LeBron James is coming off one of the best individual performances in the history of American sports. He won the NBA's MVP, led the Miami Heat to the league's championship and topped it all off with an Olympic gold medal.
And as James gears up to defend his trophies, the comparisons are becoming inevitable. We know how he stacks up against his contemporaries (he's better), but how does he compare to the best there ever was, Michael Jordan?
The man who helped make Jordan the player he was, legendary coach Phil Jackson, gave a surprising answer to that question during a recent radio interview.
"He's got all the physical attributes," Jackson said on the "Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "He is a player that can play four positions. Except for perhaps the center spot, which he hasn't (been) given a shot at yet, he can play those other four positions quite well. This is unique; Michael could play three and was very good at all three of those, but as a power player that LeBron can become, I think he has an opportunity to explore and advance some of the status that he has already gained."
Jackson is far from the only high-profile basketball mind to speak up in favor of LeBron. Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley weighed in last week, saying James is "bigger, stronger, faster" than Jordan.
During the 2011 playoffs, Scottie Pippen was nearly expelled from Chicago for suggesting that LeBron could one day be as good, if not better, than his former teammate.
Even Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who never coached or played in the NBA, chimed in. The longtime USA Basketball assistant coach said after the 2012 London Games that he had never seen a player play at LeBron's caliber.
"I've always thought Michael Jordan was the best player that I've ever seen," Boeheim said. "I always have and and I didn't think it was close. I'm not so sure any more. And I love Michael Jordan. I'm not so sure anymore. This guy is 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and he's getting better. He works on his game. His shooting is getting better. He's a phenomenal, phenomenal basketball player. I love this game, I love the history of this game. I know we've had great, great players through the years. He's like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well."
As much fun as it is to compare the best players of the past two generations, the beauty of both James and Jordan is that they are each trailblazers. Not only do they play different positions, they have different skill sets and work in different systems. James may not have Jordan's scoring ability, but Jordan lacked LeBron's size and versatility. Jordan developed alongside Pippen, whereas James and Dwyane Wade united when both were in their primes.
Comparing these two lessens their accomplishments and trivializes the sport. They are unique players and should be celebrated as such.