The one LBJ-Day article that irritated me to no end was “God Loves Cleveland” from Bill Simmons.
I don’t know why Simmons chose LBJ-Day to start a Jordan-LeBron debate – it was a day of forgiveness, good feelings and warmsies and fuzzies – he should’ve understood what Ira Winderman did and respected that it wasn’t the right time. But he went there anyway.
Okay, so let’s go through the passages that frosted my cookies the most.
Offending Passage 1/5:
Jordan’s genius during that particular run, at least for me, was in how beautifully he meshed with Scottie Pippen. You watched them together, running around in tandem, and it was almost like Jordan had spawned his own clone. Like Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. Only in this case, Pippen was two inches taller. Pippen moved like Michael, saw the court like Michael, jumped passing lanes like Michael and blended with Michael’s game like a non-identical twin. It was crazy. I will never forget watching it for the rest of my life. Bird and Magic were geniuses, too, but shit, they never figured out how to replicate themselves.
For that reason and many others, I am never seeing a better basketball player than Michael Jordan.
I’m rolling my eyes hardcore. Seriously, if Jordan could replicate himself he would’ve done it 10 times and had a team full of Jordan replicants. Yet, Simmons cites Jordan’s ability to clone himself as a major reason why he thinks he’s never seeing a better player than Mike.
I’m sure Phil Jackson would’ve loved to hear that.
Me: Hey, Phil, MJ is over there cloning himself but he doesn’t want to make too many MJs.
Phil: Well, it would really help the team if he could make at least a few more MJs.
Me: Yeah, no. He’s not doing it. He just wants two MJs and that’s it. Jordan’s rules.
Simmons acts like Jordan only had a certain number of midichlorians and he drained himself just turning Pippen into a Hall of Famer and after that he was spent – no more force powers to turn BJ Armstrong into John Stockton.
Simmons even alludes to the absurdity of this…
Offending Passage 2/5:
Still, that was an exclusive genius — Jordan couldn’t transfer those gifts to others, with Pippen the lone exception.
An “exclusive genius” with Pip “the lone exception.” Ha!
Wait, I have an idea! What if, in reality, Pippen was actually a great player and Michael Jordan really couldn’t clone shit?
So to that I tender this BITCH PLEASE reaction:
I wonder what Bill Simmons would say about this Jack McCallum passage from a Sports Illustrated article circa November 1991:
In some respects, 26-year-old Scottie Pippen is as difficult for a coach as Jordan is. Pippen’s game was rough and undisciplined, and it was a constant struggle for Jackson to harness Pippen’s extraordinary natural ability. Pippen is a proud and emotional man, too, and it took of every bit of Jacksonian diplomacy not only to teach him the finer points, but also to convince him they were necessary. Pippen improved so much last season that he landed a spot, with Jordan, on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team.
“The best thing that happened to us was that Scottie took to our coaching and trusted our intuition,” says Jackson. “We encouraged him to provide certain skills. He worked, for example, on different backboard angles on his shots, when to take his shot, knowing when he had to score and when he didn’t. The maturing of Scottie Pippen as a player was a major factor in our winning.”
Wait… so coaching had something to do with Pippen’s development? That sounds unreasonable. It can’t be true. I was told that Pippen was great because Jordan figured out how to replicate himself via a unique cloning genius, which is obviously the reason why he’s the greatest player of all time.
(And DO NOT get me started on how Jackson was also responsible for turning Jordan into a great winner. Jackson was the guy who finally convinced Jordan to trust his teammates more, which led directly to rings. In other words, Jackson had to convince Jordan to play a little bit more like LeBron in order to turn him into a champion.)
Offending Passage 3/5:
Michael Jordan was a genius, and maybe he was better than even that. From December 1990 through the 1998 Finals, not including his baseball sabbatical, the Chicago Bulls never lost three straight games with Jordan. Given the unforgiving NBA schedule, nonstop travel and general wear and tear, that’s basically impossible. But it happened. The man hated losing THAT much.
So Simmons credits team performance over this period to Michael Jordan. In other words, Chicago didn’t lose three straight games because the greatness of Air Jordan wouldn’t let them lose three straight games. Now, of course, he doesn’t know that for a fact. Maybe the Bulls lost two games in a row, and in the third game MJ was terrible, but Pippen and Paxson were great and saved the day. That is certainly plausible.
Or maybe the reason they never lost 3 in a row was because of Phil Jackson’s coaching and not MJ. How would anybody know? There were several Hall of Famers involved.
We say these things cheaply, take its accuracy for granted, and assume it’s all harmless anyway. But it isn’t harmless. False notions can breed like rabbits. What is the famous saying? “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”
So it’s completely unfair to do this, and actually dangerous.
But this is a major part of the Jordan myth, or lets just call them the Jordan exaggerations. Jordan’s will to win is always exaggerated. But where was his will to win when he was getting bounced in the first round before Scottie, Grant and Jackson showed up?
Simmons then talks about the Heat peaking during their 27 game winning streak, calling it, “one of the best achievements in NBA history.”
One of the best achievements in NBA history. I’ll take it.
But why couldn’t we attribute THAT to LeBron, and give it the Jordan myth treatment?
LeBron James was a genius, and maybe he was better than even that. From 2010 to 2014 the Miami Heat went to four straight NBA Finals, winning two rings back-to-back, without any rebounding or shot blocking. They even managed to win 27 straight games while being the worst rebounding team in the league, without a single 7 footer on their roster and without any shot blocking whatsoever. Given the unforgiving NBA schedule, nonstop travel and general wear and tear, that’s basically impossible. But it happened. The man hated losing THAT much.
Okay, Simmons isn’t done…
Offending Passage 4/5:
On any given night, he can throw up a triple-double, score 40 points, unleash five or six GIFs, defend everyone from Parker to Carmelo, play point forward, play in the low post … you name it, he can do it. LeBron can do whatever he wants. But you know what he can’t do? Play basketball at an insanely high level without the right teammates.
WHAT!!!? LeBron can’t play basketball at an insanely high level without the right teammates!???!??
What we were watching in 2007?
And who was the guy putting up the most astounding playoff production in modern history in 2009?
Did Michael Jordan always play at an insanely high level without the right teammates? No, he didn’t.
After MJ scored 63 points on Boston in Game 2 of the first round in 1986, he followed that up with 19 points in the next game. It was an elimination game. They lost. Was that an insanely high level? Doubt it.
If LeBron did something like that, he would get endless criticism for his lack of scoring (“he’s not a killer”) and we would still be hearing about it 5 years later.
Okay, let’s keep it rolling…
Offending Passage 5/5:
At this point, [LeBron’s] résumé is unassailable: He could retire tomorrow as one of the best seven players ever. Over the course of NBA history, five LeBrons would probably beat five Anyone Else’s. (Yes, even five Jordans.)
So, Simmons says he’ll never see a better player than Jordan, but then says something like that?
Look, LeBron is not even 30 and Simmons has him in the top 7. Why couldn’t he jump to the top of the pile? Well, he could. In 2010, in Simmons’ Big Book of Boo Boos, he ranked LeBron 20th. After LeBron’s 2nd ring in 2013 Simmons put him in the top 10. Today he has him somewhere in the top 7. You can see where I’m going with this, but maybe a chart will help.
Next stop, Goatsville!
I’m going to make a prediction: Simmons is going to be calling LeBron “The Greatest” at some point within the next 5 years.
I’m glad I got that off my chest.