HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When Charles Barkley says it, people take notice, debate it and then chalk it up to “Charles being Charles.”
But when Phil Jackson weighs in and suggests that LeBron James could one day surpass Michael Jordan as the NBA’s greatest player of all time, folks tend to perk up and get a little more serious about source (no offense to Charles).
Having coached Jordan to six titles and serving as one of the most significant influences in his career, Jackson has an understanding of him as a player that few others on the planet possess.
So when he talks about this particular subject, as he did with Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000 in Chicago (and addressed it here with Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel), we should all at least listen to his perspective:
“He’s got all the physical attributes. I think we all question the prepping that went into LeBron. His defense was shaky when he was a younger player and finding his way through that direction. He is a player that can play four positions. Except for perhaps the center spot, which he hasn’t given a shot at yet, he can play those other four positions quite well. This is unique. Michael could play three and was very good at all three of those, but as a power player that LeBron can become, I think he has an opportunity to explore and advance some of the status that he has already gained.”
As for the specific comparisons of their games and where they rank on the all-time great list, Jackson didn’t delve into the one-on-one comparison.
He did, however, give his own assessment of where James stands right now in terms of his individual development. It’s one of the more interesting breakdowns of LeBron that we’ve seen:
“I have a hard time judging that best player, but I do think that Michael had more moves in the post and he had more of a, perhaps, shooting touch with his back to the basket and all these kind of things that were part of his game. LeBron has this train out of control when he gets the ball in transition that he can go coast to coast without anyone getting in his way and if they do, he’s going to over run them. And he’s got the power with the body and he’s developed a left hand that’s extremely good. There’s a lot of things that you are seeing in the development of this player that leads towards that, but the ideal and the whole reason behind this is what kind of championships are you gonna get from a player like this? Can he match what Michael has done?”
LeBron clearly has a few more championships to win (at least five) before some people warm up to the idea of comparing him to Jordan in any way.
But Jackson remembers what it was like when Jordan got his hands on that first one and believes that the scent of multiple Larry O’Brien trophies could inspire LeBron the same way:
“Winning six championships is an elusive thing out there and they haven’t won two yet. But he’s kind of got the smell of it and even the Olympic experience this summer, he was the granted leader of that team and was the critical player when they needed something to happen in the final games. I think he’s there. I think he’s at that position. He’s got good things ahead of him and a lot of it depends upon if he’s gonna be healthy for the remainder of his career.”
The best part for those of us lucky enough to have witnessed Jordan’s exploits as they happened is we get to watch LeBron chase the ghost of Jordan the way Kobe Bryant has throughout his career …