Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> LeBron James told Sports Illustrated this week that his motivation is “this ghost I’m chasing.” He of course was referring to Michael Jordan. Is that chase worthwhile? And how much closer is LeBron after last June’s Finals?
David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes, it’s worthwhile. Who else is going to motivate James at this point of his career, after 13 years and a whole lot of mileage. It’s certainly possible James could get close–he’s got three titles, and no one is going to keep Cleveland out of The Finals from the East any time soon. A Cavaliers team that doesn’t have 52 years of history on its back should play free and easy for a while, and give LeBron a couple of real good cracks to get close before he’s too old to play at this level any more.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: As soon as I read about LeBron’s motivation, I thought, “Just whom was Jordan chasing?” I’m not sure he was chasing anyone — the GOAT title was tossed around in debates about Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with occasional Magic Johnson mentions, without any clear victor — and that’s to Jordan’s everlasting credit. He was an original, the guy who became the standard against whom all contenders would be measured both on (basketball) and off (business) the court. No one drew in casual fans like Jordan — as gifted as James is, stylistically he’s still a turbo-charged luxury SUV going against a Ferrari. James already is a Top 5 all-timer in my opinion and this year’s Finals gives him a boost even within that elite group. But he needs three more rings to match Jordan and his success rate won’t ever be as good.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, it’s worthwhile. After six straight Finals appearances and his performance in the unprecedented 3-1 comeback over the Warriors, I do believe LeBron is a lot closer than the eternal worshippers at the cult of Jordan will ever admit.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: If it motivates LeBron, then it’s worthwhile. That it could become tangible on the court, in the most recent June or others in the future. But that’s the only real value in the chase, because it isn’t a chase. It could become a good debate topic and that’s it. Each ring obviously builds a better case for a player, so, yes, the argument for James did get stronger at the end of 2015-16, not just that the Cavaliers won the championship but that they won in unprecedented fashion with the rally from 1-3. That is the tangible. That is the part of the chase that matters.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Can we please stop? Please? LeBron isn’t on pace, or on track, or within sight of Jordan. That’s a nice little narrative being spun by him and his people and media folks who were too young to have seen Jordan actually win six championships, and the public and its short-term memory. Jordan never vaporized the way LeBron and the Miami Heat did against the Dallas Mavericks in The 2011 Finals. Jordan is 6-0 in The Finals and was clutch as they come. Oh, and that block by LeBron against Andre Iguodala? Contrary to what some announcers said, that was the second-best defensive play in Finals history. Jordan’s sneak-from-behind strip of Karl Malone, which directly led to the championship-winning jumper over Bryon Russell, was the first.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Motivation is a good thing and trying to chase the legend of Michael Jordan will keep you motivated for a long time. It is valid to compare the two, though it’s difficult because their skill sets, team situations and timelines are so different. Pulling his team out of a 3-1 deficit against the best regular season team of all-time will eventually be a big part of LeBron’s legend, and it helps his case that Jordan never did anything similar against a team nearly as strong.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The chase is certainly worthwhile for LeBron. In fact, I don’t know what else he could use to legitimately motivate himself at this stage of his career. He’s already the best player of his generation, a three-time champion and the global icon he’s always wanted to be. He’s also on the short list of guys who should be considered for Top Five All-Time status. That said, he’ll find out the same thing others who have spent lifetimes chasing ghosts know well, that there is no payoff at the end of this journey. You can’t chase what you can’t see. And as magnificent as LeBron’s career has been from the start and for all that he could still accomplish, I feel like he’s in the midst of a trivial pursuit. Sure, he could match Jordan’s raw numbers but he’ll never be able to match MJ’s concentrated greatness. The condensed brilliance of the Jordan era, including the mountains he had to climb to drag the Bulls to a championship level squad and then sustain it, is what separates him from so many other of the game’s all-time greats.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The chase is definitely worthwhile, and the ghost is within reach because of LeBron’s versatility. He’s 31 with six straight Finals appearances and three championships, and he has a chance to remain at or near the top of the league for years to come because of his size and versatility. So long as he stays in Cleveland, it is going to be hard to prevent him from returning to The Finals year after year. And isn’t it highly conceivable to imagine LeBron reinventing himself as the NBA’s best power forward at age 35?
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If there’s anything we’ve learned from awesome sci-fi shows like “Stranger Things,” it’s that the ghosts and the monsters are the ones that chase you, not the other way around. And when you are the one who’s doing the chasing, the ghosts and monsters are not just sitting around waiting to get caught. So if LeBron’s gonna slip into a Ghostbusters suit and chase after that ghost of MJ, more power to him. But also, good luck trying to catch something that doesn’t really exist. The myth of MJ is what makes him so great. And also unlikely to ever get caught.