Posted June 06, 2013

Spoelstra: Comparing LeBron to Jordan is impossible because ‘game is different now’

2013 NBA Finals, Ben Golliver, Erik Spoelstra, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Michael Jordan, San Antonio Spurs
LeBron James

LeBron James (left) is looking for his second title. Michael Jordan captured six titles in his career. (Greg Nelson, Al Tielemans/SI)

MIAMI — A Finals victory over the Spurs this month would keep Heat forward LeBron James on pace with Michael Jordan when it comes to ring-collecting.

James, 28, is seeking the second title of his 10-year career. At 28, Jordan was months away from leading the Bulls over the Blazers in the 1992 Finals, repeating as champions and capturing the second title of his Hall of Fame career. Those parallel tracks have fueled endless comparisons, a topic of discussion that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes is an ultimately futile endeavor.

“Every time you try to compare a player to another generation, it’s apples and oranges,” Spoelstra said Thursday, hours before Game 1 of the Finals. “You’ll never be able to tell [how James stacks up to Jordan or Magic Johnson] because they didn’t play against each other. The game is different now than when it was played in the 1980s or even before that.”

While most would agree that the Greatest Of All Time tag is Jordan’s to keep until James can better approximate his track record of postseason success, the 2013 MVP has started to collect his share of superlatives. In recent years, James has been called “bigger, stronger, faster” than Jordan by TNT commentator Charles Barkley and “probably a better athlete” than Jordan by former Pistons guard Isiah Thomas. In winning his fourth MVP this season, James passed Johnson’s three MVPs and now trails Jordan by just one. James’ seven All-NBA First-Team selections already put him within reach of Johnson (nine) and Jordan (10), even though he will likely be playing elite-level basketball for at least the next five or six years.

Still, Spoelstra wouldn’t bite.

“It’s tough to compare,” he said. “[James] grew up as a historian of the game. He’s taken bits and pieces of everybody’s game. He’s a hybrid athlete as it is, just being 6-foot-8 with the size, speed and power that he has, and also the cerebral aspect of his game, to be able to see the floor, make any kind of play, [and] to be able to score 30, 40 [points] on a different night. I think he’s incorporated a lot of people’s games.”

Back in February, Jordan offered his thoughts on James and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, expressing a preference for Bryant because of his advantage in championships.

“If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it, and not that he [LeBron James] won’t get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one.”

James at first brushed off that talk — tweeting “I’m not MJ, I’m LJ” — but later made it clear in Houston during All-Star weekend that he very much seeks the Greatest Of All Time title.

“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.”

RELATED: Heat’s Erik Spoelstra on Hall-of-Fame track?

James is seeking his second title in four Finals appearances as he also looks to avenge a 2007 Finals loss to the Spurs.

Longtime NBA trainer Tim Grover, who has worked for years with both Jordan and Bryant, told SI.com in April that comparing Jordan to anyone besides legendary Celtics center Bill Russell would be a mistake.

“Michael Jordan was 6-for-6in Finals, never lost a Finals, never needed a Game 7 to do that,” Grover said. “Just by saying that alone, that puts him in a category I don’t think anybody else is in, except maybe a Bill Russell. Other than that, I don’t know if you can really put [Jordan] in the same category [with anybody].

“I think what [James] should do, instead of worrying about where Mike was at, he should be trying to get to the accolades, get to the Finals, as many times as Kobe had. … I think the comparison [for James] should be more toward a current player he’s playing against now because of what Michael already did, and LeBron, in the early part of his career, faltered two times in the Finals. I think that [the Jordan/James] comparison can’t be made, just from that alone.”

Even if Spoelstra unsurprisingly dodged the NBA’s great debate with the start of the Finals looming, he did express an appreciation for James’ ability to serve as a coach on the court by alternating between being a scorer and a distributor.

“LeBron has a great feel for the game,” he said. “Games within the game change, there [are] momentum swings, sometimes you need your best player being aggressive and getting to the basket, sometimes you need other people involved to facilitate. Sometimes you work together to try to get that. More often than not, he’s reading that and feeling that during the course of the game. That’s much more efficient than having to explain everything every single timeout.”

10 comments
kennethb
kennethb

Here is why you can never compare Lebron to MJ.

Lets say Jordan never played one basketball game in the NBA. Then you have to ask yourself the question would Lebron or any of the next generation stars that came after Jordan be anywhere near the same players they are today?  such as Kobe, KG, Lebron, ect. The answer is HELL no. 

Without Jordan no player after him has the game they have today or any of the future players. 

Case in point. Lets throw the same Lebron, Kobe or any of the players of today back into time into the 1980's or earlier. These players never had the opportunity to learn form Jordan. Watch him. Imitate his every move. All of these players would be TOTAL different players.  Lebron would be a a PF or C and maybe just maybe a half way decent star in the league.

Jordan changed everything. All of these players today and future players are growing up and recreating Jordans every move.  idolizing Jordan and following in his footsteps and recreating the very game that he father Jordan created. Jordan molded these players to be who they are now. Without Jordan Lebron James and the others are nothing. Jordan is the father of something and will always be the originator and the best. No matter what stats Lebron puts up. No matter how many championships he earns. You CAN NEVER BE BETHER THAN THE FATHER OR CREATOR OF SOMETHING.

The only way i see someone ever being better than Jordan if someone in the future comes along and changes everything again. Someone so great and so superior that everything Jordan did looks small in comparison and this person changes the game of every player that comes after him then i would say you have a new best player ever.  I don't see something like this in our lifetime. It happened in our life time only once  and that persons name was Michael Jordan. 

If you threw Lebron/ Kobe back in time. Say they were born in 1970 and they were in the league at the same time Jordan was. And they never had the chance to see and modify there games based on watching Jordans as they did as kids growing . Jordan would DESTROY THEM. DESTROY THEM. DESTROY THEM!!!! Jordan would OWNED them in the 1990's. Look at MAGIC, BARKLEY, HAKEEM, EWING, PIPPEN, MALONE.

Now lets say a player like Scotty Pippen/ Molone, HAKEEM, was born in 1988 instead of the year that he was born in. And he had time to watch Jordan growing up as a kid and molded his game after Jordan. Throw  a young Scotty PIppen into the year of 2013 and he would be what Lebron James is today or who knows maybe even better than Lebron. 

Case in point. You lets reverse the quesiton and you can clearly see how great JORDAN IS. Now lets say Jordan was born in 1999. Would Jordan do it again what he did the first time? Would he change every player every person that ever comes after him and be the most superior player that has ever played basketball? The answer is YES!!! And he would he change everything agian and make it even better. Evoloution would play in his favor Since he never existed before players would still be weaker than they are now days. Jordan would do the same thing agian but be even better at it since the league would still have evolved even without his airness precsnece.  So Jordans game would be better than before as well. HE WOULD CHANGE EVERYTHING ALL OVER  AGAIN and be even better than he was the first time due simply to the fact of being in a better era.

WHY IS JORDAN SO GOOD NO MATTER WHAT ERA YOU PUT HIM IN? THE REASON IS SOMETHING NO OTHER PLAYER HAS HAD BEFORE OR WILL HAVE AGAIN IN OUR LIFE TIME . THE WORK ETHIC, HEART, MINDSET, INNOVATION, AND THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIANT OF ALL GODS APPROVAL TO THE BEST EVER. AND IF YOU ASK JORDAN PERSONALLY HE WOULD TELL YOU HIS SELF, GOD APPOINTED HIM FOR SOME REASON TO HAVE THE GREATEST . GIFTS OF ALL TIME. ANYTIME YOU CHANGE THE WORLD I THINK GOD HAS A HAND IN IT. GODS FAVOR WAS WITH KING JORDAN WHEN HE CREATED HIM. HE HAS ALL THE ELEMENTS THAT OTHER MEN JUST DONT HAVE. PAST, PRESENT, OR FUTURE.

In conclusion all these players today are only what they are because JORDAN! JORDANS HEART WAS SO BIG. HIS WORK ETHIC WAS SO GOOD. HIS COMPETIVENESS SO GREAT. THAT HE CHANGED THE BASKETBALL WORLD FOREVER.

So no matter what Lebron does. If he isn't something different and doesn't make Jordan look small in comparison. He is only a bi-product- and immitation of Jordan. A Jordan wannabe. He is JORDANS CREATION. 

JORDAN IS FATHER THE REAL KING ALWAYS AND FOREVER!


At least for now. Until some other innivatior comes along. we have only time to see if this happens. But enough time passes it will sure come to pass. Just not TODAY. Sorry Lebron.




GProf007
GProf007

I believe they shouldn't be compared in the first place... because one is still an active player. Let him finish his career first. Who knows if Lebron suddenly gets injured or another player comes up (in another team) and that team spanks the Heat? Will there be the GOAT debate after that? All this comparison is based on assumption that Lebron will end-up with x more (enter stat) than MJ... well let him do it first! Rather than assume.

In my case, the biggest reason I can't see him as GOAT (and might never will) is that he needed to use the flop as a viable arsenal in his game. Trickery shouldn't be part of the game... sad that because of this modern "role models" (not only Lebron but a good number of big name players in the NBA today) young kids now a days... use the flop... "just use anything to your advantage" as a justification. Just frustratingly sad to see the NBA paving the way to destroy the game with such antics... and for a potential GOAT using such as part of his repertoire.

redneck_ph
redneck_ph

Good God, if Game 6 proved anything, it's that LBJ is as far from MJ as the earth is from Proxima Centauri. All series long, we've seen how the supposedly better LeBron faded in and out in a game, even coming out as the goat several times, and very badly at that. Jordan has lost games, but whether they lost by 1 or by 20, I have never seen him act the way LeBron did. Frankly speaking, I think  LBJ and company only made it this far because the Bulls didn't have Rose, Deng and Hinrich, while the Pacers not only didn't have their top scorer, they were also a bunch of immature players who imploded in on themselves. I concur with Torched. LeBron relies too much on brute strength. Had he played in the 80s and 90s where REAL men played REAL defense, I don't think he'd be too happy-go-lucky driving down the lane. Believe me, if he can be intimidated by the likes of Diaw, Leonard, Green and Duncan, he'd be peeing his pants when he faces off against the real bad boys of the NBA. 

Torched
Torched

Let's just compare them like they should be - hype aside. Lebron stands 6-8 250lbs, MJ is 6-6 and played around 215lbs. Positionally Jordan is a natural guard, Lebron is more of a forward. MJ is in my opinion a slash and flash player.  He looked silky smooth out there whether he was throwing down 50 points or shutting down the other teams leading scorer defensively.  Jordan's will to win and his game are totally different that Lebrons.  Lebron is(in my opinion again) the best player in the game today but he is not MJ.  Lebron relies on his size and strength to overpower or run by his opponents.  Jordan would slash, cut, and out finesse his opponent.    LBJ looks mechanical at times and seems to check in and out of games mentally.  Jordan has a well known hatred of losing and this drive to NOT lose at anything, is what makes him so special.  One play in game 6 of the 2013 championship makes my point.  Lebron either in OT or late in the 4th qtr made a beautiful steal and tried to go coast to coast only to lose the ball before he could score.  The Heat had the lead and all he had to do was slow up and set the offense, also allowing some time to run off the clock, but instead he tried to overpower his defender and ended up looking super mechanical and losing possession.  I know I have a Jordan bias but MJ woulda done that differently.  Speaking of Bias... thats who LBJ reminds me of, Len Bias.  Sadly we never got to enjoy his talents at the pro level but man.. what if...  

ndhoE_FG
ndhoE_FG

why not try an approach science methodology like AHP  to make a (mathematics-subjective) decision, i think is not difficult to find the criteria

zbend
zbend

if jordan in his prime played in this era, he'd accomplish even more ridiculous feats. 

vicente
vicente

"game is different now" = more floppers; you can take 3 steps without getting called for travel; soft fouls called

real men used to play the game, now they're just a bunch of pretenders, most of them anyway.

alwynmalan
alwynmalan

Though you can't compare...I can say this.

I have never ever seen MJ give up in a game, or gone silent in an important game.  LJ might be a better athlete...hell he might even have more talent  than MJ...but he sure as hell doesn't even remotely have the killer instinct and mental attributes MJ has.

MikelArtist
MikelArtist

Michael Jordan collecting NBA MVP... NBA TROPHY....

Lebron James...?????

GProf007
GProf007

@vicente sad... but this era of basketball is more about the money, the fame rather than for the love of the game. I view flopping as one of the ultimate disrespect for the game... no GREAT basketball player will use it on his arsenal - why? You're not using basketball skill but rather trying to trick the refs using acting. The floppers are incredible that even with barely any contact they flop... and the refs call them anyway. This is an era of prima donnas and not REAL athletes. Sad fact.