"They're different," Thibodeau said after Monday's practice. "I think with all those type of comparisons, those are tough to make because I don't think you can do it until LeBron's done. To speculate now is just ... I guess it makes for interesting conversation, but you have to wait til it's over. And they're both great. Of course, what Jordan did was just incredible but who knows? You've got guys ... Kobe's had a great career. LeBron has had a great career, and LeBron's still young so there's still a long way to go for him. But Jordan just kept so much pressure on you in so many different ways, and it's a different game now than it was then."
Thibodeau, who has spent more than two decades in the NBA as both a head coach and an assistant, understands that the game and the way it's called has changed.
"Back then it was a lot more physical than it is today," he said. "But you also couldn't play zone defense the way you can today. So in some ways having the ability to play some zone and use some zone principles I think helps. It's still difficult to guard the great players, but it helps some, and then the flip side of that is not being able to be as physical hurts you some. When Jordan was playing, you could play a lot more physical. He took a beating and I think all the great players take beatings, but it was probably to an extreme in the '90s. I think the game is a lot better today because they cleaned a lot of that stuff up."
Thibodeau's comments came just a couple hours after Charles Barkley said he believes the debate will gain more validity if James wins a few more titles.
"If LeBron can win four or five (titles), it's a legitimate conversation in my opinion," Barkley said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "I never thought I would compare someone to Michael Jordan. I was like Karl Malone is great, Patrick Ewing is great, John Stockton is great, that guy's better."
Thibodeau acknowledged that Jordan was probably the toughest player he ever coached against.
"I would say because of all the problems he posed and the way he dominated, to win six championships," Thibodeau said. "Unfortunately I was a part of the other end of that with the Knicks. Those were some great battles and I thought we had a great team in New York, but what he did was just incredible. You can make a case for a lot of guys, but the big thing is you have to wait until a guy's career is over before I think you draw any comparisons."