Why would LeBron James want to play in Michael Jordan's shadow?
Granted, like most NBA superstars, James seems to have an ego. There's no doubt that he would love to win an NBA title in Cleveland and take the Larry O'Brien trophy on a tour of Akron in the process. It would only solidify his standing as the once and future king of Northeast Ohio. But that doesn't appear to be a possibility for the foreseeable future.
The Cavs don't have the type of cap space that teams like the Bulls, Knicks and Nets -- among others -- can offer. Yes, the Cavs can sign James for more money and/or years, but they can't bring in another All-Star for him to play alongside unless the organization pulls off a miracle trade. They're stuck in a rut of playoff mediocrity and nobody in Cleveland can figure out exactly how to get out of it. A championship seems like the least of their worries, especially considering they don't even have a coach at the moment.
Despite these circumstances, and uncertainties in places like New York, New Jersey, Miami and Los Angeles, there still seems to be a prevailing thought in some circles that James wouldn't want to come to Chicago because he knows he couldn't compete with the legacy Jordan created with the Bulls.
The events of the past few days, namely the proposed deal which would send Kirk Hinrich and his contract to the Wizards, thus freeing up even more cap space for the Bulls, make that assertion even more laughable than it seemed before. Putting aside the fact that James loved the Bulls growing up and absolutely idolized Jordan as a kid, Chicago gives James the best chance to win right now -- and over the last two months he’s said that’s all he really cares about.
People from other cities recruiting LeBron make it seem as if he'll never be able to live up to Jordan. My response to those folks is this:
Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time. James will be compared to Jordan no matter where he goes for the rest of his career, just like Kobe Bryant is right now and every other great player that came before him.
People make it seem as if a basketball player can't possibly function and be successful in Chicago while living under the constant glare of Jordan's transcendent career. That's funny considering last I checked Derrick Rose was doing just fine in Chicago and has quickly become of the most popular players in the league. Joakim Noah got off to a rough start in the Windy City but now he's beloved and has become one of the most popular athletes in town.
Heck, while it may not have the fervor that it did last year, the love is still ever-present for Jay Cutler and he was downright bad at times for the Bears. The city loves a winner and will treat the athletes that do so accordingly. The Blackhawks still can't take a step in town without being mobbed after winning the Stanley Cup, and that was several weeks ago.
That's the crazy part about all this talk. If James wins, nothing else will matter. Bryant found that out in Los Angeles after winning his NBA crowns. People still compare him to Magic Johnson and wonder who is the "Greatest Laker of all-time." Do you think he cares? He has five rings and is treated like royalty in Los Angeles.
Same goes for Kevin Garnett. He won a ring for the Celtics in 2008 and almost delivered another this season. He is worshipped in Boston and is credited, alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, as returning the Celtics to prominence. No, he doesn't have as many rings as Bill Russell or Larry Bird, but he cemented himself in Celtics lore with the one he already earned.
The story would undoubtedly be a little sweeter for James if he won a title in Cleveland because of the proximity to his hometown, but his legacy isn't going to be defined so much by where he won the title, as it will be by whether or not he won one at all and how many he racked up.
The truth is that on paper the Bulls are the team that give him the best chance to win a title right now and in the future. Bulls GM Gar Forman even thinks that the Jordan shadow will help the Bulls recruitment of James in the long run.
"I think one of the things that makes the Bulls such a storied franchise is Michael and Scottie [Pippen] and the success that they had, and in my opinion, that bodes well for the Chicago Bulls because it's been done here before," he said Friday on "Mike & Mike In The Morning" on ESPN Radio. "We won multiple championships. We've had terrific players and a terrific brand that's known worldwide."
Sure, the comparisons surrounding James and Jordan will be a little greater if he comes to Chicago, but in the end James is going to be judged the same way every other great player in the league is -- by championships.
Right now he has none.
If he ever wants to get into the conversation as being one of the greatest players of all time, that has to change, and change quickly.
And if that means signing with the Bulls and playing for the team that Jordan made famous, so be it.
There's always room for another statue on the other side of the United Center.