By DEREK BEAVEN – STAFF WRITER
For most, Michael Jordan is basketball: the Air Jordan logo, the desire to be like Mike, Space Jam.
All of these, in addition to six National Basketball Association (NBA) championships and six Finals MVP awards, have solidified Jordan as one of the greatest.
But recently, with LeBron James and Kevin Durant on the scene, sports radio commentators across the nation love to ask the question: who’s really the best?
It’s uncontestable that we’re dealing with three fantastic players here. It’s difficult to even compare the three because they all play with completely different styles with completely different teams.
There’s also the unavoidable fact that Jordan played in an era where refs weren’t as generous with the whistle as they are today (see various 90’s Pacers/Knicks playoff series.) But someone has to be the best … right?
At the height of his prime in the 90’s, Jordan won six NBA Championships and was named MVP in all of them.
He was a 14 time All-Star, was named to the NBA All-First team ten times, and was the NBA’s scoring champion ten times among numerous other awards.
“Jordan had a ruthless, win-at-all-costs mentality that is nearly impossible to come by,” senior Zach Stewart said. “One stat that comes to mind is that Jordan won 6 championships but never went to a game 7; he knew how to close out games.”
Jordan’s ability to close out games has long been something that many point to as the reason that he is the greatest of all time.
Sure, LeBron and Durant can score, but when the game’s on the line, Jordan had the proven ability to hit the shot when it counts most (just ask Byron Scott and the Utah Jazz).
Not only could Jordan perform in the clutch, but it’s apparent that no one he faced in his career managed to find one true weakness in his game.
Jordan could score, rebound, defend, and pass with relative ease, giving even the best defenders fits.
LeBron James broke into the league in 2003 and immediately started raising eyebrows with his athleticism and scoring ability.
Like Jordan, LeBron’s early years were marked with personal success, but little team achievement. Though James made numerous All-NBA squads in his time at Cleveland, he couldn’t deliver a championship. Signing with Miami changed all of that and, with no sign of problems in Miami this year, a three-peat might just be in the works for James.
“Personally, I think LeBron is the greatest of the three. I am not, however, a LeBron fan,” sophomore Robert Widener said. “LeBron is so unique in his skillset. The man nearly averages a triple double, can score from anywhere, and can guard any position within reason. If they were to play one on one, LeBron’s size would force both Jordan and Durant to avoid the post and other areas where strength becomes a major factor.”
James’ size gives him a major advantage when compared to other players at his position. When compared to Durant and Jordan, James is obviously the choice in terms of size and even speed.
James is notorious for his ability to either shoot over or drive around defenders, leaving little room for error on defense.
James’ averages run a little higher when it comes to rebounds and assists, a further testament that his size allows him unparalleled court vision.
“Overall I would say LeBron is the best all-around player,” Stewart said. “He’s just a physical specimen. In the Finals last year, the Spurs tried to force him to take outside shots and played off him the entire game, thinking that would be his weakness. What did he do? He hit 4 or 5 threes in the game. There’s no defense to completely stop LeBron; the best you can hope for is to contain him.”
Durant is of course the unproven young gun of the group.
While putting up gaudy numbers in the scoring column, Durant is arguably the most “incomplete” of the three, owing largely to a lack of defensive stats.
He also has no rings, though he has been a 5 time All-Star and a 3 time Scoring Champion.
“I think Jordan and Durant are the two best pure scorers of all time. They have a sixth sense on putting the ball in the hoop, but if I had to pick one I’d have to go with Jordan,” Stewart said.
One advantage Durant certainly has is his length and ability to draw the foul and sink free throws.
Durant’s ball fake is one of the most powerful in the league, helping him to add easy points from the line to his total.
In the 2013 NBA Finals, Durant averaged more points than James for the series, with just over 30.
“Durant just recently broke MJ’s string of 40 games with 25 or more points,” Widener said. “Durant, as a scorer, is unparalleled in the current league, his length is incredible, and he would most likely get some shots off over LeBron.”
At the end of the day, it’s all but impossible to decide who the greatest really is.
Jordan revolutionized basketball, James re-defined what a man his size can do, and Durant has put up scoring numbers that few could ever attain.
All three had different supporting casts with names like Scottie Pippen, Dwayne Wade, and Russell Westbrook, and it’s difficult to say what the three could do without that support.
Regardless of rings, stats, and teammates, it’s likely the debate will continue until the next generation of players produces their own legends.