Posted February 15, 2013

LeBron James eyes ‘greatest’ title after Michael Jordan’s ‘rings’ comments

Ben Golliver, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan
LeBron James holds court at NBA All-Star media availability

LeBron James faced the media on All-Star Weekend on Friday.  (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

HOUSTON — It shouldn’t, but the sound bite virtually always trumps the fuller narrative.

That’s a modern media fact of life and it’s especially true at a saturated carnival like All-Star weekend and during a free-for-all availability in which questions sometimes sound like pick-up lines and shout-outs are requested in three or four languages simultaneously. LeBron James has been in front of enough cameras and dealt with immense fame for long enough that he was ready to deliver his lines with ease when the inevitable topic was raised on Friday.

“That’s his own opinion,” James said of Michael Jordan’s recent statement that he would pick Kobe Bryant over James on the basis of the Lakers guard’s five championships. “At the end of the day, rings [don't] always define someone’s career.

“If that was the case, then I would sit up here and say I would take [Bill] Russell over Jordan. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t take Russell over Jordan. Russell has 11 rings, Jordan has six. Take, I don’t know, Robert Horry over Kobe. I wouldn’t do that. It’s your own personal opinion. Rings [do] not define a person’s career.”

This was a clever, almost senatorial maneuver: James answered the question, shifted the discussion and briefly distracted a five-deep pack of reporters that surrounded him.

“You look at a guy like [former Bulls reserve] Jud Buechler, he has multiple rings, Charles Barkley does not have one ring,” James continued. “He’s not better than Charles Barkley. Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all time, Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all time. Sometimes it’s about the situation you’re in, the team you’re in and it’s about timing as well.”

That sound bite was followed by another, in which he tried to play off Jordan’s comments.

“I don’t play the game and try to define who I am over what guys say or how they feel about me,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I play for my family, I play for my teammates, I play for our coaching staff and I play for our fans, that’s it.”

LeBron’s sound bites, politically crafted and politically correct, served their specific purpose, providing a rebuttal to Jordan’s widely circulated comments. The fuller context — in this case, still only 30 minutes of questions and answers — rendered the sound bites wholly unconvincing. The extended conversation gave the impression that James not only cares about the comparisons but that he cares deeply, and implied that he particularly cares about Jordan’s opinion. What other impression could be reached after listening to James rattle off his favorite Jordan moments, in honor of MJ’s upcoming 50th birthday, in rapid-fire succession?

“I’ve got 50 of them, s— I’ve got 100 of them,” James said. “I’ve got so many memories of MJ. You name it. From the shoes, to him flying through the air, to him hitting the threes against the Blazers, to him being on the TV screen with Bugs Bunny. From him jumping over the buildings in a suit in the commercials. To him hitting the golf ball, swinging the baseball bat, so many memories. Him having the [ProStars] cartoon, you guys remember that? … I’ve got so many memories. MJ was an inspiration to me growing up.”

Not only an inspiration but, he admitted, but a full-fledged hero.

“You always tried to look for someone that was a superhero or someone who was beyond life,” James said. “Mine was Batman, mine was Transformers and Michael Jordan. Growing up those were the ones. I was like, I wish I could transform into this, I wish I could fly like Michael Jordan, or propel like Batman does.”

Does James, who so openly idolizes Jordan as an adult and who wore No. 23 in high school and in Cleveland, really expect anyone to believe that Jordan’s assessment of his progress doesn’t matter to him? As James’ friend Jay-Z would say, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.”

But this has morphed past simply validation-seeking now that James has claimed his first title and could very well add a second in a few months. Because just as easily as he made his respect for Jordan known, James didn’t blink in putting a target on his back.

“I want to be the greatest of all time,” James declared, adding later: “As my talent continued to grow, as I continued to know about the game, appreciate the game, continued to get better, I felt like I had the drive, first of all, the passion, the commitment to the game to place myself as the greatest of all time, the best of all time, however you want to categorize it. I don’t do it to say I’m better than this guy or that guy. I do it for my own inspiration. I inspire myself. When I go out on the floor, I want to be the best of all time. That’s how I help myself each and every night.”

The logical next question, then: How will he ultimately decide that he’s achieved his goal? Surely championships — rings — would be among the criteria, right? Does James have a checklist, a la a young Tiger Woods, who methodically tracked his progress alongside golf’s greats? What are the mileposts he is striving to hit?

“Nope, nope, nope, nope,” James said, unwilling to reveal any details. “If I go out and play at a high level, those things will take care of themselves.”

The fuller narrative, of course, reminds us that James values winning above everything. “It’s about damn time,” he declared after securing his first title last June. The previous year, after losing to the Mavericks in the Finals, he told reporters that he barely left his house for more than a week, such was his despair. How are we to reasonably believe the spirit of his sound bite — that rings aren’t critically important in judging greatness — when we have clear and convincing evidence of how much he personally values them?

Moreover, the fuller narrative between James and Jordan, even in just this half-hour window, grew so complicated and intertwined that it became difficult to keep up. To summarize: James disputed Jordan’s standard for comparing him to Bryant; claimed he doesn’t seek Jordan’s validation; ranked Jordan over Russell; spoke openly about how he idolized Jordan as a child; and stated clearly that he wants to be the best player ever, which would push Jordan, Bryant and everyone else to the side.

Eventually James conceded — not dejectedly but not eagerly, either — that these comparisons, for as long as they have already raged, are only just beginning.

“That’s the life,” he said. “I understand it. That’s the life I live in. The comparisons are going to come. I’d rather be compared to Michael Jordan than somebody who wasn’t in the league very long. It’s very humbling. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given. Mike is in his own lane and I try to create my own.”

What happens if and when James gets his second title? His fifth? His sixth? What happens if and when he passes Jordan — and Bryant — on the all-time scoring chart? What happens if and when he hits statistical peaks for career points, rebounds and assists that have never been achieved by the same player? What happens when he’s 50, like Jordan will be on Sunday, looking back on his career with the next generation of stars going after his records?

“How do I want to be remembered when I’m 50?” James asked rhetorically. “I’m 28 years old, I ain’t thinking about that.”

There it was, one last unconvincing sound bite. He wants to be the greatest and, like any man, he wants his due. Jordan won’t yet give it to him, but James is savvy enough not to whine about it and smart enough to make his case on the court. The fuller narrative suggests that the comparisons will be even more difficult and more complicated five years from now. Friday’s full narrative suggested that James knows that better than anyone.

27 comments
Cherrie
Cherrie

LeBron must NOT be too sensitive of what other people say about his game. MJ and LBJ are two very different players, thus their legacy would be different. MJ has made his mark which is now being considered the best ever, as soon as LeBron ends his career, that's when we can make judgment as to who made the bigger impact.

timwenger
timwenger

I agree with this article. Both players are all stars and unstoppable. The NBA has changed through the years becoming more physical recently. Michael Jordan was more of a shooting guard who could pull up from anywhere on the court but also drive to the hoop if needed. Michael Jordan also has won more rings than James for now. While LeBron James is more of a post player but is now starting to form a pure jump shot. James is more physical and has a bigger body than Jordan ever had. The key with both players is rather or not they make the people around them better. An all-star is truly one that anybody who plays around him improves. The media enjoys blowing up these comparisons. But the truth is both players are on their own level and will go down in the hall of fame. Even Coach Phil Jackson argues why Michael Jordan is better than LeBron James.

http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/10/09/phil-jackson-talks-lebron-james-vs-michael-jordan/

 

JulesG
JulesG

This whole argument gets more than annoying to me, because Michael Jordan's opinion is HIS, and if people don't agree, it's ok because it's their opinion too! So, now MJ's opinion is invalid because you disagree and because he as a person who is bad at choosing basketball talent means anything he talks about in reference to a player is invalid? Something is wrong here. How about we let go of ALWAYS trying to have these conversations, and just give players who are greats, regardless of anything else, their just due? Kobe for example had to ALWAYS hear about how he was 2nd fiddles playing with Shaq. That was because so many put pressure on the next heir to be the man on the team, so when Shaq left, did he get more respect winning 2 more. No, of course not. Partly because when Shaq left he was criticized for that too. I always wanted to know what was wrong with them both getting fair credit for winning? Instead, the whole MJ/GOAT argument comes up anytime you accomplish anything in the NBA. NO MATTER WHAT, he is factored into your accomplishments. Now it's Lebron, who people want to give more credit for winning early without a star beside him, but still opted to play by 2 other great players to win 1 ring. So what is that going to get Lebron? The "you still needed help" clause, right? It's just silly and unfair, because we take away from being able to enjoy TODAY's NBA by constantly trying to minimize it for a player that is no longer playing. So much, that we need to have his opinion to feel like today's game is worth discussing and I personally get tired of it. I respect his opinion, but at the same I just want to enjoy these players while they are doing it now. Who cares who MJ picks or what he did at this point. We can talk about that when it matters, when it's all said and done!

CarmiOida
CarmiOida

LeBron, barring injuries, you will be a great player, you are... already, but if you make becoming the greatest player ever as your goal in life, for sure, you are not going to be a great person. Because ambition dehumanizes people. Just look at Kobe; every time Kobe plays, he's got nothing in mind but to fill up his statistics, which makes him completely forget about his teammates feelings. LeBron, do not let competition in basketball blind you. There's more to life than becoming the greatest player ever, and that is being a great person.

wizzla761
wizzla761

Stop trying to read into what MJ said and just listen to his words.

He said Lebron is running the world right now.

Then he he had to choose a better career and he said Kobe cause he won more rings.  Which is true

If you ask him about their careers in 5 yers he might give you a different answer but if they both retired today Kobe had the better career, even though he's played a lot longer.

WilliamC
WilliamC

Didn't MJ pick Kwame Brown too?  Obviously he's not very good at picking the right answer.

 

Look, if we're being honest, Championships don't mean anything.  One player is better than another, that's life.  If we try to simplify it and just say Championships decide which player is better than you're saying that every season that Michael didn't win a Championship, he wasn't the greatest player.  Not only was he not the greatest in those non-Championship seasons, you're saying that every player who was on those Championship teams was better than him.  We know that isn't true, just like we know Championships don't mean anything in deciding who the greatest player is.

bryandepalma10
bryandepalma10

Why the hell do people, INCLUDING Lebron James, whenever the topic focuses on Greatest of All Time + championship rings always mention Robert Horry, BUECHLER!, Adam Morrison, Steve Kerr etc.

 

While i don;t agree with Jordan, what he is saying is that Championship rings in the GOAT conversation means it's kind of a  "tiebreaker" between equal players. There's no place in the conversation for the Horrys and the Kerrs. For example Jordan will take Hakeem over Ewing and Robinson. Jordan will take Magic over Bird. He'll take KOBE OVER LEBRON. Jordan will take Duncan over Garnett and Malone.

 

Get out of here with the Horry, Adam Morrison, Kwame Brown stuff.

 

 

 

 

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

Good for LeBron - Finally someone put the ring issue in perspective.

 

1) Kobe has 5 rings but perspective - three of those were as number two to Shaq.   Kobe nearly gagged ring number 5 away with his Game 7 poop in pants performance against Boston.  He was bailed out by Artest and Gasol and to a degree, Pierce who tried to win the game by himself in the 4th quarter.

 

2) Robert Horry has 6 rings?  Who the hell knows and who cares?   Was he the main man on any of them or a merely a nice stretch 4?   Was he better than Larry Bird - 3 time MVP with 3 rings?

 

3 John Stockton has zero rings and he was 4 times the player Derek Fisher ever was.

 

4) Jordan's rings are as unquestionable as the come.  Pure championship pedigree.   Due mostly to him - So no disputing that six.  Russell's 11 probably equate to 6 in the modern era.   Also legitamate.

 

But Dwade has two and LeBron has 1.  Who's greater?  

 

Anyway, Lebron made his point, made it correctly and I think at this point, we can actually take it under serious advisement that the rings are everything. 

 

Starting to like this guy more and more...

 

 

 

 

Three-PointAssasin
Three-PointAssasin

I don't understand. The game of basketball has millions of fans or whatever, but very few actually understand this game. Lebron doesn't actually need 7 titles to be greater than Kobe. That's right I said it. Secondly MJ is the g.o.a.t on the floor but everything else after that has been ridiculous. We're talking about a man who picked:

 

Erik Dampier over Tyson Chandler

Kwame Brown over Pau Gasol

Joel Pryzbilla over Gerald Wallace

Adam Morrisson over Rudy Gay

Brandan Wright over Joakim Noah

DJ Augustin over Brook Lopez

Gerald Henderson over Jrue Holiday

Jerry Stackhouse over Richard Hamilton

Vladimir Radmonovic over Shannon Brown

Jangulo1
Jangulo1

MJ is a jerk.  He is shallow and has no purpose outside of basketball.  He didn't beat the Lakers when they were strong, nor the Pistons when they were strong.  He didn't win without Pippen. Lebron raised the lowly Cavs and brought them to the finals.  SI and ESPN seem to forget that basketball existed before MJ.  How is Kareem not mentioned every time MJ speaks?  He has more MVP's and points than MJ and he won a championship in his second year (unlike MJ who needed Scottie).  MJ is a petty man whose opinion no one should seek.  Kareem has written six books, started a jazz label and produced movies and documentaries about the civil rights movement.  Let's forget MJ and marvel at this young talent Lebron as he continues to  improve his skills. 

wizzla761
wizzla761

MJ didn't say anything wrong.  he Said Lebron is running the world right now but for their careers RIGHT NOW he takes Kobe because of his 5 rings.  Ask MJ the same question in 5 years  and If Lebron has won more by then then his answer might change but if both Lebron and Jobe retired Today Kobe had the better career, thats not saying that Lebron might not have a better career by the time he retires but we'll see.

timwenger
timwenger

I agree with this article. Both players are all stars and are unstoppable. The NBA has changed through the years becoming more physical recently. In my opinion, I think Michael Jordan was more of a shooting guard. He was almost a pure shooter but also could drive if needed. While Lebron James is much for of a post player but is now starting to form a pure jump shot. The media enjoys blowing up these comparisons. But the truth is both players are on their own level and will go down in the hall of fame. 

Pfft
Pfft

Just play the game, Lebron, and the honors will come to you should you earn them.  You know exactly where MJ is coming from here and invoking Barkley to try and support your case is irresponsible and disingenuous. 

dinohealth
dinohealth

I think MJ is being petty getting into these conversations,not up to his legacy, and, actually, not fair to Lebron James. MJ is the greatest player of all time. Kobe followed him as the best player of his time. It is now LJ's time, and, he is peaking. Let LJ's time end, and, then, we can talk about where he stacks up, all-time.

0xfece5
0xfece5

Can someone fill in the author that "soundbyte" is not a word?   Used it 6 times.  It's soundbite.  Soundbite.  It's not 8 bits of sound.

joe8254
joe8254

Hate all the psychoanalyzing and reading between the lines of what you suppose LeBron's words mean. How is that actual journalism? What ever happened to reporting the facts and allowing your readers to make their own judgments based on them?

I have a lot of respect for LeBron's game and accomplishments. His game is a remarkable blend of the skills of players of the highest order. In any given game you can see elements of Oscar, Larry, Magic, DrJ, Sir Charles, Scottie and, yes, Michael, just to name a few. He's an amazing hybrid.

The fact that Jordan was the  MVP and winner in all the Finals he played in is spectacular and sets him apart. But I find the slamming of LeBron by old school cats to be more embarassing to them than it is to him. Magic saying Jordan would beat LeBron 10 out of 10 one-on-one? That's like saying LeBron is a scrub. You don't think that just by luck he'd win one or two games? Never mind the skill level and size advantage he brings to the court. 

Now that LeBron has finally solved the riddle of how to win a championship and is learning how to dominate games while remaining unselfish, whose to say he won't add three or four more rings to his collection? His recent record streak of high scoring combined with high percentage shooting is evidence of the maturity and laser guided focus he's bringing to the court this year. 

mandajzk
mandajzk

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o1
o1

 @JulesG

can't agree more.

 

People discredit Jordan for picking Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison but did they do that at the time of the draft? Of course there are better selection out there but people today had the advantage of hindsight.

 

and oh, those who diss Jordan for his opinions are hurt because MJ have a voice heard by millions and here we are voicing our opinions in the internets. it sucks but it's true.

o1
o1

 @CarmiOida "ambition dehumanizes people."

 

Lebron already did. His ambition to win a championship made him left Cleveland and in a bad way too.

 

Hope the Championship Ring he earned has already made him realize all the bad decisions he made in the past.

 

Keep it up Bron and become a great person.

 

 

Marcus1
Marcus1

 @bryandepalma10 A good example would be which is a better achievement:Duncan's 4 rings, 3 Finals MVPs and 2 MVPs orKobe's 5 rings, 2 Finals MVPs  and 1 MVP?Kobe starting his career playing along side Shaq when Shaq was the MVP would be like LeBron starting his career playing with Duncan or Garnett.  

pablo.j.davis
pablo.j.davis

 @Jangulo1

I don't know about MJ being 'a jerk' but what I do like about your comment is the part about the utter blank that is basketball history before Jordan, in almost the entire media and discussions. No Kareem, no Wilt, no Russell; no Earl the Pearl, no aerial invention by Dr J... how about Oscar Robertson, who in his SECOND season in the NBA, at age 23, averaged a triple-double for the entire season: 30.8 pts, 12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists... and came within a hair's breadth of doing it again the next two seasons. (his fourth year, 31.4 pts, 9.9 reb, 11.0 asst). He was a BEAST and is (virtually) never, ever mentioned in these kinds of conversations. It's utterly present oriented. Rules change, too, in the NBA as in most sports, offense is favored hugely, for starters, until 35 years ago there was no 3-pt line in the NBA. So when you look at scoring averages today vs 50 years ago (same with HR's in baseball, passing yardage in football) this leads to an idolizing of more recent players. There is so mujch ignorance and present-ism... it's like comparing incomes across eras without correcting for inflation.

CarlosBMorarles1
CarlosBMorarles1

 @Marcus1  @bryandepalma10 his is easy to decipher. I'll tell u what Jordan means. forget the role players that won rings. If we are evaluating a great player and comparing to great player... we understand that Player A & B are great. But, then u look at the finals (how many times they went to the finals) ... and the rings. Dont dare compare Stockton and Fisher. Stockton was a superstar, Fisher was role player. But, if you look at Kobe & Lebron, but are great players ... so u use the ring to further distinguish them. Look, hall of fame are more likely to take players that took a team to finals or won them. So, in a way taking a team to nba finals and winning is more rewarding. 

o1
o1

 @Marcus1  @bryandepalma10 

or how about Magic Johnson? Kareem was MVP in 1980, Finals MVP in 1985, All-Star from 1979-1989, All NBA First Team 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986, All Defensive First Team 1979-81.

 

Magic had 5 rings, 3 Finals MVPs. Nobody takes away 2 of Magic's rings and yet Kobe's 3 rings with Shaq always gets discredited from him. Would Shaq won without Kobe?

 

Jordan always gets discredited for having played with Pippen and yet Kareem is much much greater than Pip.Same with Bird- he had teammates greater than Pippen.

 

Duncan played with 2 maybe 3 hall of famers (Robinson, Manu and Tony Parker) for his rings. Nobody discredits him for that.

 

Jordan-- Pip for the 1st 3, Pip and Rodman for the next 3.

 

If Bosh can keep his numbers up, Lebron would have played with 2 hall of famers for his ring. Bosh was instrumental in the Conference Finals and the Finals.

 

Kobe had Pau for 2 of his rings.