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LeBron James is the Next.
No, not the Next Jordan. Not anymore. Everyone -- even the kid who argued with Jason Segel -- knows that by now, after a NBA Finals performance that made James look more like Adonis Jordan than Michael.
Now -- barring an outbreak of championships, hero moments and prescient Hanes commercials -- James is the Next Not Jordan. As in, the next guy to etch his name on this list of players who once drew comparisons to His Airness, only to fall short:
Note: This list is not comprehensive, but it is chronological. And it should never be expanded. Ever. Really, people, can't we stop with the "Next Jordan" thing already?
Next "Air"?: Before LeBron and even Roy Marble, there was Curtis Hunter: The Original Next Jordan. Of course, the stakes were different back on Oct. 16, 1984, when an Associated Press writer called Hunter "a top candidate" to replace M.J. -- and meant simply as North Carolina's go-to guy, not basketball's G.O.A.T.
Hot air: Well, neither happened. An injury-plagued Hunter never rose above reserve status, and it took all of a year for someone to tab another Tar Heel (Kevin Madden) as the Next Next Jordan. Which, of course, was spot-on. At least Hunter (at North Carolina A&T) and Madden (his high school) went on to coach, and neither drafted Kwame Brown. So they have that on His Airness.
Next "Air"?: "Harper plays like Michael Jordan," a future NBA executive told reporters in 1987. "Some of his moves are so spectacular that you forget the 10 shots he just missed." That eventual GM? One Danny Ainge. Wonder if he wants to sign the 47-year-old Harper as part of the Celtics' youth movement.
Hot air: The Jordan tag followed Harper around for a short time, then Harper started following Jordan around (admittedly as a pretty good role player) and won three championships, plus two more with the Lakers. Oh, and he guest-starred on "Kenan & Kel". Jordan ever do that?
Next "Air"?: "Gill likes to think he has a chance to be the next Jordan," the Gaston Gazette's Michael Smith wrote in 1992, two years after the Chicago kid was picked fifth overall by the Charlotte Hornets.
Hot air: Uh, yeah. Gill never made the All-Star team. He played for seven franchises. But he did become a broadcaster (Big Ten Network), continued Harper's tradition of ex-Nexts to appear on Nickelodeon shows ("My Brother and Me"), and could probably beat up M.J. if left alone somewhere (just check his competitive boxing record).