"Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game. But, I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game".
That seemingly blasphemous statement was uttered by Scottie Pippen a few days ago on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning". Yes, the same Scottie Pippen who won six championships alongside MJ. The same Scottie Pippen who failed to take the Bulls past the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1994 (Pippen's first year without Jordan).
On the surface, Scottie Pippen's words seem ridiculous. Michael Jordan is a six-time champion, a fourteen-time All-Star, a five-time MVP, do I need to continue? He is the consensus greatest player in NBA history.
I think I've made it pretty clear that I am not LeBron's biggest fan. However, unlike most, I see some validity in Scottie Pippen's statement. It's a given that LeBron's pedigree doesn't even compare to that of MJ. But let's not base this comparison solely on championships. Michael Jordan was a better shooter and finisher around the basket. But, what about defense? passing? rebounding? athleticism? Four checks for LeBron. No one - not Michael Jordan, not Oscar Robertson, not Kareem - has ever possessed the same skill set as LeBron James. He can guard every position on the floor, he can play point guard, he can grab rebounds over bigs, he's 6' 8'' 260. Enough said.
MJ was known for his ability to come through in the clutch. Ever since his years with Dean Smith at UNC, Jordan has been trusted in the game's critical moments. Prior to this postseason, it could be said that LeBron James was anti-clutch. Even throughout this regular season, LeBron repeatedly failed to hit shots in crunch time. Over recent weeks, however, James has shown a different side. King James has taken over in close games, leading Miami to key victories.
Although I believe LeBron is a better all-around player than Michael Jordan, he will never be regarded as such until he gets some hardware. He's definitely on the right track. In his first year with his new team, King James is in the finals for the second time in his career. In the coming years, Miami is only going to get better. The big three's chemistry will improve, sure. But, there's another reason why Miami is going to become nearly unstoppable in the future: free agents will take pay-cuts in order to win championships. If the Heat can sign a decent point guard and big man this summer, you can book them for another trip to the finals. And then there's this: in the NBA's new CBA, there will probably be a hard salary cap. The hard cap will limit teams' financial flexibility. Therefore, it will be very difficult to bring multiple premier free agents to the same team (Sorry, New York); a task that Pat Riley completed last summer.
From the looks of it now, LeBron will get his rings. When that happens, this comparison should be revisited. Until then, we can only compare skills on the court. LeBron James is a Magic Johnson-type, only he can score thirty on any given night and defend any player in the league. The same could not be said about MJ.