Updated: June 10, 2014 11:02PM
MIAMI — It’s not going away. Not today and not anytime soon.
As four-time NBA most valuable player LeBron James inches closer to a possible three-peat in the NBA Finals, the specter of Michael Jordan hangs over him and his legacy daily.
In an interview session with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra before Game 3 on Tuesday, the LeBron-MJ ‘‘what-if’’ game was resur- rected. Long before he wore Armani suits on South Beach, Spoelstra was a starting point guard for the University of Portland. So he was asked whether he rather would have James or Jordan as a teammate.
‘‘I don’t know,’’ Spoelstra said with a smirk. ‘‘You’d have to catch me in the summer for a question like that. But when I was playing, it’s ham and eggs at that level. I think players would love to play with a player as unselfish as LeBron.’’
Was that a jab at Jordan’s me-first attitude on the court? More like a light flick.
‘‘It’s different eras,’’ Spoelstra said. ‘‘You know you’re going to have a chance to win [with either].’’
Such talk is blasphemy in Chicago. The perception is that Jordan was a warrior in an age when leprechauns really existed in the old Boston Garden and the ‘‘Bad Boys’’ brought shanks to the court. Jordan would have scoffed at the idea of leaving the Bulls to team up with more talent elsewhere in pursuit of a ring.
How dare James’ name be uttered in the same breath. The player who betrayed the Cleveland Cavaliers to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat. The player who seemingly fell short in big moments, despite the numbers saying differently. And the player who cramped up in Game 1 of these Finals, unable to answer the bell in crunch time.
Maybe James does fall short when compared to Jordan on the court. Maybe.
Off the court, though, Jordan would have wilted if he played under the same scrutiny James does. No athlete has been as polarizing as James has been for the last five years, but we haven’t seen one gambling receipt, nor have we read anything about marital discord.
Jordan should be thankful he played in the era he did. The media didn’t report on his off-the-court escapades, and camera phones were still science fiction. Could you imagine the field day TMZ would have had with Jordan?
Many in Chicago seem to forget 1987 to 1990, when the Detroit Pistons owned Jordan and made him look soft. The national perception was that Jordan didn’t make anyone around him better and that he cared only about himself. No, he didn’t go seeking help with another franchise, but he received it.
Then when he did climb to the top of the mountain and win three consecutive NBA titles, the murder of his father led to him to walk away and chase a bad baseball dream.
Can you imagine the storm of controversy that would face James if he three-peats, then inexplicably darts off to explore his college-football eligibility? ‘‘Selfish’’ would be the nicest word attached to his legacy.
Yes, comparing Jordan and James is getting old, especially because they did play in different eras. Jordan should be thankful for that.