Fred Barnes is one of the most astute commentators on Washington policy and politics there is. He is also knowledgeable about sports. But like anyone else, he can sometimes get things wrong—and, sadly, he did with his post “LeBron Leads the U.S. Basketball to Gold.”
The biggest mistake was suggesting this year’s Olympic men’s basketball team was better than the Dream Team. No way; heck, the Spaniards almost beat this year’s U.S. team with good-to-serviceable big men. The 1992 team would have been beaten this team like a drum with the likes of Malone, Ewing, and Robinson dominating the paint. Plus, this team, other than LeBron, has no defensive stoppers like Pippen and Jordan. This year’s Olympic team had trouble time and again stopping other team’s pick and rolls, whereas the Dream Team had John Stockton and Karl Malone on it, the greatest pick and roll duo in the history of the game. And do we really think that 6’9” Magic Johnson would not have dominated the likes of 5’11” Chris Paul?
Fred compounds his mistake by suggesting that LeBron James is superior to Michael Jordan: he can “do more things, do them well, and is as good than Jordan in clutch situations.” At some point, James may be considered better than Michael, but not yet. Jordan was an unstoppable offensive force and, when necessary, the best defensive player in the league. As for the superior clutch player, one Olympics or even one NBA championship doesn’t overcome his choking play in Cleveland and his first year with the Miami Heat.
Fred is of course right that James can do “more” things than Jordan, since he’s three inches taller and can play a number of positions well. But, by comparing James with Jordan, now thought to be the greatest, he’s implicitly saying James should be wearing that crown now. And, in fact, I would concede that James is now arguably one of the top 5 players of all time. But whether he is a better all-around player than, say, Magic Johnson is, to me, an open question. While Magic was not a great shooter, he was a clutch shooter, certainly a better passer—even though LeBron is indeed a very good passer—a better team leader, and lest we forget, just as good a rebounder. Indeed, remember Magic played center for the Lakers in game 6 of the 1980 finals, as well as guard, and scored 42 points, had 7 assists, and 15 rebounds.
Finally, as Fred notes, it was nice to hear James say the Olympic Gold and his own effort “is all about USA.” But call me the cynic and suggest that he knows very well that the only way for him to climb out of the hole he has been in from “the decision”—announcing his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami—and all the nonsense that followed was to burnish his reputation by taking the high road he has in this Olympics. Good for him but let’s not make him into Patrick Henry just yet.