LeBron, MJ and legacies

Professor Yago Colas' Basketball Culture 101 course at the University of Michigan continues to deliver thoughtful discussion. At Hoopism, Matt Gordon has been documenting his experience as a student in the class.

In studying Michael Jordan's persona and legacy, Gordon "was struck by how greatly perception and memory differ from reality." Gordon recently read Sam Smith's "The Jordan Rules," which chronicles a rocky, contentious 1990-91 Bulls season, which ultimately ends in a championship. Attending the 20th anniversary celebration of that team at the United Center recently, Gordon watched a harmonious fraternity of former Bulls being cheered, basking in the glow of the Chicago's collective memory. None of the pettiness, personal rivalries and ugly episodes from 1990-91 were present.

This scene got Gordon thinking: What happens if the Heat win a championship? How much will the public forget about "The Decision" and the various "-gates" that have marked time during this core's first season with the Heat? Will those who hate LeBron James forgive him for what they perceive to be his personal failings? Does winning spawn revisionism?

For all the Miami Heat “haters” right now, you must understand that if they win a championship (let alone several) none of this in-season nonsense about crying will be remembered, let alone the now infamous “Decision.” If you are a marketable star and win an NBA championship, all else falls by the wayside. The easiest way to learn about the present is to look at the past -- when Kobe is long gone do you think people will remember his rant about getting Andrew Bynum traded or his intense competitiveness and stack of titles? We remember those that win. Obviously, “The Decision” will never be forgotten, especially not in Cleveland, but if the Heat win a title -- “The Decision” instantly becomes a footnote to Champion.

At TrueHoop, Henry Abbott points out that Jordan's narrative was spun by a few select news outlets, whereas LeBron's story plays out daily in the guerrilla media. His elbow has a Twitter feed. Hit pieces on LeBron circulate on YouTube. The public is consulted every time he makes a flip remark in his pregame availability. When he thumbs his nose at Dan Gilbert, we grade him on his form.

James doesn't deserve any sympathy because he plays basketball in the digital age, but it's unlikely the current landscape will allow him to cultivate a legacy as pure as Jordan's.

We don't do purity anymore. Our world is decidedly more gray, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.