The debate grew teeth during the NBA playoffs: Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan?
Those favoring James grew in numbers during those weeks he willed the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals with a postseason performance for the ages.
Now James is heading to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers, where he has the chance to finally end the debate about who is the best basketball player of all time.
If James can win an NBA title in Hollywood the way he did in Miami and Cleveland, he will have delivered championships to three different cities. Think about that. It’s an accomplishment that would stack up to the six titles Jordan won with the Bulls. It would make James the best ever to play the game.
I still believe Jordan is the best. He dominated games when he needed to dominate games and he got every ounce of talent out of his teammates, who delivered when called upon. Jordan, Dr. J, Bird, Magic and Jabbar would be my starting five. But none of those ever did what James will try to do: win championships in three different cities.
It makes sense going to Los Angeles: He’ll be in movies and he can launch his own line of whatever he wants, while working out of his Brentwood mansion. South Beach vs. Venice Beach; it’s a good gig. Still, James wouldn’t make this move unless he saw a championship somewhere in the Lakers near future, which is a leap of faith with the Warriors owning back-to-back titles and Houston coming on in the West.
Signing a four-year deal for $154 million shows James’ commitment to the franchise, which gives the Lakers time to build the kind of team that can contend in the West. If somehow he achieves the ultimate and delivers a title to Los Angeles then he’ll improve his argument that he is the GOAT.
Meanwhile, this actually works out for the Knicks. James had his pick of just about any team — Houston, Philadelphia, or Cleveland — and it would have been especially disastrous if James had landed with the Sixers. The resurgence of the division rival only underscores how pitiful the Knicks have been in rebuilding their own franchise.
While the Sixers, the Celtics and even the Wizards have become playoff-caliber teams, the proprietors of the World’s Most Famous Arena can’t seem to get it right. If James had gone to Philly, it would have made the Knicks look second class.
Now he’s on the West Coast and the Knicks can build their franchise without the fantasy that James is coming to New York. James can start building a team that can beat the Warriors.
This is what the NBA has become — a kind of high-stakes pickup game where the best players try to align with each other to dominate the court. The Warriors, with the addition of Kevin Durant, have done a pretty good job of it winning three titles in four years. James taking Cleveland to its first title in 2016 kept the Warriors from capturing four straight.
James reached a milestone by appearing in his eighth straight NBA Finals this year. A four-game sweep by the Warriors stole the spotlight from a feat that is arguably every bit as impressive as Jordan’s three-peats.
Jordan played for one team until he wasn’t Jordan anymore. There is a charm in that which James will never really enjoy. He has become a very expensive hired gun, signed to bring championships to a franchise.
If he can do it for the Lakers, he’ll end the argument about who is the best ever to play the game.
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