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Hackenberg: LeBron James vs Michael Jordan

06/14/2015, 12:00am EDT
LeBron or MJ?

LeBron James and the Cavaliers take on Golden State in Game 5 at 8 p.m. today. STORY PAGE 3. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A friend emailed me a split-screen video off the Internet that created a Belmont Stakes “race” between the 1973 Secretariat and the 2015 American Pharoah. It was unique and interesting. The point, I guess, is that Big Red would have kicked Pharoah around just as it did the horses it blew away more than 40 years ago.

But who knows? It is hard to compare eras. It is hard to compare athletes. You can always put a clock on horses. If you prefer a different type of Triple Crown, you can put Ted Williams’ 1942 stats up against Miguel Cabrera’s from 2012. Who was better? Who knows? It’s hard. But it’s fun to argue.

Which brings us to Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James.

Jordan pretty much set the standard. The greatest basketball player ever. Arguably, he was the dominant athlete of his era in U.S. sports.

And now comes LeBron and the hottest of debates rages.

Statistically, it’s hard to argue against His Airness. He was 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, played mostly away from the basket but with a leaping ability that made jaws drop, and averaged 30.1 points per game during the regular season and 33.4 per playoff game. 

To repeat, that was 30.1 points per game, on average, for EVERY game.

Jordan led Chicago to six NBA championships and was the Finals MVP in all of them.

It would be foolish to suggest he ever did it single-handedly.

Should Cleveland win the NBA crown, which is somewhat harder to imagine after Game 4 than it was after Game 3, LeBron will pretty much have done just that.

James had two wing men — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — throughout the regular season but lost both to injuries in earlier rounds of the playoffs. Both were all-star-caliber talents.

Since, the Cavaliers have been comprised of LeBron plus guys named J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, and a couple other lukewarm bodies.

Michael Jordan was never dealt such a short hand, although that’s not to say he could not have solved such a riddle.

In the 1991 finals against the Lakers, MJ scored 56 percent of the Bulls’ field goals in the series. That’s the NBA’s highest percentage in a final series in three decades.

Through three games of the 2015 finals, however, LeBron was averaging 41 points and had scored an astounding 66 percent of the Cavs’ field goals.

Game 4 on Thursday changed that, of course, just as it may have changed the direction of this championship series.

Golden State shook up its starting five, put a guy out there to do little more than chase LeBron all over the court, and the Cavs’ star shot poorly — 7 of 22 — and scored just 20 points. The Warriors won in Cleveland 103-82.

Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was the bloody gash he opened on his head after colliding with a camera. Maybe it was indeed the Warriors’ defensive effort.

Still, after summoning up a LeBron-like third quarter, the Cavs were still very much in the game.

Coach David Blatt had James on the bench to start the fourth quarter, and all was lost in a matter of two minutes.

“He’s a human being, and I’ve got to give him a minute here or there,” Blatt said of sitting LeBron for the first 1 minute, 48 seconds of the fourth quarter. “If I don’t, I’m really going to put him under more duress than he already is.”

As if that would be possible.

LeBron admitted he was “gassed” and said he was “hoping our team could just buy me a couple minutes.”

It could not. When James is off the court this is anything but a title team.

Game 5 is today at Golden State, and perhaps a couple days off will have rejuvenated King James. We’ll see. With the series tied 2-2, perhaps everything is on the line today.

LeBron has two NBA titles on his personal resume, and a third at age 30 would stack up nicely against Jordan at the same age. 

That’s as close to the debate as we’re willing to get at this point other than to suggest there may be a difference between who is the best and who is the most accomplished.

LeBron is 6-8, 250, and with his strength probably can play five positions. 

The problem, as illustrated in Game 4, is that he can’t play them all at the same time for 48 minutes.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: or on Twitter @BladeHack.

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Tag(s): Pro  Cavaliers  Dave Hackenberg