Michael Jordan is the best player in NBA history, but to folks who were there and covered his entire career, it was a bit laughable to hear Jordan ridiculing LeBron James over the weekend for joining up with All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to help him win a title in Miami rather than taking some stand by staying in Cleveland and trying to win one on his own. When it comes to taking stands, Jordan is not the NBA’s leader in the clubhouse. Not even close.
Jordan was notoriously hard on his Bulls teammates during his career, treating many of them as his inferiors (“my supporting cast”) or in one case, punching teammate Steve Kerr in the nose after some beef.
Here are five more things Jordan forgot to mention while bashing James:
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1. After years of sitting out meaningful disputes that actually could have done some good for people, Jordan finally takes a stand on…this?
The James fiasco? Way to stick your neck out. There have been countless occasions in Jordan’s career when Jordan could've used his power to affect some real good and he didn't, whether it was sitting out some race-baiting elections in his native North Carolina (infamously explaining “Republicans buy shoes too”) or his willingness to buckle under for Nike and cover the logo of another manufacturer on his USA basketball uniform when the Dream Team won the 1992 Olympic gold medal.
Thumping LeBron days after six zillion other people have already pilloried him doesn't qualify as taking a position either. It’s like being the last snowflake in a blizzard.
2. James’ fear of going it alone in Cleveland was reasonable
It had to be sobering for James when he personally tried to woo other stars, even his close friend Chris Bosh, to play in Cleveland, only to find that their affection for him and the charms of northeast Ohio – you know, the way the sun glimmers off the waters of Lake Erie when the light hits the shipping lanes just right — didn’t have the same pull. Imagine that.
That had to be a personal comeuppance for James. If even Bosh wouldn’t come to a Cleveland team that averaged over 60 wins the previous two seasons to play with him, would anyone who is any good ever have? James was right to wonder.
3. Did James already know Cavs owner Dan Gilbert like we’ve come to know Gilbert?
It’s understandable that Gilbert was upset with James’ decision to leave the Cavs and the shabby way James did it. But Gilbert’s scathing and slightly unhinged letter – which earned Gilbert a $100,000 fine from NBA commissioner David Stern and a rebuke from Jesse Jackson comparing Gilbert to a slave owner – showed a different side of Gilbert than most of us knew.
Until James jilted him, the thumbnail on Gilbert went like this: successful business tycoon, committed owner, aggressively worked to keep James with the Cavs and benefited mightily from having James there. But as James free agency approached, Gilbert also pushed out Cavs’ general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown. He admittedly ran big decisions by James for his input, if not always his final approval. So if James developed into a monster, Gilbert has to recognize he deserves at least some of the blame. Jordan loathed Bulls GM Jerry Krause back in the day, too. But Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf refused to fire him or give Jordan carte blanche.
4. James was right
If he’d never won a ring in Cleveland, all that fairytale stuff about the importance of being The Man goes out the window: History would have said if James finishes his career title-less, it was his own damn fault — he should’ve gotten out of Cleveland while he could. What a sap.
James suffers in most comparisons to Jordan — starting with the fact James has never been a great end-game finisher. But one thing James has never been accused of — at least on the court — is being selfish. He never went through that young buck phase that Jordan and Kobe and countless other NBA stars did just to prove they could score in bunches before moving onto the business of winning championships. James has chased titles from Day One.
Somebody should remind Jordan that some of the Jordan’s most crushing defeats came when he didn’t trust his teammates enough to avoid hoisting 35 shots a game — something the Detroit Pistons exploited to great effect while beating him three straight times in the playoffs during his fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons. The Pistons’ name for it was The Jordan Rules. But the philosophy translated to is this: Nobody, no matter how good, wins an NBA title by himself. Nobody.
5. Neither Jordan nor the stars he says he’d never have tried to woo had to wait till Year 8 to win their first title, as James has
Jordan’s contention that he’d have never called Magic Johnson or Larry Bird about playing together to take a so-called shortcut to a title forgets that Bird and Magic won their first almost immediately. From Day One in the league, each played with future Hall of Famers. They were never going anywhere else. Ever. Jordan — the laggard among the three of them — didn't win a title until his seventh season. But by then Jordan was working with future Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson.
Jordan is entitled to his opinion that James should’ve stayed in Cleveland. But bashing LeBron at this point doesn't take anything special, let alone qualify as a stand. It’s just more star-on-star crime, a sort of death by Twitter-cide, which seem to be two new NBA pastimes since James’ ham-handed decision.
Somebody wake me when it's over.