Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are close, close friends. Their bond dates back to the 2003 NBA draft combine, and was fortified by the four years their shared time and glory with USA Basketball and the Miami Heat, as well as by their shared experience of fatherhood. They’re now so close that, as Wade told ESPN’s Pablo Torre earlier this year, when Wade was running late to a group dinner, it was LeBron &madsh; not Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union — to whom the All-Star shooting guard entrusted his entree order. ( “My wife wouldn’t know what to order, but Bron’s like, I got it,” Wade said. James went with sea bass. “It’s what I wanted,” Wade confirmed.)
So we’re guessing that Wade — who, as you might have heard, followed James’ lead this summer by leaving Miami to head back to his hometown — took no great pleasure in saying Thursday that he doesn’t believe his ol’ pal has a prayer of achieving his latest publicly related and very lofty goal: catching Michael Jordan in the race to be known as the greatest basketball player of all time.
After accomplishing his last impossible goal — delivering the first NBA championship in Cleveland Cavaliers history, and Cleveland’s first pro sports title in 52 years, by knocking off the record-setting 73-win Golden State Warriors and first-ever unanimous NBA MVP Stephen Curry — James made headlines this summer by saying in a Sports Illustrated feature that his primary motivation at this stage of his illustrious career “is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.”
He has since held firm to that statement, saying the drive to equal Jordan — he of the six NBA championships, six NBA Finals Most Valuable trophies and five regular-season MVP awards — is “a personal goal,” and that setting your sights on being “able to be greater than great […] should be everybody’s personal goal.”
That’s mighty admirable of James, who know owns three NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVP awards and four regular-season MVPs. But as the new future Hall-of-Famer lining up at shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls sees it, it’s too impossible even for King James. From ESPN’s Nick Friedell:
“No, it’s not possible,” Wade told ESPN with a laugh. “It’s not possible.” […]
“The only thing you can do is tie it,” Wade said. “There’s no 19th hole.” […]
Wade wore a big smile as he entertained the comparison questions.
“You can’t go past it,” Wade said of Jordan’s legacy. “How can you? That’s as great as it gets, man. The only thing you can do, like I said, is be A-1, A-B. There’s no way higher.”
For what it’s worth, Chris Mannix of The Vertical forwarded an alternate view after the Cavs’ 2016 title win:
This is the stuff legends are made of, folks, and it’s time we ask: Is James the best we have ever seen? He will forever be compared to Michael Jordan, will be clubbed by MJ’s perfect Finals record and shrugged at by aging players with a warped perception of just how good their day was. But this is six straight Finals for James, with three championships to show for it. He won in Miami, now in Cleveland, and there is a reasonable argument that he has been the best player in every series he suited up in. […]
Let the debate rage, the pro-Jordan, the pro-Larry Bird, the pro-Magic Johnson factions have at it. Arguments for each have merit. But the most talented player of this generation has just added another trophy to his shelf, the most physically imposing forward in NBA history has just overpowered the team that once seemed destined to be considered the best of it. Any list of all-time greats has James on it; soon, even his fiercest critics will have no choice but to put him at the top of it.
Wade’s golf-themed commentary — pretty appropriate for MJ talk, now that we think of it — echoes remarks on the topic that Wade made in 2012, back when he and James were running roughshod on folks in South Beach and LeBron looked to be at the peak of his powers:
“I don’t know if (James) has the ability to surpass (Jordan) or not,” Wade told ESPNChicago.com on Thursday during a promotional event for his Wade’s World Foundation. “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.
“I think everyone knows that (James) is a phenomenal, phenomenal player. He’s one that we haven’t seen, with the makeup of a 6-8 guy who runs as fast as any point guard, jumps as high as any center, and has the ability that he has to do so many things. But Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, that’s who everyone shoots for. So it’s going to be hard to surpass that.”
Which, y’know … yeah. It will.
Your specific criteria might vary, but this, from FOXSports.com’s Andrew Lynch, seems like a pretty comprehensive list of what it would take for LeBron to potentially overtake Jordan in the minds of the masses:
— Stay with the Cavs for the rest of his career.
— He can’t ask for reinforcements from Wade, Chris Paul, or Carmelo Anthony
— He has to hope the NBA doesn’t miss games due to a lockout.
— He has to get six rings at the very least — and really, he needs seven to make up for [his four] Finals losses [to the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Warriors].
— He needs to win the next three titles along the way, achieving a four-peat that eluded Jordan.
— He needs to scatter the Warriors, making Kevin Durant question his decision to sign with Golden State.
— He needs to win four more Finals MVPs, bringing his total to seven (one more than Jordan).
— He needs to make 10 straight NBA Finals appearances.
Even for James, that’d be an awfully tall order.
Despite his otherworldly production and nigh-on-unfathomable staying power atop the NBA, to the tune of six straight appearances in the Finals (and counting), LeBron has nearly 47,000 combined NBA minutes on his legs and has admitted this summer that, while he still aims to improve and thrive, he can see the end of the line from here, and understands that his generation of players — him, Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony — is “on deck” for retirement in the years to come. Yes, his Cavs seem poised to dominate the East yet again this season, but more than doubling his greatest accomplishments now that he’s on the wrong side of 30 seems unlikely. In fact, it’d be unprecedented.
Really, though, Wade’s probably right less because of how difficult it will be for James to hit marks like winning four more titles and four more MVPs than because Jordan defined the terms of engagement — the number of rings you need, the number of losses you’re allowed to have, the individual dominance you have to show along the way, etc. LeBron’s done about as much as humanly possible to redefine the debate over the years, but it’s awfully tough to chip away at long-hardened consensus on a title like Greatest Of All Time, especially when your position requires the acceptance of specific concessions (“you can’t hold the ’07 and ’15 losses against him, look at the teams he had!”) to move the conversation forward.
What Wade was saying, I think, is that as soon as James suffered his first Finals loss at the hands of the Spurs in 2007, this particular game — in the eyes of many, at least — was over. Even getting even would constitute something of a miracle … and, again, with the individual and team accolades he’s accrued and an all-around statistical profile through 13 seasons that’s closer to MJ’s production than you might realize, LeBron’s gotten closer than anyone else over the last two decades.
Sometimes it takes a true friend to help you see that there are worse fates in life than ending up as 1A. Then again, helping you find the motivation to accomplish what nobody believes you can sounds like a buddy’s job, too. Whichever way LeBron takes it, here’s hoping he finds a way to properly show appreciation to Wade when they next cross paths. I’m thinking something Chilean.