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MJ’s star still shines brightest, but LeBron is gaining momentum

CLEVELAND - APRIL 8:  High school phenomenLeBrJames #23 St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish shakes hands with Michael Jordan #23

CLEVELAND - APRIL 8: High school phenomenon LeBron James #23 of the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish shakes hands with Michael Jordan #23 of the Washington Wizards after Jordan's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Gund Arena on April 8, 2003 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Wizards won 100-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Copyright 2003 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

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TOnight

NBA all-star game

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Toyota Center, ­Houston.

On the air: TNT, 1000-AM.

Series: The Eastern Conference leads 36-25.

Bulls in the game: Luol Deng, Joakim Noah.

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Updated: March 18, 2013 7:08AM



HOUSTON — Michael Jordan may not be attending NBA All-Star festivities, but his presence is unmistakable, like cigar smoke that lingers in a room long after he’s gone.

Jordan’s 50th birthday coinciding with Sunday’s All-Star Game has brought him back to the forefront a decade after he left the league. Virtually every former and current player has been asked about his legacy as his birthday extravaganza — the likes of which the sporting world has never seen — rocks on.

If there was an official debate at the 2013 All-Star Game, just like there are official hats and T-shirts, it would be Jordan vs. LeBron James, as pointless as it might be. It’s impossible to compare players from different eras — let alone ones who play different positions — but that hasn’t stopped many from picking sides.

Forget about Sunday’s game. If only MJ’s and LJ’s legacies could meet at center court for a game of one-on-one.

“I hate comparing MJ to Le-Bron and LeBron to Kobe [Bryant] and Kobe to MJ, the whole triangle,” said Steve Smith, an analyst for NBA TV who played against Jordan often during his career. “They’re all different. They are totally in different eras and circumstances. For Kobe and LeBron, you have to wait until their careers are over. But there is a standard that Michael set as far as winning and individual goals, and if you even get close to that, you’re in a different stratosphere.”

In some ways, the debate is generational. Those who grew up watching Jordan believe he was the best. Youngsters favor James, who had been on a historical tear of late, averaging 30 or more points and better than 60 percent shooting for six consecutive games.

The Heat forward, who could play every position Sunday if allowed the opportunity, gets a lot of respect from Jordan’s peers.

“I would like to think LeBron would be successful anywhere in any era,” Clyde Drexler said. “He’s a phenomenal player because he’s unselfish. He’ll play defense, He’ll block shots. He’ll get back in transition. He’s a willing teammate, a good passer. I like every facet of his game, but intangibles are what really make him special.”

Jordan weighed in on the subject of LeBron vs. Kobe, saying that Bryant’s five championship rings set him apart from James’ one.

James replied sensibly, saying if rings meant everything, Jud Buechler was a better player than Charles Barkley.

“[James] really doesn’t give a care what people think anymore,” Smith said. “He did earlier in his career. He was trying to prove [something] or satisfy naysayers or media and what we wanted him to be. Now he’s going out there and carving that niche for himself, and it’s just unreal. I look forward to seeing where it all ends up, but I don’t want to fast-forward. I want to enjoy watching a great player.”

Trying to compare James with Jordan is like comparing an unfinished painting with a masterpiece, a hit song with another that has yet to be mixed and mastered.

Jordan might be 60 before there can be a conclusive debate.

“No matter what anybody tries to tell you, [Jordan is] the brand of basketball,” Dominique Wilkins said. “He made Nike what it is today. He transformed this game.

“Look at what the league is today. It speaks for itself. It’s because of Michael Jordan.”



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