In honor of Michael Jordan's 50th birthday on All-Star Sunday, I have one simple request: Can we stop lazy comparisons to him. I know it's tempting but we as fans need to stop this madness.
It's even more maddening to me because ever since I became an NBA fan at 10 years old (1994), I've listened to guys be awarded the "Next MJ" tag. Harold Miner, Penny Hardaway, Jerry Stackhouse, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, and of course Kobe Bryant. It's a game that's become predictable and sad when that doesn't come true.***
You know when I got tired of it for good? 2007. The day that ESPN's Jemele Hill made a convincing argument for Kobe being better than Jordan. I saw a debate on it on the AllHipHop.com message boards and it got pretty nasty as usual. A Kobe-MJ comparison made no sense because as I was getting a deeper sense of NBA history and analyzing game something hit me.
Me in 2007: "A Kobe-MJ debate tends to overrate Kobe and criminally underrate MJ." Basically saying that folks tended to elevate Kobe while forgetting the complete package that Jordan had.
I began to appreciate Kobe as his own man instead of keeping a look at MJ's shadow as the gold standard. Six years later, I'm glad I got to see #24 evolve and continue to amaze me winning two more rings and continue as an elite scorer. But it wasn't until I stopped entertaining an unfair comparison that it became even clearer how great Kobe was.
|Kobe isn't Michael Jordan. Neither is the guy wearing #6. It's a shame when instead of seeing them, you only see how they aren't Michael.|
Plus we always tend to underrate the legends. Michael Jordan was perhaps the best 2-way player ever. Magic was a 6-9 freak of nature who could run an offense and see the floor as well as anyone. Bill Russell was totally committed to defense and rebounding more than anybody while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might have been a Top-10 player in the world from when he was 18 to when he won the Finals MVP at 36
Thanks to LeBron James' remarkable 30 point-60% shooting streak, ESPN and others started up the LeBron-MJ talk which I thought got hushed after 2011. Never mind that LeBron is having an incredible all-around season that should give him his 4th MVP unless he gets hurt. Never mind that Kobe is a worthy comparison but unfair since they have different games.
LeBron's greatness is still developing in front of us. Let him be him, sit back and appreciate him instead of trying to say what he's like or not like. Same with Kevin Durant and the other current greats, otherwise you won't realize it until they're gone.
Also because we elevate MJ to a deity, we tend to forget other guys worth comparing to. Why don't we compare more guys to Magic? (LeBron's game is more Magic than Michael anyway) Dang near every decent White player is compared to Larry Bird and I find it insulting because that's probably the laziest comparison of all.
Why is Jordan alone the gold standard? Isn't Magic the greatest teammate ever who could also play 5 positions and revolutionized what Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson started? Isn't Bill Russell's unselfishness and dominance standard for these modern centers who are great defenders and rebounders and occasional scorers (i.e. Tyson Chandler)?
By the same tone, six rings became the gold standard but that doesn't mean we crap on elite guys with less. Is Isiah Thomas not a Top 20 player of all time with only one ring? Is Elgin Baylor not a Top-10 player because he retired ringless? Is Dominique Wilkins not a Top-40 player of all time for the same reason?
When people say somebody's now is worthy of Jordan's name, I turn around and ask them "So does that mean they're better than Magic Johnson? Better than Kobe? (whose 2006 season remains the greatest offensive season I've seen since MJ retired) See where the logic has to keep going?
Real talk, I don't mind comparisons when they look thoughtful or creative or appropriate. But if they're lazy logic like constantly comparing to No. 23, then I tune it out cause it's the same thing I've heard for 19 years. And nobody likes hearing the same song for long.
***Case in point, the label made me think Harold Miner was overrated until I had my colleagues fill in me to Miner's prep days in my hometown of Inglewood and All-American college career. An argument can be made that Miner's the greatest USC Trojan of the last 25 years.