I thought waking up today that I could turn on sports radio and possibly be safe from Miami sports talk. Unfortunately, I was wrong. On my short five minute commute to the train station I flipped on Mike and Mike in the morning just to hear about how the Heat winning the title adds interest to the NBA and how LeBron James might be better than Jordan [FWIW, both Mike's disagreed that he's presently better]. I feel sad, that I may need to write this article for the next five or six years every year.
LeBron James can not, no matter what he does, finish his career in such a way that leaves him better than Jordan. He simply can't. He's already proven that he's not better. I know this sounds absurd, but it's true.
Take a look at Jordan's record, and it is spotless. There is no taint.
1: He has the statistical dominance
2: He has the rings
3: His teams never failed because of him
4: He set a clutch performance standard so high that no one else has remotely matched it
5: He won an absurd six titles in eleven full, healthy seasons with Chicago
LeBron can match #1. His stats are at a Jordan level. They aren't computed in the exact same box, but he also has statistical dominance on a level similar to Jordan. He can eventually match #2 or perhaps surpass it. It's probably more than likely that he'll fail to match it, but he's got a better shot at six rings than anyone else in the league.
However, items #3-#5 are already out of reach.
LeBron James has lost an NBA playoff series as the favorite three times already.
His team lost a championship to a considerably worse Dallas team last year specifically because he sucked.
His Cleveland team lost to a Celtics team two years ago when he quit on them in the playoffs and was already dreaming about leaving them to get more help elsewhere [a decision which has been validated completely by winning the title this year and watching the hype machine change his narrative into possibly the greatest player to ever play the game, but this still doesn't excuse him throwing in the towel].
LeBron has regularly looked afraid to shoot at the end of games. Even in this glorious championship year there were moments in the Indiana and Boston series where he didn't appear to want the ball at the end of games, missed clutch free throws that would have iced games and generally played mentally weak in the fourth quarter [he dominated in the finals though, so it's fair to gloss over these things].
He may change the clutch narrative about himself forever going forward, but he'll never make up for what he's already failed to do in the clutch. Can you imagine anyone with any credibility being asked the question, "Game 7, NBA finals, 10 seconds left, you have the ball and are down by one, you can have any player in the history of the NBA in their prime with the ball, who you got?" and then answering "LeBron"?
The thing is, no matter what happens with LeBron, he can't take these things back. He can't get back all of the choking that Jordan never had. He can't get back the quitting on his team and his city to go join a cast of superstars and then STILL fail the next season specifically because he crapped the bed and stunk in the biggest moment. He can't.
He can't win a title in more than 50% of his full healthy seasons, not unless he wins the next nine straight.
LeBron has the full package. I think he could easily build a case over his career as the second best player to ever play the game. He'll absolutely finish with the individual accolades to do so, and if he gets a handful more rings then he'll have the hardware as well. He's the full package, the real deal, the best in the league right now by far.
However, to pass Jordan, you need near perfection, and when you add up the marks against James there's already too many to ever hit the Jordan standard regardless of what he does with the rest of his career.