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Jordan-LeBron debate returns as James seeks fourth title


by Jim SLATER / Agence France-Presse

As LeBron James adds to his amazing legacy with an eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, the debate resumes over whether he or Michael Jordan is the NBA’s all-time greatest player.

Cleveland Cavaliers star James seeks his fourth title in his ninth overall trip to the best-of-seven championship series, which starts Thursday at defending champion Golden State.

Retired icon Jordan won in all six of his NBA Finals appearances with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.

Like Jordan, James was a high-leaping, acrobatic, amazing playmaker in his younger days who has adjusted his game to remain dangerous and raise the level of his teammates.

For former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, the notion of each dominating his time is enough.

“We can enjoy one without tearing down one,” the retired five-time NBA champion tweeted. “I love what he’s doing. Don’t debate what can’t be definitively won by anyone #enjoymy5 #enjoymj6 #enjoylbjquest.”

James has matched Jordan by playing 15 NBA seasons with no breaks. And James is 33, the same age Jordan was when he won his fourth title in 1996.

Only three players have more trips to the final than James — Boston legend Bill Russell with a record 12, his 1960s dynasty teammate Sam Jones at 11 and all-time NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 10.

“When you talk about just a basketball player, a complete basketball player, LeBron James is a much better basketball player than Michael Jordan,” former Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas told ESPN.

The long-time “Air” Jordan rival has keenly eyed “King” James, comparing him with iconic big men Russell, an 11-time NBA champion, and Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time title winner who took five in the 1980s with the Lakers.

“What I’m witnessing is LeBron James… dominating this period of time. I haven’t seen anyone else do that in our league, with the exception of two people and that’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell.”

– Michael won six. So what? –

Nine-time NBA All-Star guard Gary Payton picked iconic center Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged a record 50.4 points in a season, over James or Jordan.

“Wilt Chamberlain, by far, is my best basketball player. Best athlete ever,” Payton told the San Jose Mercury News.

“I don’t compare them. You’ve got two players who dominated their eras. LeBron is making a case for himself to be one of the greatest players to ever play.

“People are going to say he only won three championships. Michael won six. So what? Eight straight finals is really good.”

James played all 82 games this season, a career first, and during his finals streak has played 164 playoff games — the equal of two full extra seasons.

James has produced impressive points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks totals over a sustained period like few other playmakers.

“I don’t really have a ceiling,” James said. “I want to just try to maximize as much as I can and be as good as I can.”

– ‘Once in a generation’ –
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a former championship teammate of Jordan, says James has gotten better with age, like the fine wines “King” James enjoys.

“It’s pretty remarkable when you’ve got a guy who is already considered one of the top few players ever to play the game can make that much improvement late in his career,” Kerr said. “It’s a testament to his work ethic and to his work on his skillset. The shooting is what has really gotten better in the last few years.”

James is the only player in NBA Finals history to average a triple-double and to lead both finals teams in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “I don’t care who he’s faced. Eight straight times. The fact he’s doing that in the modern era is pretty remarkable. So you’ve got to give him a lot of respect.

“A triple-double threat every night. Doing it in crunch time, doing it for 48 minutes. It’s an honor to face LeBron. He’s a once-in-a-generation type player.” (AFP)