LeBron in Rare Air: King James hasn't passed Jordan yet, but he's close

Credit: Julie Jacobson

Credit: Julie Jacobson

When Scottie Pippen says the comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James "shouldn't ever be made" just remember that Pippen knows better than anyone where his bread was buttered.

"Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever put on shoes and play in our game," Pippen said on ESPN's "The Jump." "I'm always asked to compare him to LeBron, and I try to make the best of it. But really, the comparison shouldn't ever be made."

Pippen won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls as Robin to Jordan's Batman. He's going to stay loyal to his guy and rightfully so. But the gap between Jordan and LeBron has never been closer even if James has won half as many titles.

The LeBron James that arrives at Madison Square Garden on Monday isn't the same LeBron James from three or five years ago. He may actually be better.

At 33, he still dominates at both ends of the floor and even if the Cleveland Cavaliers enter the NBA playoffs as the fourth seed, James is still the favorite to return to the NBA Finals for an eighth straight year.

After James rallied the Cavs from a 16-point deficit in the final six minutes to defeat Washington on Thursday, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of LeBron: "Like I said before the game, I'll say it after the game and probably five years from now I'll say the same thing. He's the best player in the league and he does that every night. You don't get to see players like him often."

LeBron's play this season defies both logic and the laws of physics. In his 15th season, LeBron is 23 minutes shy of eclipsing 3,000 minutes for the first time in six years. He's appeared in 80 games, his most in nine years and if he plays in the final two against the Knicks he will have appeared in all 82 for the first time in his career.

He isn't just the King of New York. He's the King of the entire basketball world. Still.

LeBron's minutes and productivity are up. He's currently averaging career highs in both assists (9.2) and rebounds (8.7). His 27.7 points per game average is currently the fifth highest of his legendary career and his highest in eight years.

While players of his age are declining (See: Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade) LeBron is performing at a ridiculously high level. He has even made up ground in the Most Valuable Player race and just might yet beat out the favorite, Houston's James Harden, for the award.

On Friday, James nearly rallied the Cavs from a 30-point deficit only to lose 132-130 to Philadelphia, which has won 13 straight. The Sixers also moved ahead of the Cavs and into third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

"I mean, we dug ourselves that hole," James said. "So we're a prideful team, and the only way we get back into the game was just kind of get scrappy and play a little bit more physical, make some shots. But no, listen, we was down 30, and for us to come all the way back, it just shows what we're capable of doing."

But this was a master class from James, who was logging big minutes for the second straight night. He finished with 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his career-high 18th triple double of the season.

"He is amazing," says Sixers head coach Brett Brown. "In my opinion, he is the best player to have ever played our sport. And he just keeps getting better."

Greatest ever? Jordan still seems to have an edge but consider that James has already played more games (1141 to 1072) and more minutes (44,249 to 41,011) than Jordan. And with LeBron able to stay injury free and keep his body in tip-top condition there is no reason why he can't maintain this pace for another two to three years.

Jordan turned 30 the year he decided to walk away from basketball and play minor league baseball. He returned in mid-March the following season and quickly regained his form; in his last three years with the Bulls Jordan never missed a regular season game and won three championships. It remains an amazing accomplishment.

As a 33-year-old, Jordan averaged 29.6 points during the regular season and then 31.1 points in the playoffs. Of course, LeBron is asked to do more since he doesn't have a sidekick on the level of Pippen.

Kevin Love is an All-Star but Pippen was an All-Star Swiss Army knife. He could do everything and defend every position. Jordan was the closer.

LeBron isn't Jordan. At least not yet. He's more of a hybrid of Jordan and Pippen.

He's something we have never seen before and may never see again.

About the Author