With the evolution of LeBron James as the NBA’s best player, media and fans alike are quick to compare him to past greats of different eras, from Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, to even this era’s greatest player, Kobe Bryant.
But, the media has also drummed up another comparison recently that involves James and fellow Miami Heat Dwyane Wade: the comparison is between James and Wade to the greatest duo ever to grace a basketball court, Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
And the comparison needs to be tucked in tight, told a story and rocked to sleep. Seriously.
It’s not to belittle the former duo of James and Wade, who are great together, but they simply can’t adequately be compared to the tandem of Pippen and Jordan. That is partly due to skill sets, but also due to the disparity in time spent playing together.
Pippen — acquired in a draft-day trade from the Seattle Supersonics, who drafted him fifth — was drafted in 1987, after Jordan’s third NBA season, to be His Airness’ sidekick for the future: the versatile 6-foot-8 wing who could defend, play point-forward and score if need be.
Jordan and Pippen took the league by storm in the 1990s for the Chicago Bulls, appearing in six Finals and winning all of them, while establishing themselves as a nightmare tandem for any and all teams to deal with. Jordan, as we all know, was the game’s greatest, scoring whenever he wanted while also locking down the opposing team’s best weapon, something Pippen could do just the same defensively.
What makes them so different than James and Wade though, was the chemistry that they developed over the years, which became harmonious on the basketball court.
They went through the difficulties of trying to get to the top together year and in and year out and falling short against the bad boy Detroit Pistons before finally overtaking them in 1991. And when they decided to lock down opposing teams and play defense, they locked down opposing teams and played defense.
Both were extremely fundamentally sound, played the passing lanes perfectly, and were scary in the open floor. In every full season they played together post-1990, they won a championship. Included in that run was an NBA record 72 wins in the 1995-1996 season.
James and Wade are different in the fact that both had extensive track records before they joined up in the summer of 2010. Wade was Miami’s favorite son, leading them to a championship in 2006 over the Dallas Mavericks while being named Finals MVP.
James was a hero in Cleveland, playing just minutes from his hometown of Akron. He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship berth in 2007, and long established his mark in the league before his now infamous “Decision”.
Therein lies a major difference between both tandems. Michael and Scottie basically grew together in the league. They were together from 1987-1993 and 1996-1998, winning titles in six of their nine years playing side by side. Wade and James have just been together for three, and have lost a Finals series. Wade is no longer in the prime of his career, dealing with knee issues recently that have kept him from being 100 percent healthy.
And frankly, if Wade were healthy, LeBron’s proclamation after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals that he “went back to his Cleveland days” would have never existed. He wouldn’t have had to carry the Heat like he has at times this postseason.
That is why the comparison, while good for discussion among friends or media, doesn’t equate. The sample size for one is nine years and six championships. The sample size for the other is three years, one championship, and a Finals’ loss — a sample that could max out at four if James opts out of his current contract.
Time to put it to bed.