MORRISSEY: Jordan is better than Kobe, but LeBron is another matter
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org May 19, 2013 9:37PM
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, playing for the West All-Stars, is blocked by Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan during the NBA All-Star game at New York's Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Feb. 8, 1998. The East beat the West All-Stars 135-114. (AP Photo/Mark
Updated: May 20, 2013 10:44PM
To most of us in Chicago, there’s no hesitancy when it comes to choosing between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Bryant is a great player and does a nice impression of MJ, but equals?
No. We’re talking Dr. Evil and Mini-
Anything Bryant has done for the Lakers, Jordan did it better for the Bulls — and, more important, first. There are pioneers, then there’s the second guy to climb Mount Everest. What’s His Name.
I don’t know what the rest of the country thinks about the Michael-Kobe ‘‘debate,’’ but the only reason the topic has come up again is because Phil Jackson, who coached both players, has written a book. In it, he says Jordan was better than Bryant.
Well, duh, right? We know that. Jackson has been criticized for picking apart Kobe’s game to ‘‘sell more books,’’ as though that’s some sort of sin. No, the only sin is that he would waste anybody’s time putting Bryant in the same conversation as Jordan.
Now, putting LeBron James in there, that’s another thing.
I happen to think James is a better athlete and a more complete basketball player than Jordan was. I’ve written it before. I don’t think it helped the Sun-Times sell more papers, but I might be wrong.
If the Heat is lucky enough to win multiple titles with James on the roster, it will make for a wonderful, ongoing debate, though probably not here in Chicago, where Jordan could be elected mayor for life while dead. Jordan meant so much to the city while the Bulls were collecting six NBA titles. You only could dream about being like Mike, and you did — gladly. He was yours. He was ours.
But the reasons Jordan fans downgrade LeBron often have more to do with their hatred for James than with any rational discussion points. He angered a lot of people by announcing on national TV his ‘‘Decision’’ to leave Cleveland for Miami, then putting together a superteam with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It felt like cheating your way to the top, even if it wasn’t.
But the badmouthing has nothing to do with James the player, who can score with two defenders hanging on him and, on the next trip down the court, find a teammate for a layup.
What he purportedly is lacking is exactly what makes him such a great basketball player. He doesn’t want to shoot all the time, the way Carmelo Anthony does. He wants to be a complete player. He wants to get teammates involved in the offense, sometimes to a fault. This is viewed as a lack of ‘‘will’’ to win, an absence of a ‘‘killer instinct’’ or an unwillingness to take the big shot.
Jordan was enough of a jerk to take over a game and step on an opponent’s neck while doing it. LeBron will get you 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists a game, and he’ll make life sheer hell for whomever he’s guarding, be it a forward, guard or center.
Wade has looked like a shell of himself at times in these playoffs. If the Heat wins the title this season, it will be because James will have done most of the heavy lifting. As far as sheer physical ability, James is just as good as Jordan was. And given the difference in size (LeBron is 6-8, 250 pounds; Jordan played at 6-6, 215), the advantage tilts in James’ favor.
Jackson always has had a knack for identifying whoever is in charge and gluing himself to that person. It’s why he hitched his wagon to Jordan and not to, say, Bill Cartwright or, heaven forbid, Jerry Krause. So if you thought there was even the slightest chance Jackson would pick Kobe over Jordan, whose power over the game is such that he can run one of the worst franchises in NBA history and be spared commensurate criticism, you would be very wrong and quite possibly demented.
But give Jackson credit. Last year, he said LeBron has the ability to be better than Jordan. He wasn’t a voice in the wilderness but just about. A few years ago, Scottie Pippen suggested James was better than Jordan and ended up needing a flak jacket to survive the criticism. Earlier this season, Pippen told the Miami Herald, ‘‘[James is] the most complete player the game has ever seen.’’
This time, his words slipped under the radar. It didn’t make them any less correct.