LeBron's recent move to South Beach hasn't just bothered residents of Ohio and various basketball fans around the country. It has also drawn criticism from Michael Jordan:
"There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team.' But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."
Just to review... LeBron tried for seven years to win an NBA title in Cleveland. But after failing to get a ring, LeBron is moving to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Mike Miller. This quartet produced 65 wins last year (please see Stumbling on Wins for details on how Wins Produced is calculated), or more than the entire Cavaliers roster - with LeBron - produced in 2009-10. In sum, this looks like a good move for a player who wants to contend for a title.
Jordan, though, doesn't approve. MJ was part of six NBA championship teams, and all of these were with the same team that drafted him in 1984.
After these six titles a mythology developed around Jordan. Many people now believe that Jordan was the only one responsible for these titles. In fact, many people seem to think that the Bulls only won because Jordan had the power to "will" his team to victory. Therefore, for us to believe that a player is truly "another Jordan", he must do the same thing. LeBron, though, is apparently taking the easy way out. Instead of "willing" the Cavaliers to a title, King James - by joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat - is admitting that he can't win a title by himself. And this means that LeBron is not "like Mike."
But did Jordan win six titles by himself? History seems to tell a very different story.
The Chicago Bulls didn't win their first title until 1991. At that time, Jordan was 27 years old and in his seventh NBA season. What happened in Jordan's first six seasons? Across these six seasons MJ's team won 260 games, or about 43 wins per year. Of these victories, about 134 could be attributed to the statistical production of Jordan. Despite this production, though, Jordan's teammates didn't produce enough for the Bulls to win a title. In fact - despite MJ's desire to defeat Bird and the Celtics - his teammates were not good enough for Jordan's Bulls to win a single playoff game against Boston.
In 1990-91, the fortunes of the Bulls changed. That season the Bulls won 61 games, with 27.6 of these being linked to MJ. Jordan, though, now had help. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant - after only producing 21.0 wins the previous season - produced 32.2 wins in 1990-91. Consequently, MJ and the Bulls advanced to the NBA Finals, where Chicago defeated Magic Johnson and the LA Lakers.
Now where did Pippen and Grant come from? Each of these players was acquired by Jerry Krause. And with these two players, Jordan and the Bulls were able to win titles in 1991, 1992, and 1993.
After the 1993 title, Jordan decided to demonstrate that he couldn't play Major League Baseball. And by winning 55 games in 1993-94, Pippen and Grant demonstrated they could produce wins without MJ. By the time Jordan returned in 1995, Grant had moved on to the Orlando Magic. But Jerry Krause was able to trade for Dennis Rodman. And with Pippen and Rodman - and Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, and Steve Kerr - the Bulls were able to win 72 games and another NBA title in 1996.
The Bulls won two more titles before their run ended. Across these six championship seasons, the Bulls won 388 regular season games - or about 65 per season. Of these, 133.7 could be linked to the production of Jordan. Yes, MJ was very productive. But his teammates were also quite good. On average, Jordan's teammates produced more than 40 wins per season during the title years. And without this upgrade in teammate quality- an upgrade fashioned by Krause - Jordan and the Bulls would have probably repeated the same result we saw when Jordan faced Bird in the playoffs (i.e. Chicago finishes the playoffs with a loss).
When we look at LeBron we should see that he is essentially trying to do for himself what Krause did for Jordan. Across his past six seasons, the Cavaliers have won 314 games - or 52.3 games per season. Of these wins, 133.9 could be linked to the statistical production of LeBron. Yes, what LeBron has done across the past six seasons is very similar to what MJ did during Chicago's title years. But unlike Jordan, LeBron has never had a collection of teammates who could produce more than 40 wins by themselves in a season.
That should change in 2010-11. Last season, Wade and Bosh combined to produce 29.5 wins last year. In other words, both of these players are just about as productive as Pippen and Grant. And with the addition of Miller - and the retention of Udonis Haslem - the Heat players around King James should be able to produce more than 40 victories.
Of course, LeBron could have followed MJ's lead and just waited for someone to find him better teammates in Cleveland. For some people, that might have bestowed the MJ mythology upon King James. But it's important to remember, the idea that Jordan won titles by himself is just a myth. Jordan was able to win titles because Jerry Krause found him better teammates. And since it didn't look like a similar story was going to unfold in Cleveland, LeBron did the right thing by finding better teammates for himself.