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Phil Jackson talks LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan

Oct 9, 2012, 11:06 AM EDT

Phil Jackson Getty Images

It right now is impossible to compare Michael Jordan and LeBron James right now.

Not simply because Jordan has set the bar ridiculously high — using arguably the best player ever and his six rings as a measuring stick is not fair because even other all-time greats fall short of that mark — but also because we don’t know LeBron’s legacy yet. There are no shortage of commenters on this site who seem to miss my overall point about LeBron:

We can’t define his legacy yet, he’s 27 and just entering the prime of his career. He’s the best player in the game today, what we will think of him a decade from now is impossible to say.

But, LeBron vs. Jordan has become a thing. And even Phil Jackson got sucked into it during his discussion on ESPN radio in in Chicago recently (via Sports Radio Interviews). Here is what Jackson said about LeBron.

“He’s got all the physical attributes. I think we all question the prepping that went into LeBron. His defense was shaky when he was a younger player and finding his way through that direction. He is a player that can play four positions. Except for perhaps the center spot, which he hasn’t given a shot at yet, he can play those other four positions quite well. This is unique; Michael could play three and was very good at all three of those, but as a power player that LeBron can become, I think he has an opportunity to explore and advance some of the status that he has already gained. Winning six championships is an elusive thing out there and they haven’t won two yet. But he’s kinda got the smell of it and even the Olympic experience this summer, he was the granted leader of that team and was the critical player when they needed something to happen in the final games. I think he’s there, I think he’s at that position. He’s got good things ahead of him and a lot of it depends upon if he’s gonna be healthy for the remainder of his career.”

Or, to put it another way, we don’t know what LeBron’s legacy will be. Could he steamroll five more rings in the next six or seven years? How will that change how we perceive him in a decade? One ring already changed that for a lot of people.

Jackson is right, LeBron entered the NBA pompous and not mentally ready to really win or improve his game to the point he could quickly. (Considering he was one the cover of Sports Illustrated at 15 with them calling him the chosen one, combined with his family situation, I’m not sure what other outcome anyone could expect.)

But right now he has mentally matured, and that could allow him to start to use all those physical gifts in the best way to lead a team to rings. Could. We will see.

And maybe we should wait until LeBron is through is prime before we try to cement his legacy.

  1. cakemixa - Oct 9, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    We’re already on pace for one “controversial” Lebron/MJ comparison per week this season! Who will make one next week? Shaq?

  2. miamatt - Oct 9, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    You are correct that the comparison can’t be made yet, Kurt; it is unfair to both MJ and LBJ.

    As a Heat fan I would love to see James match, surpass, or simply be in a legitimate debate about who is the greatest of all time. But right now, I won’t go any further than, “James is the best in the world today, and we’ll see how it all shakes out.” Should be one helluva show in any case.

  3. blueintown - Oct 9, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I couldn’t even make it past that catastrophic opening “sentence”. Pity.

    • paleihe - Oct 9, 2012 at 12:27 PM

      That’s why when there’s a story, I tend to read just the quote section.

      The opinion of the writers isn’t that important.

      • blueintown - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM

        It’s not Kurt’s opinion that bothers me. It’s his continual assault on the english language.

  4. davidly - Oct 9, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    He’s got his work cut out for him. After the same amount of time in the league as James has now, Jordan had just won his seventh scoring title and third Finals MVP. Then he retired–the first time.

    • miamatt - Oct 9, 2012 at 4:55 PM

      Sure, but at the same AGE Jordan had just one his first title, and you can’t use the retirement thing as something in MJ’s favor. Sorry, but costing your team two potential title runs is a big minus in my book.

      You are right, though, James has his work cut out for him- he’ll have to be near perfect the rest of his career, and get some favorable breaks to go his way, to really enter this discussion.

      • davidly - Oct 9, 2012 at 5:46 PM

        Three fewer years on the front end of his NBA career and an NCAA title to boot.

        And, come on: He had damn good reason to retire, and by doing so actually did Pippen a favor with his own legacy. Besides, Jordan’s career is all the more remarkable when you consider his return and what happened thereafter. I mean, seriously.

  5. prosourcetalk - Oct 9, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    Today you should’ve seen me and Mousy today at school today

  6. florida727 - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Look at the definition of what a “legacy” actually is… per dictionary.com: “anything handed down FROM THE PAST”.

    LeBron’s still in the present. I’m not particularly a fan of his, but before we start evaluating his career relative to Jordan’s, let him actually HAVE a “career” first, then compare him to others. BTW, if rings are the most critical determinant, where’s Bill Russell’s name in all these G.O.A.T. conversations? (Sorry, not a Celtics fan either; born and raised in Chicago. Jordan’s the best I’ve ever personally seen.)

  7. passerby23 - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    Let’s not forget that Lebron came into the league at 18. He’s going into his 10th year in the league. You wonder when the wear and tear will catch up to him. Can Lebron battle through the kinds of injuries Kobe has and whether he can adapt his game as Kobe and Jordan have/did? I also wonder whether Wade’s injuries and wear and tear could derail the Heat competing year after year.

    Lebron has a lot of work to do to cement himself as the best of all-time in my opinion. I think more than the rings and the MVPs, the biggest difference between Lebron and Jordan was Jordan’s clutchness; the number of big time plays under pressure when it counted, living up to the moment. Jordan instilled fear in every opposing team and fan. I just haven’t seen enough of that from Lebron yet in his career.

  8. fanz928 - Oct 9, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Lebron might not win 6 rings but he will close to 6 regular season MVP

  9. omniusprime - Oct 9, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Queen James will never, ever be as good as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, period – case closed. Sorry but Leboring is only great in the eyes of pundits, and we all know pundits are blind. Leboring isn’t going to win another championship this year showing he can carry his team to back-to-back or three-peats like MJ and KB have accomplished.

    Go Kobe!!! Go Lakers!!!

  10. soopreme - Oct 9, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    LOL, Lebron not as good as Kobe !!!
    All you have to know about the Kobe/Lebron debate is Phil Jackson said he tried to get Kobe to play more like Lebron LOL !!!!!!!

  11. michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 9, 2012 at 8:03 PM

    The LeBron vs. Magic/MJ argument has become irrelevant. He’s not Magic and he’s not Jordan. LeBron has a unique skill set that can’t be compared to anybody before him. Maybe if you took Scottie Pippen and give him 60lbs, some more speed & athleticism… then you have something like LeBron. But clearly LeBron has surpassed Pippen so from now on there should be no comparisons.

    LeBron James is LeBron James; may we forever compare his career with the young talent of the league as we do with MJ, Bird & Magic.

  12. misterdreamer119 - Oct 9, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    Omnius Puss your post is gay.

  13. 20dollardinners - Oct 10, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Neither did it alone but I never saw MJ quit. I saw that from Lebron more than one series.

    The debate for Lebron always seems to be flexibility and athleticism. Undeniable, but what made MJ MJ was his ruthless will to win. We saw a little of that from Lebron in the finals, but he had a log way to go.

    He may win 5 or 6 MVPs in large part part because critics love point guard like players (makes others better).

    He has one ring. He likely will not get 6. His stats will compare to Oscar Robinson not MJ.

    MJ was a “Ill carry us on my back” score-first player with a competitive drive second to none. Kobe has been the only one close to MJ since MJ retired.

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