Comparing anybody to Michael Jordan could be seen as an act of blasphemy according to basketball god’s and the NBA community that has come to develop a stigma against anyone who dares compare a player, past, present or future, to the all-time greatest.
Nobody is saying that someone in today’s game is better than Michael, but Syracuse head coach and Team USA assistant coach certainly turned some heads with the statements he made regarding Miami’s own LeBron James following the Olympic team’s gold medal victory over Spain.
“I’ve always thought Michael Jordan was the best player that I’ve ever seen. I always have and and I didn’t think it was close. I’m not so sure any more. And I love Michael Jordan. I’m not so sure anymore.”
Before everything gets out of hand: take a step back and breathe. Coach Boeheim didn’t say that LeBron is better than Michael; he merely stated that LeBron may be the best player he’s ever seen.
It’s tough to blame him; LeBron just went on a tear through the Olympic games with an excellent touch to the game when it came to controlling the fast-paced tempo and coming up clutch in the few instances the team needed him, specifically against Lithuania and Spain.
Against Lithuania, James hit a three-pointer and had several lay-in’s in the waning minutes to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point victory. In the gold medal game against Spain, James flushed in a dunk and had the dagger three-pointer to turn a six-point lead into a comfortable nine-point lead with two minutes remaining. The shot was extremely similar to the three-pointer James hit in Game 4, when he backed up to the three-point line and converted over the outstretched hands of his defender.
James did just about everything for the Americans. He facilitated as a passer and scorer, played multiple positions, came up big on the glass on an undersized team and played some incredible defense on just about anyone who was unfortunate to cross his path. Perhaps the scariest part of James’ performance was the fact that he was outshining Chris Paul and Deron Williams as facilitators.
Boeheim also commented on James’ future:
“This guy is 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and he’s getting better. He works on his game. His shooting is getting better. He’s a phenomenal, phenomenal basketball player. I love this game, I love the history of this game. I know we’ve had great, great players through the years. He’s like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well.”
That’s heavy stuff, and it’s legitimate because it’s from one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball. The fact that it comes from someone of his caliber leaves skeptics scratching their heads and actually wondering if James could truly go down as one of the best to play the game.
Because for years, there were plenty of arguments against LeBron even being in the same conversation as Michael. As good as he was a stat-stuffer and teammate, critics cited his lack of championships and the inability to lift his team on his shoulders in late-game situations. After eight years of trying and failing, James didn’t deserve to be in the same sentence as Jordan, at least when it came to their overall achievements.
However, with three league MVP’s, a championship, a Finals MVP, two gold medals and several clutch performances in tight situations, LeBron is finally garnering the respect he’s rightfully deserved.
Head coach of Team USA Mike Krzyzewski had nothing but praise for LeBron, as it seemed that he developed a true bond with the three-time MVP by the end of the Olympics sharing an almost father-son type of embrace.
Of course, K spoke highly of James:
“He’s the most unique player to ever play basketball because he can play every position, both offensively and defensively.”
Well, he does have a valid point.
“I’ve seen him grow immensely. He’s the best player, he’s the best leader, he’s as smart as anyone playing the game right now.”
Coming from the second best coach to ever be on the sideline of a NCAA basketball game, that’s what you call a legitimate argument in favor of James being the best right now, and possibly being the best in years to come; because Coach K is right, James has grown immensely since 2008 and is continuing to grow, which explains the heavy praise he’s receiving from Team USA’s coaches.
While he may not quite be on Jordan’s level, James certainly has the developing repertoire, championship mindset and teammates to help him reach the bar that ‘MJ’ set so high for everyone else.