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Layups: LeBron James’ Michael Jordan problem

Posted by Neil Paine on June 10, 2011

At Slate, Josh Levin writes about the peculiar problem LeBron James has had forming a career narrative in a post-Michael Jordan world:

Airless: LeBron James' Michael Jordan problem

46 Responses to “Layups: LeBron James’ Michael Jordan problem”

  1. Neil Paine Says:

    I was thinking about this the other day. Jordan's career (particularly assuming we pretend Washington never happened) was the ultimate combination of supreme skill, timing, and luck. Let's say there was a 40% chance that Jordan's Bulls were the true best team in basketball in a given season when he was at full-strength (their odds in the conference alone were typically 70%, so 40% is probably a good guess). From 1991-1998, excluding 1994 & '95, Jordan won 6 consecutive titles, never losing. Even at 40%, there's just a 1-in-244 chance that you would win all six. 244 Michael Jordan-type careers, completely the same in every way except the ring count, and the real-life version got the best possible draw.

    Lebron James is facing not just the limitations of his own skill (he's not as good as Jordan was), but also Jordan's impossible-to-duplicate luck. Or maybe there really was magic involved, a mysticism to Jordan that we can't quantify and James can't comprehend. Either way, expecting anybody to duplicate Jordan's career is pure folly.

  2. bright Says:

    This immediately reminded me of a post a couple years ago on FD.

    "The problem is, Jordan's career isn't a template, it's a narrative, a series of organic occurrences that gave rise to the illusion of perfection."

  3. bright Says:

  4. Jason J Says:

    There's more to the narrative than just the success too. It's the way he was so dramatically crucial to all that success. He not only won, but he did it in such a way that it was clearly his play that decided the outcome - which puts a strange pressure on modern players to not just win, but to win in spectacular fashion, something Bryant seemed to get caught up in at times with his shoot first and find an opening later style. Take a trip down memory lane at the story of Jordan's titles:

    1991 - Defeats the best player of the last decade (Magic Johnson), has maybe the best statistical Finals ever (according to SPM it is), does the switch hand move to cap off the most ridiculous string of made field goals anybody could remember in game 2, hits a buzzer-beater in game 3 to go to OT and then dominates for the series turning win. Finishes off LA with passes to open teammates (averaged 11 assists to 3 turnovers on the series) while winning all three road games, and the lasting image is him holding the Finals trophy crying.

    1992 - 6 treys and 35 points in 1st half of game 1, domination of rival Clyde Drexler, caps 15 point game 6 comeback with go-ahead steal and dunk sequence. Lasting image is the shrug.

    1993 - Sets Finals record by averaging 41+ points per game. Dramatic 55 point performance in game 4 (5?) with game winning make over Barkley. Scores 9 of Chicago's 12 4th quarter points in clinching game 6 and draws the double team in the back court that frees up Paxson for the series winner. Lasting image is him whispering something in Chuck's ear after proving he was better than the MVP.

    1996 - Has what might be his worst playoff series ever and still manages to have the best game of any player in the series in game 3, where he scored 35 or so and put his team up 3-0. Kerr told Simmons in one of their podcasts that he thought the team lost focus and gave up the next two, but the crucial point is that the only road game either team won was the one Jordan took in hand. Other than that it was ugly. Lasting image is Jordan on the floor with the game ball balling on Father's Day two years after his dad passed.

    1997 & 1998 - In 8 Bulls wins over Utah Jordan hit 3 game winners (game 1 '97, flu game, and game 6 '98) and had a game winning assist (game 6 '97). He also closed both series with a game winning pass and a game winning assist. He basically redefined the notion of clutch and made everyone believe that even if Shaq, Robinson, and Malone had better numbers than him all year long, he was indisputably the best of the best at ages 34 and 35.

    This is why his shoe company slogan is "Become legendary". The man created his own mythos on the court. And here's what's lost: he had some bad games. He missed some big shots. But nobody remembers those, and so the players cast in his role in today's games aren't given the slack at the time. If the Heat come back and win this, James's foibles will be forgotten, but that won't be enough if he doesn't do it in "legendary" style. Which is a little ridiculous. Nobody complains about Bill Russell or Tim Duncan getting clutch help from their teammates.

  5. Bastaducci Says:

    Lebron is a great talent as we all know. but IMO the farther he gets from the rim the more useless he is. Lebron is capable of being a dominant inside force but he is not capable of being a dominant jumpshooter. as far as Jordan, well, he was simply the most athletic man who ever played basketball . gonna take alot to match Jordan and if hes out there he has not played in the NBA YET. if Miami loses this series it will be because of their coach and the way he is using Lebron .that being said I am not gonna let Lebron off the hook. he is absolutely scared and does not know what to do at the end of close games...they need to take the ball out of his hands and get him closer to the rim.

  6. CJ Says:

    Nice recap Jason. I was born and raised in Chicago, and the Jordan years coincided with my formative years, but I dont' remember the Seattle series at all. I had a job working funky hours and didn't get to watch any of it. To this day I haven't seen a single game of that series.

    To your point about clutch assistance, one need look no further than game 6 against Portland (what I like to call the Bobby Hansen Game) when Scottie and four scrubs cut Portland's lead to three before Mike came in and finished it off. Nobody holds it against Mike for not being on the floor for most of the comeback, but if Wade led Chalmers, James Jones, Juwan Howard and Big Z on a similar comeback, LeBron would be accused of riding coattails and being a vulture.

  7. Keith Ellis Says:

    Semejante historical revisionism is rarely seen these days. #4 -- Jordan didn't "draw a double-team" to get Paxson's last bucket vs the Suns. If anyone drew a double-team before Pax's shot it was Pippen, w/ Ho Grant making the pass. The 55-27 Bulls barely skipped a beat after his Airness quit on the club that Pippen held together. And of what pro bkb player other than Michael has it ever been alleged his sub-.500 seasons -- fully five in 14 years -- aren't supposed to "count," legacy-wise? No Top Twelve great other than MJ suffered so many losing campaigns in his pro career. Dropping nine points in the 4th quarter on Suns defenders Ainge/Dumas only became a feat in deep hazy retrospect. The Jazz scored 54 points in a Finals game. These DeadBall Nineties achievements were closer to a nadir than the heights reached in Finals from Pettit to Isiah Thomas. Put into perspective, LeBron needn't be so awed by MJ. He's only played for a loser in a single season so far -- something brighter-lit midsizers like Doc, Bird, & Magic never did even once.

  8. Brian Says:

    More historical revisionism with respect to Paxson winning bucket. It was all set up by Barkley rashly going for a steal on the inbounds pass which took him out of the half court defense. Pippen drove through the hole left by Barkley's absence collapsing the Suns D in the process, dishes to Grant who relays the ball to a wide open Paxson

    Jordan had nothing to do with the winning shot, but he did make the previous basket while burning little time of the clock; which did set up the winning posession. I'm a Phoenix resident; I remember going "Aw, S&*t" when the Suns let Jordan drive to the hoop so easily in the last minute. I knew it was going to haunt us.

  9. sean Says:

    @ #7...

    It's true.

    Jordan never played on a team that won more than half it's games----without Scottie Pippen.

    I remember reading a point made by someone on another board... the guy said he was trying to make a list of players who were on bad teams that he would still have paid to see play.

    He said 'Jordan' immediately came to mind. Then he realized that there were 'other' players he couldn't even imagine playing on a bad team. And it made him think more about 'greatest' players.

  10. sean Says:

    Joke that is out there today (in light of LeBron's '2 pts or fewer' 4th Quarters in the last 4 games)....

    If you give LeBron a dollar, you only get 75 cents back because he never gives you a 4th quarter...

    C'mon. It's funny.

    But to be serious... I understand that LeBron is doing a lot of different things out there----but is he doing enough of what this team NEEDS him to do? Someone PLEASE give me a good reason why he wouldn't post up in the 4th Quarters of these last 2 games (assuming there are 2)like he did early in Game #5 with good success. He could give them scoring down the stretch and add a wrinkle to the attack. Hell, do it early and make the Mavs have to defend something different. Who's going to stop him? He could possibly get some Mavs additional fouls, etc.

  11. Robert August de Meijer Says:

    I liked this article on the myth of Jordan by Jared Wade:

  12. Jerrod Says:

    Good post. It's important to remember that LeBron put a lot of this pressure to "be Jordan" on himself, wearing 23, suggesting that he could win 7 championships, etc. I'm tired of reading sympathetic nonsense about LeBron being held to too high of a standard when he deserves all the press he gets, both positive and negative. You shouldn't make bold proclamations and expect not to get lambasted when you fall short. Skip Bayless has it right for once.

  13. Randy M. Says:

    In my opinion people overlook the fact that Jordan's supporting casts were better. Yes, Wade is a superstar, primarily because he scores a lot, and Bosh isn't that far behind in terms of stardom, but let's face facts: Pippen and Rodman were two of the best defenders of their generation, something no one would say about Wade and Bosh. Defense is half the game. Maybe Pippen's/Rodman's offense wasn't as good as their counterpart's, but their defense made up for it, and then some.
    If Garnett was playing in Miami instead of Bosh, then I think it would be a fair comparison, and I'm sure with Wade/LeBron/Garnett in Miami we wouldn't even be seeing a game 6.
    I also think that Ron Harper was better than Bibby is now, and Kukoc was better than whatever forward Miami is currently bringing of the bench.

  14. Jerrod Says:

    Wow, that's some incredible ignorance of context, #7. Good job.

    1. Scottie did a good job of leading the Bulls sans Jordan, but let's not forget a couple of things here. For one, the season after Jordan retired, the Bulls picked up a long-needed post presence in Longley, who, though certainly not in the running for greatest center of all-time, was direly needed to replace the rapidly aging Cartwright. They also picked up Kukoc, who proved to be a key piece in their second three-peat run. Second, it's fair to point out that they didn't make it out of the second round against virtually the same Knicks team they beat the year before, also without home court advantage.

    2. I'm not sure what the significance of Dr. J is when his teammate Moses Malone was clearly a better player. Maybe not as revolutionary, per se, but certainly better. Next. Yeah, because Magic didn't join the Lakers with possibly the greatest center of all time who was still winning MVPS or anything. Not at all. And yeah, Larry Bird didn't join the Celtics with Hall of Famers like Tiny Archibald, Dave Cowens, and Pistol Pete on the roster or get surrounded by future Hall of Famers like Parish and McHale in his second season or anything. Nope. Who was the best player on the Bulls during Jordan's first three seasons? Orlando "Never Made an All-Star Game or Defended Anyone" Woolridge? Charles "Almost as Famous For Being Jordan's Bodyguard" Oakley? The only HoFer Jordan played with in this stretch was a washed-up Gervin in '86 (the year of the foot injury), who retired the next year. Honestly, I'm really not even sure of the significance of losing seasons anyway.

  15. Jerrod Says:

    You're kidding, right #13? Miami, right now, has two of the top three players, and three of the top 15. Jordan was the best in the league for many years, but it's definitely a stretch to say Pippen was top 3. Magic, Bird, Hakeem, Shaq, Barkley, K. Malone, Thomas, and David Robinson were all better than Pippen at various points in his career. He only made the All-NBA First team three times. And it's preposterous to suggest that Rodman/Grant/Harper were ever in Bosh's league during their tenure on the Bulls. Pippen was, without a doubt, one of the best wing defenders ever and Rodman certainly wasn't a slouch. But Wade isn't exactly chopped liver, either. Bosh struggles at times, but he's working on becoming a great defender now that he has a quality team around him that depends on him and a quality staff who can train him.

  16. Jerrod Says:

    And if you want to get fancy, here's some statistical evidence:

    Pippen's PER peak: 23.2
    Pippen's PER average: 18.6

    Wade's PER peak: 30.4
    Wade's PER average: 25.7

    Rodman's/Grant's/Harper's PER peak (on Bulls): 13.9/14.7/20.6
    Rodman's/Grant's/Harper's PER career averages: 14.6/16.0/15.6

    Bosh's PER peak (on Heat): 19.4
    Bosh's PER career average: 21.0

  17. Mike Goodman Says:

    So LeBron James has had 2 consecutive bad games in the Finals.
    Jordan had 2 in '96, games 4 and 5 perhaps.
    In earlier series, LeBron was Mr. 4th Quarter. Five games is a rather small sample size.
    It seems to me, Dallas is just double and triple covering him, and he gets rid of the ball, as he should.

    Jordan's Bulls won 6 straight titles, not counting those they didn't win. Hmm.
    What are the odds of winning 6 of 7 times?

    The Bulls were far and away the best NBA team in 3 of their 6 title seasons. One of the 3 best in their other 3. Does this average out to 40% ?

  18. Mike Goodman Says:

    Just read the article:
    "... But the fact that LeBron James — a 26-year-old two-time MVP ...— will never be Michael Jordan's equal says a lot less about LeBron than it does about Jordan..."

    Interesting use of the term "fact".
    Youngsters, it was once a "fact" that Jordan cannot win a title, because he's too selfish.
    Similar things were said about Shaq.

    Through age 26, Jordan had not been to the Finals, Shaq was 0-1, Garnett never out of the first round, Hakeem was 0-1, Duncan (w Robinson) 2-0 .

  19. Heretic Says:

    "So LeBron James has had 2 consecutive bad games in the Finals.
    Jordan had 2 in '96, games 4 and 5 perhaps."

    Yeah but the Bulls were already 3-0 ahead, so those bad games did not matter anyway.

    LeBron, on the other hand, has a nice history of choking in important games.

    He choked in the entire 2007 Finals - all 4 games.

    He choked in the first 4 games of the Celtics series in 2008, and his game 1 was one of the worst games in history.

    He was amazing in 2009, true, but had a subpar game 6 against the Magic.

    He choked in games 4 and 5 against the Celtics in 2010.

    And now he's choking against Dallas.

    Not surprisingly, his teams suffered because of those failures. Seriously, comparing LeBron to Jordan is only somewhat less stupid than the Kobe-Jordan comparisons, even if he is still the best player in the world right now.

  20. Anon Says:

    **Well here's what I know about the 50,000 articles I see about LBJ's legacy everyday - a certain other SG name Dwyane Wade is ALSO working on making his legacy beneath all the LBJ noise. This is the guy Mark Jackson said is the 3rd best SG ever (with an opportunity to move up!) and some other people in the media even called the true heir to MJ (Kobe, after all, isn't as likable and played with the most dominant bigs of his day for his titles). This is what the media also told us about the man:

    -he's the champion
    -he's "The Man" in Miami, and the true leader/best player on the team
    -he's the true "clutch player and closer"
    -he's going to get LBJ his ring, since LBJ isn't cut out or "clutch" to get it by himself (after all, he came out of HS school as the next MJ but he's been EXPOSED already! He didn't win a title in Cleveland and ran to join the TRUE great one in Wade! His legacy is tarnished, he's Mr. "Second Banana"!)

    Here's what he has done so far though:

    -didn't demand the ball from LBJ as "true superstars" do in game 2 so he could close the game, leading to the Mavs comeback
    -missed the most important shot of the game in game 4 (game-tying free throw) with over 24 seconds left, leading to the Mavs win
    -had shot opportunities and the ball in his hands in game 5 but didn't bring his team back down 5 with over a minute left, leading to the Mavs win
    -The Mavs are up 3-2 in the series with Wade being the "true" alpha dog, clutch player and leader of the team

    ...and yet here we are, commenting on yet another LBJ article, instead of talking about how this Finals is ACTUALLY an indictment on Wade's fraudulent legacy as said "true all-time great alpha-dog, clutch player, and leader". And when I say fraudulent, there's a whole Mavs fanbase and some referees from the 2006 series that know exactly what I mean...

    **Disclaimer: I do NOT adopt any of the points I made about Wade above. Sure is fun to construct a subjective narrative about ANY player though. All one needs is an agenda and an irrational mind.

    **Disclaimer to the disclaimer: But wait...SHOULDN'T we be making Wade articles instead? Why the talk about LBJ? He was already exposed as "the fraud"!

  21. sean Says:

    The extremes people take with LBJ are most interesting. You either cannot be critical of performances we all KNOW are beneath him...(lest you be peppered with 'yeah, buts') OR... you have to BURY the guy like the clown on ESPN the Radio the other day who gave him a 'D+' for his Game #5 performance...

  22. dbm Says:

    LeBron is 26. This conversation will look absurd in ten years.
    Turning to the D-Wade conversation (#20), those points from people are terrible. Yeah, Kobe won titles, but only with the best bigs ever on his team. Wait, who was on Wade's team in 2006? Not the same guy who helped Bryant in LA?
    Also, once again, refer back to 2005,06, 07, and yes, 2008, to see that Kobe could not get it done on "his own." Although I am unsure if having Gasol means he was on his own? Wait, he also had an all-time great coach in Phil. No credit for Kobe! Never won a title without a legendary coach! Does that mean Jordan's don't count? Wait, Wade won his only title with Pat Riley! Quick, LeBron and D-Wade, close the deal this year before Riley returns to the bench. Unless Spolestra (sp.?) wins five titles as well, and gets a HOF rep like the other guys.
    Also, Phil's titles don't count either. He only won his with a top-3 player. Now that would be fun. My request for a next blog post is to go through the top 30 players ever and top 10 coaches ever and explain away all of their titles through internal, self-contradicting nonsense like this.

  23. Jason J Says:

    You're all absolutely right about Jordan not getting trapped in the backcourt in '93. I honestly remembered it that way, but watching it on youtube, it didn't happen. Jordan just threw it ahead to Pippen, who drove and dumped down to Grant, who kicked out to Paxson. Which isn't the first time I've mis-remembered something like that. When I watch old Celtics games, my Reggie Lewis and Larry Bird memories from games I attended at the Garden are WAY off.

    So yeah, the legend only multiplies in the mind of fans (me) as time goes by, which is essentially the point of the article anyway. Successes grow in the mind while failures are diminished by time thanks to the eventual successes, and it all becomes a seamless myth that apparently LeBron is supposed to live up to in each and every game he plays, which is of course ridiculous.

    As far as Jordan not having a winning team without Pippen, that's true but the slightest bit of attention to detail shows that there are some serious caveats -

    #1. 1988, Pippen's first season, was only the third season Jordan really played since he was injured almost the entire '86 season when the team won 30 games (and even when he played it was short minutes on team orders). In 1987, according to WS, the second best player on the team was John Paxson. How could anyone expect a team to win more than 40 games when its second best player was John Paxson?

    So essentially Jordan had two seasons with or without Pippen where his team was under .500 and he actually played. Is two seasons that big a deal when one of those was his rookie year after he joined a team that was literally engineered to fail in an attempt to tank and win the Olajuwon lottery? The second was a year Jordan led the league in WS and PER; his team actually ranked 8th in SRS and made the playoffs where the Bulls lost to a very strong Boston Celtics team - a team that might very well have won a title if Kevin McHale hadn't broken his foot (and that injury occurred AFTER the series against Chicago).

    #2. Scottie played less than 21 minutes a game his first year with the Bulls - that was '88 the year Jordan had the best PER and best WS of any player since the NBA recorded the stats necessary to calculate those metrics (as in All-Time) and Chicago won 50 games. In his 20.9 minutes per game, Pippen's PER was 12.9 and his WS/min was 0.066, and he had a 17% TO rate against a 14.5 Assist rate and a 20% Usage. But he was the reason that a Jordan team finally had 50 wins and advanced in the playoffs? You sure Jordan's own progression and the progression of the rest of the team wasn't more of a factor than Pippen providing short minutes of below average production?

    #3. In 1998, Pippen missed the first 35 games of the season. Jordan was playing with an injury to his big toe, and Rodman, Kukoc, Harper, and Longley (the other four starters on the team with Pip hurt) also missed games, and Pippen's ongoing contract issues were a huge lockerroom distraction. Chicago was 24-11 through those games despite all of those hardships. That's a 56 win pace.

    There's this impression that Jordan just couldn't put together a winning team without Pippen, that Scottie was a necessary part of Jordan's game. The truth is that MJ only had two real opportunities to do so and was a rookie one of those seasons, a rookie on a team that had been intentionally designed to lose (a rookie who was second to league MVP Larry Bird in PER and WS) as a ploy to win the #1 draft spot. The only season that Scottie missed significant games as a teammate of Jordan's, the Bulls were on pace to finish second in their conference.

    I'm not even going to get into the highly debatable point about Jordan working with Pippen after practice in his first seasons to help him raise his game (which David Halbertstam highlights in his Jordan Bio "Playing for Keeps" - still one of the best NBA books ever) since there's no way to quantify the effect it actually had on Scottie's development. But that line of argument is out there to be made by someone who was there (like Doug Collins if he happens to read this paragraph and feel a great need to get involved ;-) ).

  24. huevonkiller Says:


    Neil don't be slick. You know damn well James has the highest PER, WS, WS/48 , etc. for a single season in 2009.

    His peak is higher than Jordan's and so is adjusted plus/minus defensive value. Jordan's teams got better defensively without him, another slick point you went over. He's certainly not as durable in 2011, but he's playing more MPG at a far greater weight this post-season.

    Still it annoys me how you overlook LeBron's prime, it definitely is a carbon copy of Jordan's minus the length of course. I think he'll be just fine next season if he cuts back to 39-40 MPG in the playoffs, 36 MPG in the regular season.

  25. huevonkiller Says:


    Dude shut it.

    Yeah nice revisionist History, Jordan choked plenty of times against the Pistons those monster stats in the 80's came against Cleveland and other first round trash. He choked against the Knicks in his prime and had sub-par series against the Heat, Sonics, Hawks, Magic etc.

    You're so annoying, LeBron didn't even choke in 2007 he shouldn't have been in the Finals. He was hurt in 2010 his elbow was wrapped up for months after the series, he still outplayed Jordan's chokejob against Detroit his first go-round in an MVP season.

  26. huevonkiller Says:


    Nice try brah, game 3 2008 stats: 29.7% USG 117 offensive rating, you probably just looked at the FG% like the novice that you are.

    Yeah sorry LeBron could have easily led his 45 win team to victory over the fourth greatest team ever of the 3 point era. He had 4 monster games in that series: 3,5,6,7. Educate yourself. I can't complain about Jordan choking in the Finals at age 22 because he didn't make it there, and nice job complaining about Game 6 2009 after that monster series LOL.

  27. Neil Paine Says:

    #24 - Really, Huevon? LeBron has the record for the highest PER, WS, and WS/48 in a single season?


  28. huevonkiller Says:

    I still appreciate and respect Jordan Neil, but no need to dismiss a prime season.

    .318 WS/48 + .399 WS/48, 31.7 per + 37 per, 20.3 ws, + 4.8 ws.

    Look at #11.

  29. huevonkiller Says:

    Sorry I meant to include:

    *In the Jordan/3-point era, I know Wilt and Kareem have more. :] Except ws/48 that applies for any time it seems.

  30. sean Says:

    @ #7...

    And of what pro bkb player other than Michael has it ever been alleged his sub-.500 seasons -- fully five in 14 years -- aren't supposed to "count," legacy-wise?>>>>>>>>>>

    That's always been curious.

  31. Dickie Dunn Says:

    To be fair regarding the "five" sub .500 seasons Jordan played on...he was injured in 64 of those games in one of the season. Chicago was a .500ish team with Jordan in the lineup in 85-86. It's unfair to give him five full sub .500 years. Four is certainly fair consideration though.

    Also, with Washington he took a Wizards team that was beyond putrid before and after Jordan played and made them competitive at age 39 and 40. We can fairly judge Jordan the executive for how bad the Wizards were in his time there but considering he had them sniffing .500 (37-45 both seasons) at an age that few NBA players are starting, let alone dropping 20 a night at, speaks volumes about Jordan's abilities.

    Anyways, if we're going to compare WS to WS...Jordan broke the 20 barrier three times. LeBron has done it once to date and has not done it since 08-09...even using 18 as a judge MJ has the edge 6-2 on LeBron.

  32. Jason J Says:

    Let's be honest here. The statistical differences between Jordan and LeBron in their best seasons are marginal at best. The only point to make is the one Abbott made, that LeBron is the first of the "Next Jordans" we've seen to actually produce at a level commensurate with MJ. Did MJ do it longer / more often? Yeah, but LeBron is 26 years old. He's likely to get a few more all-time seasons himself.

    Did you guys happen to read the Truehoop article about playoff game winning shots?

    MJ 9-18 50% (Tied for best of any player with 6 or more attempts)
    LBJ 5-12 41.7% (pretty f'n good)
    Bryant 7-28 28% (a hair better than league average of 27.8%)

    Sample sizes are small enough to be almost meaningless, but it's sort of an interesting fake validation of the MJ clutchness rep and a counterpoint to those who claim LeBron is unwilling or unable to take and make big playoff shots. I threw Bryant in just to show the difference in perception and reality of another reputation. FYI Dirk is 5-13, just below LeBron in efficiency and just above him volume.

  33. Jason J Says:

    Oh, and if you have to reach to Washington to try to denigrate Michael Jordan... then he must be ridiculously good. The Wiz were in fact a .500 team while Jordan was leading them at age 38-39 prior to going down with a knee injury. At age 39-40, he did more than just about anyone else ever has.

    Karl Malone is the only other player ever to have played more than 32 minutes per game at that age. Karl was better at 39 and not quite as good (or important anyway since he moved to 3rd option behind Kobe and Shaq) at age 40 (also he had an injury that year which may have impacted his per possession production). But who gives a crap? So unlike Kareem and Shaq, Jordan's not playing small minutes for a contending team in his old age. Why judge Jordan's career based on what happened at age 40?

  34. Bill Says:


    Kareem was still going strong at 39.

  35. Anon Says:

    @ Jason J

    You're definitely right about MJ, but like I said before - if anyone feels like going on a irrational vendetta against ANY of the great players to discredit them, they can.

    The other day, a Kobe fan was convinced that Kobe is a better player than MJ for the simple fact that MJ never won a championship without the SAME second-best player beside him...and Kobe did (of course, this assumes that Shaq wasn't as good as Kobe during their title run, and with the perception of Gasol he has been at LEAST as valuable as Bryant at times during their recent titles).

    It all makes this LBJ noise truly silly on a lot of levels...

  36. sean Says:

    Anon says:

    if anyone feels like going on a irrational vendetta against ANY of the great players to discredit them, they can.>>>>>>>>>>>

    Equally prevalent are the excuses and apologies made for the players. There always seems to be attempts made to balance the discussion. We tend to go too far in our attempts to 'balance' -----and so 'the other side' pushes back. Rarely is the push 'just right'... and so the pendulum swings back and forth infinitum.

  37. Keith Ellis Says:

    Why do Michael-ites so love to run down Jordan's teammates? For example, somebody said Pippen "wasn't a Top Three player" -- Pip finished exactly third in MVP voting the season Jordan quit on the Bulls.

    Another example: Jordan led Chicago to a winning half-season in 1998 w/out Pippen, to be sure (they trailed Indiana in their division) but then Pip came back & the Bulls roared to a far-better 36-8 record to nip the Pacers in the Central. Pippen's positive impact joining Jordan's '98 team was obviously greater than the impact of losing Mike had been on the '94 Bulls.

    A third: Most teams worsen when a great player leaves (see Russell's Celts, Doc's Nets, Magic's Lakers), but as we see that didn't happen in 55-27 Chicago sans MJ. Nor in Washington -- the Wizards quickly became a playoff team w/ Haywood, Kwame, Hughes, Jeffries, etc after Abe Pollin fired Jordan. Rip Hamilton had had to put up w/ Mike's insistence on hogging the "touches," got out of town, and went on to win a title the next year in Detroit. Jerry StackHouse had to defer to Mike, too, & the whole team suffered by His Airness's selfish-yet-revealing tone.

    And one more: Jordan-jealousy extends to Erving, it appears, from the poster who opined Moses Malone was "better than Dr J." Doc won four MVP awards and three world championships, and never posted a sub-.500 record in his career. Moses came close, but never quite stepped on such holy ground. Erving's in the exclusive 200/200 Club, once led the majors in Offensive Rebbies himself, shot a higher 3-pt% in the ABA than Jordan did lifetime w/out the benefit of the shortened arc. He has a number of bragging rights and breakthroughs Mike can't match. LeBron neither, for that matter -- he's closer to a George McGinnis in talent and temperament.

  38. Jerrod Says:

    I said Pippen not being a top three player was a bit of a stretch, and it is. I already named a number of players almost universally acknowledged to be better than Pippen during his career. And surprisingly enough, the year he was third in MVP voting was a year in which Jordan wasn't in the league. And I acknowledged that Pippen did a remarkable job leading the team after Jordan, but 1) they didn't make it out of the second round, and 2) they were 34-31 when Jordan joined them the next year, after which they went 13-4.

    And you must be joking about Pippen's impact. The Bulls were better with both of them, certainly, but Jordan won Game 6 of the 1998 Finals practically by himself. Pippen was ineffective on both ends of the floor for most of the game. With Pippen's outrageous benching of himself in the second round in 1994 and their ultimate loss in that series, it's pretty clear that Jordan was, by far, more important to the team.

    Dr. J was a phenomenal and revolutionary player, but let's be serious - he won two of his championships and three of his MVPS in the ABA. Was the ABA a complete joke or something? No, but NBA was clearly better and had more depth when the leagues combined. Doc won an MVP and a championship after the merger, but did so playing side-kick to Moses Malone, who won three MVPS and the Finals MVP after the merger. Doc never approached the numbers he put up in the ABA before the merger after 1976 because he had to play against legitimate defenses.

  39. Keith Ellis Says:

    Jerrod Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:45 am
    "I said Pippen not being a top three player was a bit of a stretch, and it is."

    Well, actually you had written that "it's definitely a stretch to say Pippen was a top 3 player. Now we recognize Pippen Top Threed in MVP balloting, & attribute it -- of course! -- to Michael Jordan's absence from the NBA. Pippen's sitting out 1.8 seconds of a game the Bulls ultimately won pales in comparison to Jordan's capriciously sitting out 1.8 seasons in which the Bulls ultimately lost.

    Like the NBA league office, for some reason Michael's fans see fit to belittle the ABA which kept far more professional statistics (which we enjoy in Bkb-Ref) under more modern rules than the NBA did. More ABA veterans made post-Merger All-D and All-League teams, won more MVP awards, and led in more statistical categories (PPG, FG%, HRs, RPG, Steals) than did their pre-Merger NBA counterparts. But somehow we're supposed to believe the ABA was a lesser league, and that belief by extension somehow makes Michael Jordan a greater player.

    Michael is still the Top Swingman ever, one of the Top Four Guards (he never led the majors in PPG and Assists nor Defended as West did), and surely should be on an AllTime Team of the top dozen players in pro bkb history. Yet as we've seen with King James, who proclaimed himself the New #23 after hitting a shot against Orlando in 2009, a list of shining achievements is never long enough for some NBA hypemeisters. Michael & LeBron are the only All-Timers whose "greatness" depends on running down the abilities of others, including their own teammates.

  40. huevonkiller Says:

    I have no idea what the hell you're talking about, neither Doc or West are even close in the objective figures.

    LeBron and Mike are clearly the best players of their era and "Doc's" era. No one cares that Doc was great none of the objective figures puts him at LeBron's or Mike's level.

  41. Jason J Says:

    #34 - Kareem's efficiency was still high, but his minutes had tailed off. Same with Stockton actually. Malone and Jordan still played star player minutes at that age, which is the distinction I made. But certainly those four along with Reggie Miller are the class of the 39 years old+ NBA players.

  42. dbm Says:

    I would be interested Keith (39), at what guards you would rank ahead of Jordan? And what players, since you are not comfortable having him in the top ten. West? Okay, you said that he led "the majors" in scoring, and Jordan never did. I am guessing you mean the NBA and the ABA as the majors, like MLB does today with its leagues. Is it Jordan's fault that there were no other leagues during his career? And for what it's worth, half of his career when he did lead the league in scoring, the NBA had more teams than both teams combined did in the 1970, when West led in scoring. Also, I don't think Jordan has to apologize to any guard for his defense.

  43. Jerrod Says:

    He was top three on the MVP ballot exactly ONE time. For comparison, our most recent MVP WINNER, Derrick Rose, is a terrific young talent. But do we really believe he's one of the three best players in the league? Do we really believe he's better than LeBron, Wade, Dirk, or Kobe? Do we even believe he's better than Chris Paul? It's very open to debate. Perhaps this season he was, but one season does not an argument make. After Michael came back, Pippen was not in the MVP conversation again.

    Yeah, Jordan officially retiring because he was beginning to burn out is absolutely nothing like what Pippen did. The '94 Bulls in that 2 second span had no need to rely on Jordan, like they hadn't needed to all season. They needed to rely on Pippen, and he failed them (even though they won the game).

    I said the the NBA was better when they combined, not that either league was expressly superior before then. And keep in mind that by rambling off on your statistical diatribe about how the ABA was better than the pre-merger NBA, you're insulting Russell, Wilt, Kareem, and Walton, four of the best centers of all time, two of which were retired by the time of the merger, one of whom would become severely debilitated by injury soon after.

    Call me a Michael-ite or Michael-tard all you want, but I'm a guy who appreciates greatness. Michael Jordan was great. Bill Russell was great. KAJ was great. Is LeBron great? Other than one great game-winner against Orlando in 2009 and an outstanding game against Detroit in 2007, we haven't seen evidence yet from LeBron.

    And who are you kidding? All of the greatest players of all time frequently fight ghosts from the past and usurpers from the future. Look at Floyd Mayweather Jr, who said he was the best of all-time, better than Ali, but still refuses to fight Manny. Roger Federer is tentatively considered the GOAT because Sampras never won the French Open and Laver won his Slam in an era of weak depth, but is fighting to stop Nadal from taking his place in history. It's all part of the sporting narrative to have battles and arguments among the media and fans about who's the greatest. I'm just not as ready to jump on the latest bandwagon as many are. In any case, Jerry's greatness is not depreciated because, frankly, virtually no one considers him to be the greatest of all-time, and thus, not a threat to MJ's legacy. That may be a sad reflection of the collective mindset, but it's also the truth.

  44. huevonkiller Says:

    Jerrod LeBron is 5-12 on game winning shots in the post-season.

    Not that it was an appropriate criticism to focus on just that, anyway.

  45. Keith Ellis Says:

    Hey Dbm (42) --

    Actually, I wrote that MJ never led the majors in Scoring AND Assists as Jerry West did. "The majors" is shorthand for major-league pro bkb, avoiding the stunted statistics of the NBA-only whose stat-men/rulesmakers were ignorant of Errors, Off Rebs, HRs, & other windows of observation like Blocks & Steals (Team Defensive FG%, too) during the years the ABA tracked those stats.

    Sure, Tiny Archibald did lead the big leagues in Scoring/Assists, even in the same season, to one-up West & Wilt's feats, but it's West's Defense along w/ the playmaking and scoring that set him apart from the other three alltime Guards, who are close-as-can-be to equivalent w/ Kobe hoping he'll be remembered for nipping at their heels because of the six-rings chase. Jordan is the only "2-guard" of the Top Four, which says a lot for him despite his playmaking deficiencies.

    The rest of the Top Ten (two Centers + four wingmen plus the aforementioned Guards) would be Wilt & Kareem, Bird, Pettit, Doc, & Duncan. A full squad usually requires twelve players, aiding us to dodge bullets by adding Bill Russell & Olajuwon to leave four players at each of the three positions. Even if someone wants to argue that the ringless Barkley & MailMan belong instead of Pettit & Erving, Jordan is clearly the Best SwingMan on the squad & thus the best swinger of all time.

    That said, Jordan would be just as clearly the weakest Forward on the floor for our AllTime Team, having never approached league leadership in Off Rebbies as the similar-sized Doc did, nor defensively boarding a la any of the Top Four Forwards. He would spend virtually all his court time at off-guard, leaving the heavy lifting on playmaking to Oscar, Jerry, & Magic, the backcourt Rebounding to Big O & Earvin, & primary defensive chores to West, the perennial All-D guy (at the tailend of his career) w/ the rubber arms that've have sadly been forgotten by talking heads on today's NBA broadcasts who can't see past the Logo. When The Logo came out everybody knew it was West, but nobody cared to caricature him that way until years later.

    BTW, I agree w/ the guy who said Barkley was a better player than MailMan, but Karl wound up posting a better career.

  46. huevonkiller Says:

    Keith until you present an objective and advanced statistical argument, not sure you're proving anything.