The NBA Playoffs have never been so superfluous. Well, maybe 1999, the Jordan-hangover years, when America tried to embrace the Magic the Gathering-playing Tim Duncan (not that there’s anything wrong with that) as the heir to the Jordan throne. Of course, we didn’t.
That came some time later. It wasn’t Kobe’s title run with the Lakers in the early 2000s, as he had Shaq, and we all know Jordan never had a big man like that. It wasn’t D-Wade’s title with the heat in 2006, as he also had Shaq — though he had Antoine Walker too, and I’m compelled to say that balances things out.
October 29, 2003. LeBron debuted against the Sacramento Kings. Sure, the Cavs lost by 14, but this was a Cleveland team with Darius Miles and Ricky Davis in the starting lineup. LeBron was awesome, 25 points on 12-20 shooting, nine assists, four steals, six boards. A solid line for a ten-year vet — unreal for an 18-year-old.
Since then, LeBron’s been the de facto Jordan heir. But his first years in the league have resembled Jordan’s in some ways, but not all. Jordan didn’t win a title until 1991, after all, and was dominated more than once at home by a team of grizzled vets-just as LeBron was last week by the Celtics. Still, he’s not Jordan.
As Bill Simmons put it this week, Jordan was a “ruthless mother******.” LeBron’s not like that. The way Simmons put it, LeBron is like Dr. J with some Bo Jackson sprinkled in, and I couldn’t agree more. He’s not Jordan. If he wants to be, there’s only place he should go. Chicago.
Forget New York, forget New Jersey, forget the Clippers — the only place LeBron will thrive is Chicago. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson — there’s a supporting cast that will win him a championship. Some say he’s got to go to Miami to play Wade, but Wade’s too good, and there aren’t enough balls to go around.
No, LeBron’s got to come to Chicago. He knows the quality of Derrick Rose. Rose is no Wade — hell, Rose is a lot closer to B.J. Armstrong than Wade. And Noah is like Horace Grant, and Luol Deng is like Scottie — no, I won’t go that far. Kirk Hinrich can even play the role of John Paxson, or Steve Kerr, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Yes, this is the place. But will Chicago do it?
As big as Jordan’s ego was and still is, the Bulls have a much larger, much more damaging MJ complex. Some fans are worried that LeBron can’t come here because he will never, ever top Jordan’s legacy. And that may be. But why would that mean he shouldn’t come here? No one ever told Kevin Garnett to avoid Boston because he would never be Bill Russell, or told Shaq to avoid L.A. because he’d never be Wilt the Stilt. And yet, there are Bulls fans, everywhere, saying that they don’t need LeBron. They say go get Joe Johnson, a guy who can spread the floor. Nonsense. Yeah, Rose can get to the bucket, but not at will. Get Joe Johnson and you’ll enjoy a five seed and a first or second round exit every single year.
While Jordan may be the best ever, this is still a new generation. Kids can go on YouTube and watch Jordan drop 63 on the Celtics in the playoffs, or see pictures of Scottie holding up his flu-stricken body in Utah, but they don’t see him live. They rarely see him on SportsCenter, unless he’s hanging out courtside at a Bobcats game. To them, he’s a legend, but he’s not the guy. Maybe that’s LeBron or Kobe or even D-Wade.
So, here we are, on May 20, debating LeBron’s free agency, which won’t even start until July 1. My God.
This will make the Brett Favre debacle of last summer look like nothing. Except we won’t be debating the final years of a rundown icon, but the coming prime of the best athlete the NBA has ever seen (note, not the best player).
Simply put, it oughta be Chicago.