Much of this suggestion (see below) LeBron James faces undue criticism because of the legacy of Michael Jordan is accurate, but it oversimplifies the situation as well. Why? Because sometimes the criticism is warranted.
If Jordan fans (of which I am one) are too quick to jump on James for every little thing he does (I try to avoid this, as I gave him the benefit of the doubt on the cramping issue in Game 1), it is at least in part due to a tendency of those on the other side to crown James prematurely.
When LeBron came into the league, I looked forward to a chance to see someone new, someone truly from my generation who I saw play in high school, challenge the legacy of Jordan, who retired from the Bulls when I was 16. As much as I cherish the memories of watching him play during my formative years as a sports fan, there is also an appeal to having such a stud in my generation and watching him from nearly the very beginning.
Even when James’ last season with the Cavaliers was over, he was still was on track as far as I was concerned given his age, and I thought The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s cover shot noting no rings on his finger was a cheap one. Of course, “The Decision” changed the course, and I thought that took LeBron out of the running to really equal Jordan’s greatness because it involved trying to build a super team rather than going through the rigors of building one from scratch.
However, that has not proven to be the case as a result of James’ continued improvement, the decline of Dwyane Wade and how natural former high-scorer Chris Bosh looks as a role player. There is no doubt it is James’ team as much as the Bulls were Jordan’s, and I would say he has won the past two titles with a worse supporting cast than Jordan had for his first three-peat.
But the game has changed, and there are still plenty of variables that must be determined before James’ legacy is complete. If the Heat win this series, he will take another huge step forward in the race to unseat Jordan as the greatest player of all time, but he will also be only halfway there. I’m also going to suggest James’ claim to the top spot won’t be null and void forever even if the Spurs win this series, but it won’t help him when all is said and done to have at least two more Finals series defeats than Jordan because Jordan’s indomitableness was a big part of his legacy. He won the championship in each of his last six full seasons with the Bulls, and he won the scoring title in the last nine years he played in Chicago. Everyone talks about going out on your own terms, and no one ever did it better than Jordan.
Ultimately, James is going to be regarded as one of the all-time greats, and it is a shame we spend as much time debating his legacy as we do admiring what he does. His career is not going to neatly match Jordan’s, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compare now — for better or for worse.
I agree with the notion James is probably the subject of too much criticism in the present, but I also think often nowadays we are too guilty of overanalyzing not only every action in every game but also the reaction to that analyzation. The pushback is sometimes greater than the initial wave of opinions these days, and too often I think we forget that what we say today can change tomorrow as long as there are still games to be played. Much of it is just noise to pass the time, you know? Especially before they pass out the trophy and the rings every year.
Bottom line? It’s OK to criticize LeBron because he’s not Jordan yet as long as we’re willing to concede he could still be.