmly believes this scenario created an underlying feel of uneasiness.
It was almost as if before every move they made, everyone involved had to worry whether LeBron would approve.
As a result, the recent edition Cavs have often had the appearance of an ongoing soap opera rather than a smooth-functioning basketball operation.
Such constant turmoil didn’t seem to exist with the Bulls during the iron-fisted rule of Jordan.
Other than a few brief encounters with Steve Kerr, where Jordan had to slap the sharpshooting guard around, the Bulls had few disconcerting flare-ups or dramatic episodes (besides Dennis Rodman).
Suffice to say, LeBron, though clearly a fantastic a player, still has a ways to go to catch MJ — in multiple areas.
So, give James credit for one of the most spectacular postseason runs in NBA history, if you want — he deserves it.
But MAS suggests you give a good hard tug on the reins of any James-as-GOAT talk, pod’nuh.
Contact Man About Spoprts at: firstname.lastname@example.org