By JJ MARSHALL, JR./Designated Contributor
Michael Jordan is a myth. Yes, he had the greatest NBA career ever, but he lost, he missed shots, he failed his teammates, he quit, and he made mistakes. We all do.
We like to forget that Michael Jordan had the greatest coach and a top-20 all-time player on his team. Or that the league had ZERO other truly great teams during his run. Don’t tell me about the Jazz or the Suns, or the Rockets. 6’4” Charles Barkley… 38 year old John Stockton…
So many of MJ’s classic moments were situational. He was in so many close games (where Pippen guarded the best player, or Jackson out-coached his opponent) with an opportunity to crown himself the hero. We want him to be the greatest ever and forget what his team did because that aligns with our idea of the “Genius.” We like to think that Bill Gates ran Microsoft by himself or that Kanye West grew up in an isolation tank before making his own (sample-free) records. These people didn’t do it all alone, just as Jordan didn’t.
I’m a Lebron fan. I’m from the last generation of people who grew up without a cell phone in middle school. I’m on the cusp of people who remember what it was like to have to wait an hour to sign in for AOL, but still appreciate a good PS4 game. I’m conflicted because Lebron is the last of a dying breed: the genius, the hero, the saviour of the NBA.
We compare him to Jordan because he emulated Jordan. We compare him to Jordan because of the void MJ left. We were desperate for one man to fill it.
Bron is my age, and MJ was who we had growing up. Jordan was a singular figure. The narrative goes that he won six championships, by himself, playing 1-on-5 and without missing a shot or making a mistake. His last shot ever was to win his sixth NBA title (until it wasn’t his last shot ever; remember the Wiz years?). MJ had a remarkable career, redefined what it meant to be a star athlete, and has the stats and chops and big game plays to back it all up. We will never see a career like his again.
Kobe tried, but has been hated on (rightly) for not forging his own identity. He’s a fake. He wanted to be MJ so badly that he copied him at the expense of forging his own way. He still won 5 titles, but his story is blighted by rape accusations, feuds with Shaq and Phil, and being an all-around asshole teammate.
Lebron is the last gasp at heroism in the NBA, which is ironic because for so much of his career we saw him as the quintessential teammate. He was a pass-first behemoth athlete who could do it all. When he joined the Heat in 2012, it was supposed to mark the beginning of his Jordanesque run. He was supposed to win 10 titles in a row and blow MJ out of the conversation. Except the NBA caught up to him.
Coaches and organizations began to see that having a system (see: Spurs, San Antonio) meant that you could survive losing a top player and still be a competing franchise. Hire a good coach, some solid analytics nerds and a decent front office, and your franchise could turn around in a few years. Eventually, after enough winning basketball, you could land a star or two in free agency. Maybe you draft the next Donovan Mitchell late in the lottery. BOOM, now you are a competing franchise.