LeBron Will Pass Jordan, Because of Jordan

It doesn’t matter if the Cavs beat the Warriors. Doesn’t change the fact that LeBron is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. And I saw Jordan.

lebron goat
This year, LeBron is playing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals because Michael Jordan won six. That motivation will never go away. He could only surpass Jordan if Jordan set the standard.

It reminds me so distinctively of Tiger Woods and his assault on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles. From his arrival on the golf scene, Tiger made his intentions known – he was gunning for Jack’s record.

It seemed to be insanity. No one would ever be as good as Jack. Certainly, no one would ever be better. But that outlandish goal fueled Tiger on a daily basis. When he hit his peak in the early-mid 2000’s, the debate raged between golf fans. In 1997, it was absurd. By 2007, many believed Tiger had become the greatest.

Ultimately, injuries and life derailed Tiger and it appears Jack’s record is safe. It doesn’t change that we had the debate. It doesn't change the fact that only one player was even worthy of the debate.

In basketball, the notion anyone could ever reach Jordan’s level has felt like blasphemy for two decades. Michael Jordan’s peak in the 1990’s coincided with my childhood – I graduated high school a year after Jordan’s last title.

The memories from Jordan aren’t just sports memories – they are defining moments of my teenage years. I can still picture myself on my parents’ couch in Hebron, Connecticut, staying up past midnight, watching Jordan destroy the Utah Jazz despite having the flu. I’m getting goose bumps as I type. It defied explanation. It defied reality. It would never happen again.

When LeBron arrived on the scene, the same talk that accompanied Tiger had accompanied LeBron. Just as Tiger had Jack, LeBron had Jordan. But team sports are a much different animal – LeBron’s singular greatness would not take him to a title so quickly, as Tiger’s 1997 Masters did.

LeBron had to grow like Michael did. Our nostalgia obscures the years of torment that Jordan went through, from the Celtics and the Pistons. We prefer to pick and choose our memories of 1980’s Jordan.  

I have always been a huge LeBron fan because I respected his work ethic, his determination and his commitment to family and hometowns. He’s a good dude. He won be over quickly.

Bust most of all, I respected that LeBron was aiming to be the greatest of all time. Much like Jordan, he has constantly refined and revamped his game. The LeBron James of 2017 is shockingly still in his prime 14 years after entering the league, with a whole new arsenal of moves to prove his superiority. At times, it feels unfair.

There’s no doubt that LeBron is the best basketball player on Earth. That’s been settled for years. What isn’t settled is LeBron’s place in history.

And where would LeBron be without Jordan to shoot for?

As we prepared for the most anticipated NBA Finals since 1998, if not ever, the debate raged on Jordan vs. LeBron, focused specifically on the fact that if LeBron can fell the Warriors again, he may take the GOAT mantle from Jordan.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. There is no actual way to determine who is better between the two. That’s the fun, right? The debate’s existence at this stage is proof that LeBron James is well on his way to surpassing Michael Jordan.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe a basketball player would provide a performance or a play that would approach Jordan in any way. I was too young to see Bird or Magic in their primes, so Jordan is my yard stick. The three-point barrage against the Blazers. The right-to-left hand layup against the Lakers. The flu game. The 55 against the Knicks. The final shot over Russell. It could never be approached.

Then came LeBron. For me, it was Game 6 against Boston in 2012, when he completely dominated the Celtics and ended the run of Allen, Pierce and Garnett by himself. It continued through last year’s Block in Game 7 that I was still shaking my head about months later. Things like that just shouldn’t happen.

However, the absolute first time I ever considered that LeBron had surpassed Jordan came in Game 2 of this year’s Celtics series. LeBron was so dominant that it didn’t make sense. While Jordan was always the best player on the court, the opponents were at least playing the same game.

In Game 2, LeBron was so significantly better than ever single Celtics player that it truly felt like it was the high schooler playing agains the middle school team. This shouldn’t happen! This is the Eastern Conference Finals!

It dawned on me that what we’re seeing with LeBron is not new. In fact, it called to mind the words of Bobby Jones after Jack Nicklaus won the 1965 Masters.

“Nicklaus played a game with which I am not familiar.”

LeBron isn’t Michael Jordan. He’s better, but only because Jordan provided a standard to exceed.

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