If you've been watching the NBA playoffs these last six weeks on TNT, you've no doubt seen countless previews for the upcoming movie "Bad Teacher," in which a belligerent Jason Segel berates a young schoolboy for comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan.
"There is no way that LeBron will ever be Jordan," he barks. "Call me when LeBron has six championship rings. That's the only argument I need, Shawn."
It's pretty sad, really. It's a commercial for a cheesy comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake, but it sums up the cliched LeBron-Jordan argument better than any sportswriter.
On one side, there's always the newfangled hoops fan, often young and overzealous, gawking at the talent of a younger, sleeker model like LeBron or Kobe Bryant. He sees the athletic ability and the eye-popping stats, and he's way too easily swayed by the idea of another MJ. Then you have the conservative old-timer, and he couldn't be bothered to look at nuanced reasons or open-minded ideals — he's not budging. It's either the simplistic "count the rings!" tripe, or it's something nebulous and factless like Jordan's "aura" or his "competitive fire."
It's like religion or politics. There's no point in arguing, because neither side is changing their minds anytime soon.
And yet that's what these NBA Finals, opening Tuesday night as the Miami Heat host the Dallas Mavericks, will inevitably be about. This is a new opportunity for LeBron to cement himself as one of the greats, a potential basketball Chosen One to be mentioned in the same sentence with His Airness. LeBron isn't Jordan yet, but he's got a chance to get a little closer.
If the Mavs pull an upset this June, it'll validate all the crotchety old Jason Segels of the world. But if LeBron can take care of business? Things will get interesting. We may see a lot more fans like Shawn — played by an evidently devilishly funny 14-year-old named Adrian Kali Turner — creep out of the woodwork.
Scottie Pippen, of all people, surprisingly came out this week and said that LeBron may already be the best ever, above Jordan. Practically everyone shot that idea down, including LeBron himself who shot back "I'm not better than Jordan" without a moment's hesitation.
But LeBron knows it's on the table. He knows he might be not the the all-time No. 1 yet, but that title is within his reach. And he knows that this June, he's got an opportunity to take a big step in the right direction.
It's an overplayed question, and it lacks a true answer. Better than Jordan? What does that really mean? Is it about most talent, most skill, most team success, gaudiest numbers, most money, most fame? Is it about swaying public opinion, or being really, truly good, no matter what the rest of the world thinks?
No one knows. So LeBron is playing it safe and avoiding the self-serving answer. Always the right move for a ringless 26-year-old.
"Michael's an unbelievable player," LeBron told the AP this weekend. "I've got a long way — long way — to be mentioned as far as one of the all-time greats. Not even just Jordan. There's a lot of great players who have played in this league. Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all these guys who are floating around with multiple rings, Bill Russell, all these guys who have pioneered this game."
True. But everyone's got to start with championship No. 1, and for LeBron, this could be the year.
Will LeBron James win his first title? Share your thoughts below.
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