At age 24 Jordan had what PER and WS consider the best season since the merger.
At age 24 LeBron had PER and WS consider the second & third best seasons (respectively) since the merger.
Their teams both made major jumps in regular season wins, and both teams made some noise in the playoffs but ultimately bowed out to deeper rosters on teams that would go onto make the Finals. (Actually neither Jordan nor LeBron ever lost to a team that didn’t make the Finals after their third season).
At age 25 Jordan had his most productive season (though not most efficient). His team regressed slightly, and they were once again knocked out of the playoffs by the conference champs. Very similar story for LeBron, though his regular season standings didn’t slip.
Heading into the 1990 season, 26 year old Jordan was not switching teams, but he was getting a new coach and being asked to buy into a new system that took the ball out of his hands and empowered Scottie Pippen, the teammate he’d been working into the ground in practice for the last two seasons, trying to craft obvious potential into a great running mate (and to Pippen’s credit, he put in the work and got there). It took an extreme leap of faith from Jordan to give up that comfort zone of controlling everything on the court, and his total production slipped (remember the last 2 months of the 1989 season were triple double heaven for Jordan – no reason to think he couldn’t have had his most productive season the next year at 26 year of age, maybe even chasing Oscar Robertson stats). The team wins jumped enormously, and the Bulls were 1 Scottie Pippen migraine in game 7 of the ECF away from winning their first title against a badly injured Lakers squad.
Heading into 2011 26 year old LeBron will be changing his actual team for one where he’ll have more talent around him and be asked to take the same “less is more” approach to the game as Michael was, empowered the already spectacular Wade to share the burden and the glory. Whether this will work remains to be seen, though a massive leap in Miami’s standings is almost a foregone conclusion.
Fans are loudly decrying LeBron James for joining Dwyane Wade’s team to be his sidekick. They are basically assuming that LeBron was afraid to keep plugging away on his title quest alone. News flash: Nobody wins alone. Well Hakeem did, but he wouldn’t have if he’d had to deal with Jordan and Pippen. Another news flash: Nobody on Cleveland’s roster was going to do what Pippen did in 1990 or Kobe did in 2000 and grow into a second star on the Cavs. There just isn’t any raw, developing talent in the line-up outside of Hickson, whose upper limits appear to be Charles Oakley Jr., which is not exactly the Kevin McHale he’s looking for here. If we respect players for sacrificing personal stats to give others the opportunity to succeed and in turn to enhance the team’s likelihood of winning, then why questions LeBron’s motives to move?
Also it is idiotic that, because Wade won a Finals MVP with a huge nod to the whistle-happy zebras, who kept him alive at the line all series, somehow he has become the expert on winning and LeBron the deferential student . Did nobody notice how blowful Miami has been since their title season? This team is lucky they aren’t in the West or they’d be barely scraping their way into the playoffs, Wade or no Wade. There’s no coattails riding being done here. Now if LeBron had demanded a trade to the Lakers, Celtics, or Magic, that would be different. Or if Wade had joined the Cavs who won more games than anyone else in the league before being bounced by Boston while LeBron nursed a hurt elbow.
As far as whose team it will be…. Yes, Wade has seniority, but LeBron’s force of personality and raw talent (and point forward play style) make him a natural leader on the court. This situation reminds me, more than any other, of Magic Johnson joining the Lakers. LA had Kareem, the MVP of the league in Magic’s rookie season. Everyone was supposed to defer to Kareem. But Magic took over anyway. He wasn’t officially the team leader until 1985 or 1986, but by their second season together he was one in control of the team, the spokesman, the practice leader… He was too dynamic to be ignored even by his seniors. The same has always been true of LeBron. Sure it helps that he’s always been the best player on his team, but that isn’t going to change in Miami. There remains a sizable gap in ability between LeBron and Wade. Even if he is the villain now, LeBron is still too good. Too good at basketball.