Putting all of this ‘MJ would never have done that’ talk into context

For at least a year now, we’ve been hearing people criticize LeBron for potentially (and now actually) leaving the Cavs to play with another superstar. One of the arguments they often bring up is how Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or Magic Johnson would never have left Chicago, Boston or L.A. to form a dynasty elsewhere.

Now, even Jordan has said that he wouldn’t have called those guys up and tried to join forces.

“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,’ ” Jordan said after playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. “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.”

Skip Bayless, in his infinite wisdom, has been saying this for months, and took this moment to gloat a bit about what MJ said.

“Michael said, ‘I’m going to stay in Chicago.'”

In September of 1988, coming off his first MVP, Jordan signed an eight-year deal worth $25 million. (Soak those numbers in for a moment…the greatest player ever to play the game made about $3 million a season in his prime. Amazing.) The Bulls were 50-32 the previous season (Scottie Pippen’s first year in the league) and were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. So his playing situation was not unlike LeBron’s, though I don’t think too many NBA stars would choose the city of Cleveland over Chicago.

Jordan signed the deal after his fourth season, much like LeBron re-upped with the Cavs after his rookie contract was up. Only LeBron signed for three years instead of eight (or the max of six). LeBron said at the time he wanted to give himself flexibility down the road. MJ didn’t have that flexibility because he wanted the security of a long-term deal. To his credit, he didn’t complain about his contract even as NBA salaries skyrocketed over the next decade.

At the time, both Bird and Magic were superstars entrenched on championship-caliber teams. One reason MJ wouldn’t have called those guys is because they never would have left Boston or L.A. Their situations were too good and hey had already won titles. They were also in the middle of their contracts and didn’t have the flexibility to team up elsewhere. Other than Wade’s single title, this wasn’t the case with the Super Friends.

Even with the rivalries, MJ didn’t know Bird and Magic all that well. The first Dream Team wasn’t until 1992, so Jordan’s only non-competitive interaction with Bird was at the All-Star Game (and even that was probably a contest for the super-competitive Jordan). LeBron, Wade and Bosh teamed up at the 2008 Olympics and became good friends. That’s where this idea to team up first began.

BARCELONA, ESP - JULY 26: (L-R) Larry Bird, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone of the USA Olympic Basketball Team (The Dream Team) walk on the court during a game against The Republic of Angola Olympic Team on July 26,1992 in Barcelona, Spain. The USA won 116-48. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)

Three seasons after Jordan signed his contract, the Bulls won the NBA championship. Scottie Pippen had made the All-Star Game (1990) and had been named to the All-Defensive Team twice. Jordan knew he had his running mate and a great coach in Phil Jackson. He wasn’t going anywhere.

So, yes, Jordan never would have called those guys and tried to team up. But the circumstances wouldn’t have allowed it, even if he had wanted to. Bird and Magic were in the middle of their contracts, on championship-caliber teams, and were not chummy with one another.

LeBron re-signed with the Cavs and gave Cleveland seven years of his prime. He was just as responsible for the franchise’s failings over the last few years as anyone else, but for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working. And with Wade and Bosh teaming up in Miami, things were only going to get tougher. Had he re-signed, the Cavs would have been cash-strapped, and LeBron still wouldn’t have had an All-NBA caliber running mate. He tried to coax Bosh into coming to Cleveland, but South Beach sounded better.

And facing the possibility of being ‘a 31-year-old with bad knees and no title’, LeBron took the easy way out. No one disputes that teaming up with Wade and Bosh gives him the best chance at multiple championships. But he’s still criticized for the move — why is he supposed to make life difficult on himself? Sure, the uber-competitive Jordan might have stuck in Cleveland, but since when is competitiveness more important than pragmatism?

Bayless says as much in the video, and doesn’t blame LeBron for bolting for greener pastures. But he still criticizes him because it’s not something that Jordan would do. While that may be true — we don’t know for sure as MJ was never in the position that LeBron was — if it is, LeBron’s biggest problem is that he’s not as blindly competitive as Michael Jordan? That’s a tough standard to live up to.

Besides, isn’t this the same guy who retired at the ripe old age of 29 so that he could play minor league baseball for a year?

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