Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I’m not sure Michael Jordan would not have done what LeBron did

I had a nice drive through Western Pennsylvania yesterday.  This is Pittsburgh Steelers’ territory and the pride of “Steeler Nation” was evident along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  All of the Steelers flags, banners and signs against vivid, green foliage made me excited about the upcoming NFL season.  The Steelers report to training camp next week, so as I sped through the hills on 76, I thought about the Steelers’ quarterbacks and if Terrell Owens (T.O.) could finally land a home in “Steel City.”  I was prepared to provide a little insight to help you make an argument.

Now, I can’t. 

The media attention encircling Michael Jordan’s comments regarding LeBron James’ decision to take his “talents to South Beach” have distracted me.  Reports are that arguably the game’s best player said that he would not have done what LeBron did.  Period.

Before I break down why you can’t even compare the situation and in fairness to “His Airness,” I have to include what he actually said about the new trio in Miami.

"There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,'" Jordan said after playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. The interview aired on the NBC telecast of the event. "But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."

Notice MJ said “hindsight.”  His answer reflects how he would respond today at 47 years old with all of his experience, wisdom and championship rings; not what he would have actually done 22 years ago at 25 years old.

With that said here are a few facts (hindsight for MJ) to consider that make the circumstances incomparable.

1. At 25, Jordan had played 3 ½ seasons in the NBA.  At the same age, LeBron had played 6 ½ seasons.  That is almost twice as many as Jordan.  By the time Jordan was in his fifth year, he had his “Robin” in Scottie Pippen.  Going seven years without that type of support would have given Jordan a different level of frustration.

2. The Bulls brought in strong players to compliment Jordan.  After Jordan retired in the fall of 1993, the Bulls made the playoffs that season and went to the second round.  They were a solid team.  With LeBron in Miami, we are not going to see the current Cavaliers roster in the playoffs next spring.  The Cavs are not relevant without LeBron.  This demonstrates that they did not get LeBron sufficient support.

3. Jordan had two rings before he played in the Olympics on the 1992 “Dream Team” with his Chicago Bulls’ teammate, Pippen.  He was accustomed to playing with talented people on his side.  He did not return from Barcelona excited about the experience of having skilled players support his efforts.  LeBron left for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to play on the "Redeem Team" without any rings or a teammate the caliber of Pippen.  After his days playing in high school, where no one was even close to his level, and on a lackluster Cavs team, it was energizing for him to play with people who are just as skilled and competitive as he is.

4. Jordan was never a free agent.  Jordan signed a seven-year contract with the Bulls after he was drafted in 1984.  In 1988, he signed an eight-year extension.  This took him to the mid- 1990s and his mid-thirties.  LeBron was a young free agent and every team (along with the rest of the basketball world) had been counting down to July 1, 2010 since the summer of 2006 when he signed an extension with the Cavs. 

5. Jordan was a basketball player.  LeBron is a businessman.  For Jordan, he was playing a game that he loves and felt lucky to get paid for it.  When his contract extension was being negotiated in the late 80s, he was quoted as saying:
"I haven't really been monitoring it.  I think (the Bulls) have been talking to my attorneys. I've just been playing. If they decide to give me a raise, give me a raise. I'll live with that.” 

LeBron understands that this is a business and recognizes his value.  At a younger age than Jordan, he is much more active in the negotiations and decisions that affect his career and business.  While Jordan admits that he deserved more in salary, he accepted what he was given.  LeBron is not just going to live with what an owner gives him.

Jordan’s hindsight is the Bulls building a talented team around him, 6 rings in 8 years and a bronze statue in his likeness in front of United Center.  Knowing that, why would he have left?  If he were actually in LeBron’s shoes: 25 years old, entering his eighth season and not seeing the potential to accomplish his goal of a championship, would he go to another team?  We’ll never know, but I think so.  Jordan is extremely competitive.  I could see him leaving, going back to Chicago Stadium with his new team and scoring 100 points on the Bulls.  The “House that Jordan Built” would not have been erected.

Then again, maybe not.  This is a new time.  Back then professional players just played basketball.  Even Jordan understands that. 

A player planning his own future is so foreign that Charles Barkley (former NBA All-Star player without a championship) is “disturbed” because he believes that LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh planned this all along.  He is probably right.  Champions and great organizations don’t just happen; they are planned.  I’m disturbed that he can’t conceptualize players being savvy enough to plan and build a great team and environment for themselves.  As I said last week, we are now in the era of A.T.D and players are no longer just playing on the court.  They are treating it as the business that it is. 

Sorry for the distraction.  I’ll get to T.O. and the start of NFL training camp next week.

Heels &  Helmets


  1. Great post "Heels & Helmets." This was a very thought provoking and well considered post. I must admit that I had cast Lebron into a vat of plush cotton candy as I thought that the texture of such a mix was consistent with the make up of his decision. Although I still feel his move was on the softer side of things, I am now also at least considerate of a few more factors.

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  2. Thank you! Glad to give you a few more factors. I think that it is much easier to just play the game and not be strategic about planning the future.

  3. Point #5 hits it on the head. MJ was in fact a basketball player and not a business man. He stood for what was right in the game. He is "basketball" in every sense of the word. Jordan would have NEVER singled himself out on television and act with the arrogance and selfishness that the "Prince" has. He was strictly class throughout his whole career... See More until the very end. He gained fans year after year -- he didn't lose them. He will never be touched and the fact "he" is even mentioned in the same sentence as MJ is laughable.

  4. Excellent points... I like the perspective. However, Jordan said he would not make the choice that Lebron had made and I believe him. The atmosphere in the NBA was different in the 1980s and early 1990s. Isiah would have never left the Pistons to play with his best friend Magic. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the information that you provided...

  5. Let's get the facts straight:
    What "strong" players did they bring in to help Jordan? Pippin is about as good as it got. Let's be real. Jordan had a killer instinct that LeBron lacks. Bird, Magic, and Kobe all have or had it. He has relied on his physical talents to gain Ws. If LeBron develops mental capabilities and a killer instinct, he might get some hardware.

    LeBron had a team that was best in the East at one point and he still came up short. How do you do that without talented people on your side? Um...be lame.

    Let's not using Jordan's hindsight as an escape clause for LeBron. Jordan was looking to beat his competitors. That is what you do when you are an elite competitor. Being a free agent was/is irrelevant. When you are a competitor that thinks you are the best, you look for a chance to prove it and silence your critics. LeBron didn't do that. He tried to find the most stacked deck possible...and it still won't be enough to win.

    Jordan was the ultimate businessman! In his day, who was earning more than Jordan? W/o MJ there would be no LeBron. The Jordan brand is the most recognizable brand for any person in sports. He wasn't worried about his contract because as a businessman you pay folks to execute your wishes.

  6. Ah, but here's the caveat. Mike was already playing in a major market city (chicago) and did pretty well on the business side of things too. he didn't need to test the waters. also, by the time his first contract expired, he was pretty close to getting a ring. I'd actually put the Bulls that won the first three rings without mike at the same level as the current Cavs without lebron. Actually, the current Cavs are better, because they have more all-stars and all-star caliber players on their team (Jamison, O'neal, Mo williams)than the Bulls had on theirs (Pippen). They didn't add Kukoc and steve kerr until after Mike retired.
    Lebron couldn't have anywhere near the opportunity to maximize himself in Cleveland that Mike had in Chicago, so Miami was an excellent business move.
    And Barkley DID try to go to a stacked team to win a title. Not only did he join a past-their-prime Scottie Pippen and Hakeem Olajuwon in a last gasp attempt for a ring, but I'm sure he had something to do with the trade that sent him from Philly to Phoenix.
    I made this point in another discussion. Lebron mentioned himself in the same breath as mike, Magic, larry, isaiah, kobe and Tim. here's the catch: all of those guys won multiple titles and had the majority of their careers for ONE TEAM. being in a small market like cleveland is no excuse, because detroit is second tier at best and san antonio is puny. different eras are no excuse because Duncan's last title came at the expense of Lebron, and kobe just won two. and now he's taking a (seemingly) easy route to a title by going to "wade's team."
    so does that make Lebron the next MJ?
    nope, it makes him the next Scottie Pippen (and puts Wade on track to be on that elite list because he now has another HOF sidekick).
    Mike (along with the other guys I mentioned) will be NOBODY's "sidekick."

  7. Heels'n' I Agree. Hey didn't Barkley try to jump on the Hakeem and Clyde bandwagon in Houston? He's not credible. And didn't the Lakers have Kareem and Worthy before Magic was drafted? And didn't Larry Bird join the franchise that already had the most Championships in NBA history. Jordan's arrogance leads whenever he opens his mouth. You're right. He just all of a sudden forgot about and dissed the GREAT players on those Bulls Championship teams! There is Scottie, but also BJ Armstrong, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, and later Kukoc and Rodman -- the BEST defender/rebounder in the league at that time. All great teams have more than one great player. It doesn't matter how they come together whether it be through draft, trade or free agency. Red Auerbach new it, Jerry West knows it, Pat Riley certainly knows it. Jordan suffers from selective memory loss.

  8. via facebook Gregory White July 20 at 2:39pm - Love Jordan's commentary! LeBron will never be mentioned in conversation with the greats...and I can't wait to see the "trio" struggle to get out of the East...let alone win a championship.