Dwyane Wade opened up the Michael Jordan-LeBron James Discussion (pre-season 2016 edition) by discussing whether his vacation buddy can ever catch his childhood idol. Wade does not think it’s possible that LeBron surpasses Jordan, but does believe that they could end in a tie.
As of right now, though, LeBron should be very much in the mix with Jordan. Here’s a comparison of the two through age 31.
LeBron has the same number of titles, Finals MVPs, and one more League MVP. He has a significant advantage in raw stats, and total win shares, as well as All-NBA selections, thanks in part to starting two years earlier, and in part to making the wise decision not to play minor league baseball last year.
So, to think that LeBron cannot catch Jordan is not to account for where both are at the same point. On the other hand, Jordan returned from his NBA sabbatical with the Birmingham Barons, and won three more titles, and was the best player in the NBA, again, for the three-year stretch from age 32 to 34.
LeBron showed how dominant he could be in the Finals in June, but also has shown some health cracks and hasn’t been as dominant as he was a few years ago. To continue to match Jordan, he will need to be the best player in the league throughout the next three years.
Still, if I can randomly borrow a golf analogy coming off the Ryder Cup, I’ll predict that they finish All Square, and LeBron will use Jordan as motivation through the next five years. Of course, I’m not the first to use a golf analogy here. Dwyane Wade uses them, and badly.
“The only thing you can do is tie it,” Wade said. “There’s no 19th hole.”
Okay, this is confusing. Is there no playoff? And anyway, in standard golf parlance, the 19th hole refers to the clubhouse where golfers go when they finish. This would be the place to retire to, recount past glories, gamble, and drink beers. Michael Jordan has been waiting in the 19th hole for awhile.
Then there’s this from an earlier ESPN article five years ago, also using a golf analogy.
“I don’t know if [James] has the ability to surpass him or not,” Wade said at the time. “That’s yet to be seen. My version as LeBron being on par with Michael is this: They’re both on the golf course. Michael’s on the 18th hole; LeBron is somewhere on like the fourth hole. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s on par to get to the 18th hole.
Here, we interchange “on par” as meaning on the same level, with “on par” meaning to be on pace for. Neither of these players, if you are using golf analogies, would actually be shooting par. They would both be approaching a 60. Also, Michael should be in the 19th hole by now. So is LeBron simply on pace to reach the end of his career and play for the Wizards, and is Michael ever going to hole out and finish his round, or at least let people play through?
Here’s the same analogy, updated:
“I think last year — not only in my eyes, but in a lot of people’s eyes — really put him … he’s on the 15th hole right now,” Wade said of James. “And he’s on his way, for sure.”
Over the span of five years, LeBron played 10 holes. That’s two holes a year. I think this means that Wade is dropping hints that LeBron is retiring after the 2017-2018 season, in which case he will not surpass Michael. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this, since we still don’t know if Michael has even finished his round yet.