The National Basketball Association (NBA) has throughout the years delivered global sport stars and icons. Some of the greatest players ever to set foot on the court throughout history are Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to name a few.
But every now and again, the world is blessed when an athlete emerges who surpasses everyone before him and elevates the sport to another level. Pele made football global with his dazzling skills and Muhammad Ali became bigger than boxing with his addictive personality and dazzling speed. Bjorn Borg dominated tennis for decades and Tiger Woods became the highest paid sportsman in the world during his reign as the biggest brand in the world with his association with Nike.
The NBA is today blessed with a ‘freakish’ player. He stands 6ft 8” tall and weighs an impressive 250lbs and could easily be mistaken for a heavyweight boxer. Lebron James is today and has been over the last decade the dominating force in the NBA. Born in Ohio in 1984, James garnered national attention as the top high school basketball player in the country. With his unique combination of size, athleticism and court vision, he became one of the premier players in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After leading the Miami Heat to titles in 2012 and 2013, he returned to Cleveland and helped the team reach the NBA Finals in 2015.
Michael Jordan retired after the 1997-98 NBA season. Ever since then, we’ve been looking for his successor, the player who would take his place as the best in the game – and possibly surpass him.
Until LeBron James went to the Miami Heat, got a jumper and developed a post-game, Jordan had no successor. There was no player who put a Jordan-esque distance between himself and his peers. Shaq couldn’t do it. In early 2000’s Shaquille O’Neal was an unstoppable monster. But in reality, he only won one regular-season MVP and was often slowed by injury – and free-throw shooting.
Kobe couldn’t do it. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game, averaged 35 for a season, and imitated Jordan’s attitude. But he never really dominated the rest of the league.
In Lebron James, there hasn’t been a player this far above his peers since Jordan. So, naturally everyone wants to know: Is James better than Jordan? What does he have to do to surpass him as the greatest of all time?
Jordan and James are similar in that they both dominated the NBA during their eras. Even if James never wins another title, we’ll call this the LeBron era in 10 years. And Jordan – do I need to mention the six titles? The 10 scoring titles? The five MVPs? The Defensive Player of the Year award? But that dominance is all they have in common.
It’s not just that Jordan and James are different players with different, if overlapping, skill sets. They approach the game in totally unique ways. They’re both great players, but they aren’t cut from the same cloth. There will never be another Michael Jordan. Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant have spent their careers imitating Jordan, but all they’ve succeeded in doing is paying him a compliment. And if there ever is a LeBron James imitator, another player who seeks basketball perfection the way he does, he’ll do it in a totally different way – and he probably won’t do it as well.
So no, LeBron will never catch Jordan, but he doesn’t need to. He’s doing things to basketball that we didn’t know could be done. And if future generations remember him as the greatest ever, that’s fine. But he’s still no Jordan.