Would Michael Jordan have done that?
June, 9, 2011
By Tom Haberstroh
Comparing LeBron James and Michael Jordan in the Finals may not be an honest exercise.
One of the most prevalent statements we've heard in the wake of LeBron James's Game 4 stinkbomb is this:
Michael Jordan would have never done that.
It's been thrown around as a declarative statement of fact, that His Airness would have never scored just eight points in a Finals game.
And it's true, Jordan has never scored just eight points in a Finals game.
But to say that Jordan wasn't vulnerable to a stinkbomb like James' performance is classic revisionist history. As surprising as it is to some, Jordan failed. Many times. He had imperfections on the basketball court, because he is human. He lost 11 Finals games in his career, but judging from the conversation over the past few days, Jordan never let someone beat him. That, of course, is a false narrative.
Jordan has played in 35 Finals games. Here are his averages during those games: 33.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.8 turnovers, and 48.1 percent shooting. Those are, without a doubt, monster numbers. He scored more than 40 points six times. He scored fewer than 25 points four times. And amazingly, he scored fewer than 22 points zero times.
That's right, Jordan's lowest scoring output in the Finals is 22 points. Looking strictly at the scoring column, Jordan never suffered a game quite like James' Game 4.
But Jordan did endure some bad games -- you just have to look past the scoring column to see it. Here are Jordan's five worst shooting games of his Finals career (keep in mind LeBron shot 3-for-11 [27 percent] in Game 4).
What we see here is that even at Jordan's worst, he still managed to score 22 points. But look at those shot totals.
19. 19. 26. 28. 27.
When Jordan didn't have it going, that didn't stop him from shooting the ball. In fact, Jordan averaged 26.4 field goal attempts per game in the Finals. That's an incredible figure by an incredible player. And James? He has shot more than 26 times in a game just once in this entire playoffs. James is averaging 14 field goal attempts in this Finals. You know what Jordan's career-low field goal attempts were in a Finals game? Fourteen -- that's his lowest.
Every time we compare this James to that Jordan, we're reminded of an essential detail:
Jordan had the license, ability and desire to shoot 26 times per game; James does not.
And this is the big elephant in the room. James and Jordan are different players playing in very different situations in very different eras. They are both great -- both all-time greats. But Jordan didn't have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on his team, begging for 32 shots every game. And Jordan will probably maintain that he wouldn't want them anyway. He wanted the ball every time down the court and we have deified him for that. That's part of made him the best basketball player to ever play the game.
There is no denying that James stunk up the joint in Game 4 when he shot just 3-for-11. But the real reason Jordan would have never scored just eight points in a Finals game is because he would have never taken just 11 shots from the floor like James did.
Because Jordan is not James, and James is not Jordan.