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Sun-Times Columnist Re-Opens The Jordan-LeBron Debate

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 22, 2013 1:30PM

Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey risked reigniting a civic debate in his Monday column by daring to suggest that Miami Heat forward LeBron James is a better overall basketball player than Michael Jordan, which in Chicago is tantamount to walking into Holy Name Cathedral and saying Buddhism is a better overall religion.

Morrissey has made the case for James before. Here's some of what he wrote Monday:

"What he purportedly is lacking is exactly what makes him such a great basketball player. He doesn’t want to shoot all the time, the way Carmelo Anthony does. He wants to be a complete player. He wants to get teammates involved in the offense, sometimes to a fault. This is viewed as a lack of ‘will’ to win, an absence of a ‘killer instinct’ or an unwillingness to take the big shot.

"Jordan was enough of a jerk to take over a game and step on an opponent’s neck while doing it. LeBron will get you 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists a game, and he’ll make life sheer hell for whomever he’s guarding, be it a forward, guard or center."

James's 2012-13 numbers back Morrissey's "complete player" claim. He averaged 26.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.3 assists per game and became the fifth player in league history to accomplish that feat. He's also won four of the last five NBA MVP awards, the exception being Derrick Rose's 2011 win, and has twice as many MVP awards at 28 than Jordan did at the same age.

Miami Heat executive Alonzo Mourning added to the debate by concurring he believes James is the more complete basketball player. In doing so, Mourning referenced comments made by Scottie Pippen in 2011 where he also said he believed James was the better player. (Pippen later walked back those comments.) Even Phil Jackson, who coached a few good players in his career, said James had the potential to be a better overall player.

For the pro-Jordan contingent, there's only one measurement between Jordan and James: The 6-1 advantage Jordan holds in championships. But the Heat are prohibitive favorites to win the title again this year and James will be doing it with a rapidly aging Dwyane Wade and a cast of once-weres on the bench. The Jordan Bulls were blessed with deep benches, especially in the second threepeat years, and had the best scorer (Jordan), second best overall player (Pippen), best bench player (Toni Kukoc), and best rebounder (Dennis Rodman).

Comparing Jordan to James is one of apples and oranges—Jordan's career was winding down as James was beginning his. As Morrissey wrote, "Jordan meant so much to the city while the Bulls were collecting six NBA titles. You only could dream about being like Mike, and you did — gladly. He was yours. He was ours."

That doesn't mean we can't appreciate James for being the best player of his generation.