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After coaching LeBron, Jim Boeheim is not sure Jordan is the best he’s seen

Aug 14, 2012, 10:25 PM EDT

London Olympics Basketball Men AP

The year of redemption for LeBron James is reaching dizzying heights now. NBA MVP, NBA champion, NBA finals MVP, gold medal all in one year. His arc is reaching the highest of heights.

And the praise keeps pouring in for him. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is stepping away from USA Basketball after serving as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski for a decade. He has seen the evolution of LeBron from the guy Jerry Colangelo considered not inviting to Beijing to the unquestioned leader of the gold medal team in London.

Boeheim was on the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN Radio and his praise of LeBron went so far as to compare him to the guy currently on top of most “greatest ever to play the game” lists (via The Big Lead, who listens to Cowherd so you don’t have to).

“He’s a leader. He gets on the court, he tells people what to do … this guy can guard five [positions] … put him on anybody, he can guard him. I always felt Michael Jordan was the best player I’ve ever seen … I didn’t think it was close … and I’m not so sure anymore … this guy is 6-9, 260 pounds and he’s getting better … I know we’ve had great, great players through the years. He’s like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well.”

LeBron has not near equalled Michael Jordan’s career accomplishments. Nobody sane suggests that he is. But he is starting to reach the full potential of his ridiculous talent and that might be compared with anyone.

The question was never LeBron’s talent. Physically on the court he has had the skills to be mentioned with Jordan and Magic since he set foot in the league. His game was always more Magic or Oscar Robertson than Jordan, but Jordan is the greatness benchmark for the next generations.

The question with LeBron has always been about the maturity and the competitive fire — he has never burned as hot as Jordan. Or Kobe. And in Cleveland LeBron still seemed to be about having fun and being around his guys more than winning. That’s at least how it looked outside his tight circle.

But he has evolved in Miami. Maybe it is he is now 27, no longer 21. Maybe it is Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, more serious minded guys. Maybe it is Pat Riley. Most likely it is a combination of all of it and more.

But for the past year LeBron has started to live up to his potential and the sky-high expectations on him. And those who are close to him to see what he has evolved into, even veteran guys like Boeheim, are taken aback by what he has become.

  1. thenmoveback - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    Who wins a 1 on 1 game? MJ or LBJ

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 15, 2012 at 12:51 PM

      I’d pay good money to see that.

    • borderline1988 - Aug 15, 2012 at 2:49 PM

      Would be exciting, but doesn’t mean much in the context of who’s a better player.

      Lebron is an incredible rebounder, passer, on the break finisher, has the ability to guard 5 positions, is a leader, incredible intangibles…all that is lost in a one-on-one game.

      Kobe is perhaps the best one on one scorer in the history of the NBA, and I’d bet he could take MJ on one one…but Lebron and Jordan are both better players than he is. Both are better decision makers, and both bring more to the table in an actual basketball game.

  2. cfos00 - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Not to point out the obvious or take away from how well LeBron has played lately, but how do you think Jordan would have done with the current NBA environment? The rules have NEVER been more geared towards perimeter play and small ball, nor have there been fewer actual star players that play inside and defend the rim. Does anyone really think Jordan’s numbers or impact wouldn’t have been even greater now, or that LeBron’s numbers wouldn’t have been different if he would have played in a time when hand checking was legal or that you could pull what the Bad Boys Pistons did back then? Being entirely realistic on foul shots/allowing penetration, Jordan could have easily averaged 40 a game.

    Jordan also never did a thing that LeBron has done twice—quit on his team in a playoff series. He pulled that crap twice in Cleveland, most notably against the Celtics. Jordan would have just as soon killed his mother as quit a competitive series.

    • Asian Herp Blogs - May 14, 2014 at 2:55 AM

      What are you talking about? In the two series where Lebron lost to the Celtics, he ended with a 27-19-10 game and a 45-5-6 game.

      Are you saying that Lebron can get a 27-19-10 while quitting? How the heck does anyone in the world come up with a 19-rebound triple-double without trying? Would he have had the NBA’s first ever 40-30-15 game if he had actually tried?

      The only time I’ve ever seen an individual player quit in a deciding playoff series was Kobe in that Game 7 against the Suns where he stopped trying in the 2nd half. I’ve seen lots of whole teams quit though.

  3. doctorfootball - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    I have no doubt that Lebron is a more complete player than Jordan, but NO ONE dominated opponents as consistently as Jordan. Lebron is such a great passer that he still defers to his teammates too often. While Jordan was all about taking on 5 defenders and winning the game almost singlehandedly. Lebron is amazing, but Jordan is still the best ever in my opinion, and it’s not that close.

    • Asian Herp Blogs - May 14, 2014 at 2:58 AM

      Watch the games again. Jordan had a lot of Finals games where he wasn’t the one taking the final shot. Taking the ball yourself when passing is a smarter play isn’t a sign of a good player – and Jordan only played that stupid early in his career.

  4. trueballs - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    things that have been said over the years…
    Doc Rivers & SVG: “he’s probably the favorite for MVP every season until he retires”
    Larry Bird: “He’ll probably be better than us all when it’s all said and done.”
    Scottie Pippen:”Jordan was the best scorer, but LBJ might be the best all around player ever.”
    Boheim: (see above)

    for the record I dont think LBJ has passed MJ. Talent wise, yes, but he needs some more hardware to be GOAT, but not necessarily 6 rings. But yes, haters…Bird, Coach K, Doc, Boheim…they probably know nothing about bball.

  5. steelerfanforlife - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Can we have a separate “Lebron Talk” and ProBasketballTalk” please??!!

    • jimmymarlinsfan - Aug 15, 2012 at 6:20 PM

      A. LeBron is the best basketball player on the planet in the day and age of social media
      B. it’s the off-season
      C. Would you rather debate which bow tie Keith Askins rocks the best?

      • steelerfanforlife - Aug 15, 2012 at 8:35 PM

        If it means that I don’t have to have a full story on how someone is so impressed with how a 28 year old Lebron James is so mature then yes, please tell me all about Keith Askins bow ties!

  6. unxpexted1 - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    I’m not saying lebron is the best i’ve ever seen but……..yea, thats it.

  7. 1972wasalongtimeago - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    MJs career cannot be touched……yet.

    But for now, if you need to shut down Dwight Howard? Put LeBron on him,
    You need to shut down Rajon Rondo? Put LeBron on him.
    You need to shut (slow) down Kevin Durant? Here you go LeBron.
    You need to score 40 on the road in an elimination game? Give the ball to LeBron.

    And if necessary, he’d do all of it in the same game, playing all 48 minutes, with the entire arena screaming with bloodlust at him trying to get him to fail.

    I’d put that guy against ANYONE.

    As far as who’s career is more accomplished, clearly it’s MJ over LBJ. But that’s not the question. And if we’re talking rings and MVPs it’s Bill Russell, not MJ.

    • candidohernandez - Aug 15, 2012 at 10:27 AM

      Real fkn talk. I couldn’t say it better myself. People have a hard time seperating team from individual. Lebrons all around game and skill sets is insane. To be able to guard and shit down anyone in the league. Who else in the history of the league can say that??

      • lucaslatronico - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:32 AM

        Pippen can!

    • mrpostman985 - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:35 AM

      First i want to say lebron is a great athlete but he is not on micheal or even kobe level when comes down to skill . He runs faster and jump higher than eveyone else but that dont make him a great basketball player ! Mj and kobe played(plays) with success for so long bc of they’re skilled! And Lbj didnt do anything in da finaks spectacular he just didnt choke like everyone outside of the heat fans(bandwagoners) expected. And also he is a great help defender not a lock down guy like people try and give him credit for ! Jus u block a few fastbreak lay ups from behind dont make u pippen ! Ive seen guys such as garnett kill lebron when he gaurded him ! Ive seen melo and paul pierce as well!! And kobe laid the blueprint ib how to gaurd rondo awhile back ! So to say lebron is up thr with mike gonna hav to wait til lbj is about 33 and can still be prolific against the then youngsters who can run faster jump higher and is just as strong ! So many gonna dislike this but it dont matter bc its the truth !

      • bucsnsincity - Aug 15, 2012 at 7:14 PM

        Lebron is not skilled and his finals performance wasn’t spectacular wtf are you talking about did you watch the games? The man dominated every aspect w the exception of game 1 Durant was not his dominant self because of lebron… You watch Garnett dominant lebron in the post of course Garnett is easily one of the best big men to ever play the game. That’s like saying you saw Ewing post up MJ. Kobe is great but lebron is a much more complete player and I can’t say if lebron is better or worse than Jordan because I’m 24 and didn’t get to see MJ play w the exception of highlights. But lebron is easily the best player of my generation.

      • saranvp - Aug 15, 2012 at 8:31 PM

        I’m not even a big Lebron fan, but give credit where credit is due. Kobe is a great player but to say Lebron doesn’t compare to him? yeah in terms of rings. But as a player individually? Lebron is up there with him if not above him. A great player should be based on his contributions to the game and his team. And statistically speaking, Lebron makes his teammates better and an instant title contender. And u said he didn’t do anything fantastic in the finals? Uhh he shut down the scoring champion, and closed out the series with a cramp, averaged nearly a triple double? So why can’t he be there with Kobe and Jordan? And if its because of ‘heart’ or will of fire… Fk that. How is that even measured?

      • turnmymicup - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:39 AM

        The “truth” didn’t get you this many dislikes. It was your low basketball IQ that did the trick. LeBron is clearly one of the best defenders in the league. Thats the part of his game that really makes him great. Their are plenty of guys in the NBA that run fast and jump high. However none of them can guard 1 through 5 like LBJ. This guy has evolvled from the boy wonder to a straight up monster. You cant guard him but he makes sure to lock you down. LeBron is the truth and he showed why this year. Not the best ever but the best in the game right now no doubt.

    • money2long - Aug 15, 2012 at 3:40 PM


      great post. but to be fair, do you think “shut down” dwight howard is too strong an idea? let’s not get it twisted, dwight howard is a MAN down in the post. i’ve seen lebron get handled down in the post when trying to play the pacers this past post season. lebron can be a good matchup defensively against bigs in the post, but to claim he can shut down dwight howard is taking it overboard.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Aug 15, 2012 at 4:58 PM

        For a post on this website,you know what I mean by “shut down”. But you’re right. “Shut Down” shouldn’t be read literally. “Taking the ball out of Howard’s hands” is more appropriate. Same with Rondo. Can’t ever truly shut down those guys.

        “Shut Down” really only applied to what LeBron did to Derrick Rose in the ECFs in 2011. Actually “shut down” isn’t strong enough to describe what he did to Rose. More like “made him look like a 9th grader”. A classy, media savvy, humble, loved by everyone, 9th grader.

  8. zr47 - Aug 15, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    How about we wait til Lebron’s 40 or retired and then have a real debate about this?

  9. diablito0402 - Aug 15, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    Its not about jordan or lbj at age 27, lbj got drafted at 18, and jordan at 21 or 22 not sure, why dont you compare their first 10 years of their carrers and see what you get, jordan was 32 when he was 10 years in the league,, while lebron in 28, its a sin to compare this clown to jordan, wow,

    • jimmymarlinsfan - Aug 15, 2012 at 6:27 PM

      And so if anything Jordan’s college experience was an asset to him(especially playing at UNC with Worthy, Perkins and Coach Dean Smith. Experience that would have helped to mature Lebron’s mind at a faster rate. But haters gonna hate eh?

  10. proballerslounge - Aug 15, 2012 at 10:58 AM compare the two right here..

  11. itsthemelman82 - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Sports conversation gets dumber & dumber. LBJ is taller & atleast 40 lbs bigger than Mike. There are fewer relevant 7 footers playing today as well. WHY are we comparing guys built differently & there’s also a huge difference between 1 ring & 6 rings. Can we wait until LBJ wins (maybe) a few more before we put him in the same sentence as the G.O.A.T?

  12. diablito0402 - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Lbj can rebound, he can pass, he can score, he is 6’9 260, so why not compare him to magic johnson.. Is he better than magic, i dont think so,, just sayin

  13. mannyicey - Aug 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    There’s a simple answer to this question: Not Yet. Here’s why in two things:

    1. Who would win- the 2012 Miami Heat without Lebron or the 1991 Chicago Bulls without Jordan? As a matter of fact, compare the 2012 Miami Heat against ANY team that Jordan won championships with. Remember 1994? Chicago was terrible, Jordan came back and they went to the playoffs- even though Jordan took a year off.

    I mean, Jordan was great on offense and defense, just like Lebron. Jordan won some improbable games, just like Lebron. But Jordan has more hardware. Lebron can play more positions. And Lebron won his championships earlier than Jordan. But Jordan won his with only Scottie Pippen, who became a HOFer by playing second fiddle to Jordan, as his backup.

    And here’s something else: When the game’s on the line, the ball can either go to Lebron or Dwayne Wade. But where will the ball go when the game’s on the line with Jordan on the court? Even if he’s hurt? Or sick with the flu and 101 degree fever?

    • RS - Aug 15, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      Sorry, but I gotta correct you. 1993-1994 Chicago was NOT terrible. Without Jordan, they still went 55-27 and finished 2nd in the East. Scottie Pippen was 3rd in the MVP voting.

      • passerby23 - Aug 15, 2012 at 2:33 PM

        And they pushed the Knicks (the eventual Finals runner-up) to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

        That doesn’t discredit Jordan, but that Bulls team was very good.

    • jimmymarlinsfan - Aug 15, 2012 at 6:32 PM

      And yet you fail to see that Lebron doesn’t take a lot of the last shots because he sees one of his teammates open and hits them with a good pass with the expectation that an NBA player is capable of hitting a jumper

  14. kingghidora - Aug 15, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    This whole conversation reads like a who’s who of people who didn’t see Wilt Chamberlain play basketball. Nobody was anywhere near as good as he was. He would have rolled MJ up in a ball and stuffed him. He would have run over LBJ like a freight train. We’re talking a guy who was 7’1″ and could run the 440 yard dash (slightly more than the 400 meter dash) in 49 seconds when he was 12. He was a high jumper at Kansas also. The guy was phenomenal and dominated the game in ways that no one could even imagine if they had not seen it. The league went way out of their way to limit his accomplishments too. Racism ruled in those days and they didn’t like a black man showing up everyone. And no I’m not black.

    Just as an example one of the greatest defenders that ever played the game was Bill Russell. You remember. A whole boatload of championships etc.. Wilt averaged almost 30 points a game head to head against Bill. And he also averaged almost 30 rebounds a game against Bill. Yes that’s right – 30 rebounds a game. This is besides his 100 point game and him averaging over 50 ppg for a season. He got harassed for being a ball hog so much that he stopped shooting after that. He could have done that every year he played.

    Don’t give me this stuff about MJ being the best. It ain’t Kobe and it ain’t LBJ. It’s Wilt Chamberlain by a huge margin.

  15. fanz928 - Aug 15, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    Stop using lebron’s teammates to try to cover up the credit this guy deserves he led his team and based on what I saw in the playoffs it wasn’t easy and it’s not like Jordan or Kobe didn’t have superstar teammates. And are you guys saying that wade is better than pippen and bosh better than rodman and I didn’t even mention the above average role players on the 92 bulls

    • passerby23 - Aug 15, 2012 at 2:36 PM

      I think the impressive think about MJ is that he won multiple championships with hardly a scoring post presence. Horace Grant was more of a perimeter shooter. Cartwright and Longley gave them occasional scoring, but nothing dominant. Comparing Bosh and Rodman seems a bit silly. Who was the better rebounder and defender? Rodman. Who is the better scorer and shooter? Bosh.

    • mannyicey - Aug 15, 2012 at 3:26 PM

      Above average role players with the 92 Bulls? What about the 91 Bulls? Heck, it wasn’t even a guarantee that the ball will be in Lebron’s hands when the game was on the line.

      But in short, Lebron’s young. Let him win a couple more rings before we start going crazy.

  16. quancao - Aug 15, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    Coach’s comments are right on. However there is a few other factors that need to be mentioned. The game has changed, and the athletes are now bigger and faster. Watching Durrant drives that point home. Durrant, with some luck, good coaching and a support cast around him, will possibly be better than James. On the other hand, those who predicted Tiger will fly right past Nicklaus are now hedging their bets. Personality wise, James is cast in the mold of Magic. He is a crowd pleaser and not necessarily a self-centered scorer. He also is now getting the best coaching and the best motivation he has ever received with Spo and Riles. The next few years will be fun for him and the team.

    • passerby23 - Aug 15, 2012 at 2:43 PM

      I still do not understand this “guys are bigger and faster” argument today than they were in Jordan’s day. If anything, they are NOT bigger (with the exception of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum). There are no Shaqs, Ewings, Olajuwons, Robinsons, Smits, Oakleys, Dale Davis’, Malones, etc. from the early 90s onward. The league used to be a bruising, physical war. Now it is more of a “skilled” finesse league.

      Second of all, guys are faster? I think Allen Iverson was pretty fast. Jordan is every bit as quick as guys today. Because it has evolved into more of a guard-oriented league, people call it “faster.” It’s only because of a lack of true centers that the game has changed.

  17. 24thesho - Aug 15, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    First of all, I am not trying to offend anyone in the gay community, so my apologies to those who are, but these constant Jordan / Lebron comparisons are gay (1. definition) at this point. Check your dictionaries before overreacting.

  18. homcheche - Aug 15, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    @ wjmoffatt – Also you can’t compare MJ to Lebron at the same age of 27, because MJ didn’t play until 21, maybe we can compare both after 9 seasons:

    Lebron 9 seasons:
    8x All Star
    3x NBA MVP
    1x Finals MVP
    2x All Star Game MVP
    6x All NBA 1st Team
    1x Scoring Champ

    MJ 9 seasons:
    9x All Star
    3x NBA MVP
    3x Finals MVP
    1x All Star Game MVP
    7x All NBA 1st Team
    7x Scoring Champ

  19. monstoro15 - Aug 15, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    When Lebron James decides to retire. He will be the best player to ever play the game.

  20. buffalowned - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    are some of these lakers fans seriously gonna say you doubt it he will ever rank higher than kobe? he has 3 mvp’s at the age of 27 kobe will have 1 his entire career. you win mvp’s by being the best player in the league not winning with shaq in his prime. Kobe was the finals mvp 2 out of the 5 rings he won so really lebron only needs one more of those to match him there but in reality it’s likely he will win many more. more ppg rpg apg over his career than kobe better fg % and the ability to play and guard five positions. there is no comparison between kobe and lebron. if kobe is better than lebron russell is better than jordan

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