Never before have we had an athlete like LeBron James. I don’t mean just in his athletic ability, but someone who has been scrutinized on a daily basis since he was 13 years old.
Since James’ Heat were defeated for the NBA title by the Dallas Mavericks, many are already talking about his legacy being tarnished – that, having lost two titles in two tries somehow says that he isn’t a clutch player, that he doesn’t have the drive to win numerous championships.
Since James was in high school, he was the “next greatest player,” being compared to the best ever – Michael Jordan. But, after eight years in the league and no championships, people are starting to question his drive.
Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all time, but he was not the most gifted athlete the league has ever seen – what made Jordan so great was his relentless drive. There has never been someone as hungry – and with such a chip on his shoulder – than Michael Jordan.
LeBron James’ drive never has been and never can be equal to Jordan. Jordan was cut from his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore – to some that seems like a minor bump in the road, but to Jordan it was a punch in the gut . He took that and made it the driving force in his basketball life. Even after scoring 1,400 points in high school, getting a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, being drafted third overall in 1984, five NBA MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances, three All-Star Game MVP awards, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, he still brought up being cut from the varsity squad in high school at his Hall of Fame induction.
LeBron James has been called “The King” since he was 14 years old; his high school games were broadcast on ESPN; teams were hoping – in 2001 – to get the number one draft in 2003 so they could have him on their team. He has always been worshipped. Jordan in high school was a very good basketball player, but it wasn’t until he was cut as a 15 year old that he got the hunger that drove him – and still drives him – to prove everyone wrong. LeBron doesn’t have that drive; with the life he’s led, it would be impossible for him to have it.
In reality, the person we should compare LeBron to is Wilt Chamberlin – both had national visibility beginning in high school; both were the best amateur basketball players in their state since they were 14; both possess unfathomable natural gifts. Wilt, like LeBron, was a once-in-a-generation talent. Chamberlain was a four-time MVP, a 13-time All-Star, a seven-time scoring champion and a 13-time rebounding champion, and averaged 50.4 points per game during the 1961-62 season. But his he didn’t win his first championship until his eighth season in the league.
LeBron and Wilt were both atop the league when they entered, and each year their stats were among the best. But the championships didn’t come like they did for Jordan.
Jordan’s drive to be the greatest ever was highlighted last year. After James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Jordan said “There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team.” He wanted to do it on his own, because he knew he could.
James’ talent is a great player; his talent is unquestionable. But he doesn’t possess the innate quality that made Jordan the greatest of all time – drive. James wants to win, perhaps more than anyone, but he still doesn’t have the level of drive that Jordan has and because of that, LeBron will never ascend above Jordan on the list of all-time greatest players.