LeBron James’s biggest opponent this year is not the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets or the New York Knicks. His biggest opponent is not any one player like Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Garnett. His biggest foe doesn’t actually play anymore — he is a 50-year old owner of an NBA team and has been retired for over a decade — his name is Michael Jordan.
Why is LeBron’s greatest opponent Michael? It simply comes down to facing history and Jordan’s legacy. Everyone can easily acknowledge LeBron is a great basketball player, his four MVP awards and two championships alone speak to that. Now it is only a matter of where he will rank among the NBA’s all-time greatest and particularly how will he compare to Jordan.
LeBron only needs one more MVP and four more championships to match Michael. I know what some of you are thinking: LeBron is a sellout. He left Cleveland and is getting these championships with a great team. I get it, but I don’t see that having much impact in the end. The question is: Is LeBron the greatest? I know LeBron left Cleveland and there will be a lasting memory and image of him, but the bottom line is he is still the best player on a championship winning team and while Wade and Bosh are awesome sidekicks they are ultimately just that — sidekicks. This is ultimately LeBron’s team. The fact is, people are going to compare LeBron’s legacy to Michael’s if he can come even close to matching Michael’s championships, as it is always the best individual on the championship team thatgets all the credit in his legacy bank.
While it may not always be fair, the NBA more than any other sport is all about individual legacies. When we think of NBA dynasties they are defined more by individuals than the team. Russell’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, Jordan’s Bulls and Duncan’s Spurs are all remembered more for individual greatness than great team play.
In the NBA the name on the back of the jersey is usually more important than the front, as the NBA loves to market individual star players as opposed to its teams. A team without a superstar is nothing in the NBA, just ask the Cavaliers, whose attendance figures have dropped into the bottom half of the league since James left. Because of this focus on individual players it becomes easy to want to compare the greats even if they all played in different eras and with different teams.
So which NBA teams can derail LeBron’s legacy chasing three-peat this year? I would look out for the Indiana Pacers. Indiana has a grudge against LeBron’s Heat after losing to them in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games last year. The Pacers are also on a tear to start the season and will definitely push the Heat come playoff time. The rest of the East is relatively weak this year and won’t challenge Miami much unless Derrick Rose can get back to an MVP level with the Chicago Bulls, or the Brooklyn Nets can gel their veteran lineup. If the Heat can win the East for the fourth consecutive time they will likely get a rematch of one of their first two championships, as the Spurs and the Thunder appear to still be the teams to beat in the West.
With LeBron chasing his first three-peat and Jordan the rest of the 29 teams will all be playing the role of spoiler. A championship for anyone but the Heat would be considered an upset of Miami and an upset of the history books. This is the pressure LeBron will be facing all season and for the rest of his career. But if history tells us anything, it’s that the greatest players in the game not only handled this pressure but thrived on it. LeBron is a great player with championships, cool. Now it is time for legacy writing. The ball is in your court King James.