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Is LeBron Better than MJ?

Charles Barkley thinks James could top Jordan

Friday, Jun 22, 2012  |  Updated 8:40 AM CDT
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Is LeBron Better than MJ?

The Heat won Game 5 in a walk to clinch the title, 121-106. LeBron James recorded a triple-double with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. It was the perfect time for his first triple-double of the season.

Charles Barkley believes when all is said and done, LeBron James could have a more impressive resume than Michael Jordan.

Such inflammatory statements fuel ESPN's hype factory, and if you were so inclined, you could listen to screaming windbags Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debate the issue here.

Let's be clear. Michael Jordan was an incredible player. Many believe him to be the best ever. But it's difficult to assess players from different eras.

Today's NBA is watered down with too many teams. The players are bigger and stronger, but less fundamentally sound. It's more of an individual game than a team game. In a league like that, a superstar should rack up rings.

LeBron finally learned how to turn up his game in the spotlight. He's no longer the guy who dished off to Anderson Varejao to take the final shot in a flailing effort against the Celtics. All along, LeBron has shown flashes of a take-charge beast. But until the last two games of the Celtics series (and a stellar Finals), it seemed that beast was sleeping.

Time will tell if LeBron keeps that razor edge. Physical dominance is great. Skill is great. But will matters most in the NBA.

Look around the league today, and it's hard to argue that anyone has a sharper edge than Kobe Bryant. In crunch time, he wants the ball. Everyone in the stadium knows he's going to shoot. And somehow, he still makes the shot.

Does LeBron have that?

Jordan absolutely had the edge. He had the physical skills, but he also had the will to dominate. It wasn't about beating you in a game. It was about beating you psychologically, so the next time you play him, you're panicking.

It's also notable that Jordan changed his game as he got older. He could still take over, he was just smarter about how and when to hit the gas.

It looks like LeBron is in his prime. He has two all-stars flanking him. If he's going to make a run, it's now. But will he get bored? Will he revert to the old LeBron who shrinks from the moment? Will he keep charging to the basket after he's lost a step? Will another team (cough, Bulls, cough) rise up to make the East a battleground?

Time will tell.

And time has a way of dulling our memories. We forget how strong the NBA was in the late '80s and early '90s. We forget how Jordan strung together three championships while making it look easy ... then took two years off ... then came back and added another three rings.

Jordan never lost in the Finals. LeBron is one for three. Jordan played in an era when teams hammered away at each other for years, then put together multiple championships. LeBron plays in an era when superstars either move to a better team or grab a payday with a failing franchise. And it's hard to say there's a dynasty out there LeBron has to conquer.

We're in a Twitter-driven world with short attention spans. Even if LeBron racks up six rings, there's still the big matter of The Decision. Jordan never left the Bulls to play with the Lakers or Celtics. He didn't hide behind other superstars. He paid his dues. He fought losing fights. He waited for the pieces to join him. And he brought this city our first (and only) championships.

LeBron's legacy may be more like Shaq's - a talented guy who had flashes of brilliance. And when he couldn't win in Orlando, he jumped ship for L.A. and then Miami ... and Phoenix ... and Cleveland ... and Boston.

Could you picture Jordan doing that?

When you close your eyes, can you even remember him in a Wizards uniform?

Or is the image of Chicago Michael soaring above the rim seared into the back of your eyeballs?

It's too early to tell on LeBron. For now, he has as many rings as Brian Scalabrine.

Call us when you dominate a decade, Bron-Bron.

Time will tell.

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