CHICAGO – In pursuit of pictures and memories, a steady trail of basketball-loving fans will arrive at the United Center starting a couple of hours before today’s tipoff.
They’ll stare. They’ll smile. They’ll savor the experience.
They have come to see a statue.
But to see real-time greatness on display, one must go inside.
Pull open a glass door, push through a metal turnstile, step across the tiled concourse and look toward the wooden court below.
This is no statue. This is a superstar in his prime. This is the most amazing athlete playing any sport in this country today.
And he is leading his team toward history.
Boo LeBron James if you must. Resent the fact that he is on a direct path to joining Michael Jordan’s level of NBA greatness. Compare championship rings as proof that Jordan can lift off from the free-throw line and soar above James’ head.
Yet Jordan is suspended in flight. He is a bronze statue atop a black granite base.
Inside, James is sprinting, leaping, defending and sweating. He isn’t finished.
To be honest, it looks as if he’s only getting started.
The Miami Heat will arrive at the United Center today with a 27-game win streak, the second-best in NBA history. They are six games shy of matching the NBA all-time record of 33, which was set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Maybe the short-handed Bulls will find a way to snap the streak. Likely, they won’t.
Either way, it’s difficult to envision anyone stopping James and his teammates from going on to win a second straight championship.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that James’ career has surpassed Jordan’s career on the 86th day of 2013. I’m saying it’s a real possibility in the next decade.
In his first 10 seasons, Jordan amassed three NBA championships while averaging 32.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists a game. Already in his 10th season, the 28-year-old James has won one championship (he could have two by season’s end) while averaging 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists a game.
Sure, James’ self-serving announcement in 2010 that he was “taking my talents to South Beach” was pure foolishness. But let’s not pretend that Jordan was ego-free.
And, yes, James bailed on the team that drafted him to join a talented cast in Miami. But let’s not pretend that Jordan played with a bunch of dads from the YMCA.
Is it so wrong to question whether James could become the all-time greatest?
My friends who grew up in and around Chicago probably would hurl tomatoes at me for entertaining the subject. Maybe it’s because I was a Missouri kid – a Missouri kid with a Jordan poster on his bedroom wall that showed No. 23 leaping into the sky, but a Missouri kid nonetheless – that I wonder whether Jordan’s reign is permanent.
I decided to ask someone else in my age group with inside knowledge on the subject.
Dwyane Wade sat in front of his locker late last month before the Heat’s most recent game against the Bulls. More than a dozen reporters surrounded him, and as Wade joked that much of his family remained Bulls fans, James stretched on the carpet nearby with music filling his giant headphones.
Hoping that James couldn’t hear me, I jumped in with a question for Wade.
“You grew up watching Michael Jordan,” I told him. “You play with LeBron James.”
Wade nodded. He waited. He knew where this was going.
“Is one of them better than the other?”
He chuckled and prepared a verbal tiptoe.
“Michael Jordan is the greatest player that I’ve ever seen play,” Wade said. “And LeBron James is on his own path to becoming great.
“That conversation will kind of be at the end of his career. We’ve got a long way to go before that conversation should be had.”
Yeah, I guess he’s right.
Let’s start it anyway.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.