“The Last Dance” presented a powerful case for Michael Jordan, but LeBron James’ Orlando bubble dance may turn out just as historically significant.
With a 1-0 lead and the Heat already depleted, the Lakers star has a terrific chance of winning his fourth title with his third team in his 10th Finals appearance. A Lakers’ title and James’ chances of setting the all-time scoring record is more than enough of a body of work for Jeff Van Gundy to proclaim Thursday that James’ career as spectacular as Jordan’s.
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The GOAT topic raged after the “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary that ESPN aired early in the pandemic and depicted Jordan’s greatness all over again. Jordan won six titles – all with one club, the Bulls, and one coach, Phil Jackson – but retired at 35.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,’’ Van Gundy said on an ABC conference call to promote Friday’s Game 2 of The Finals. “It’s a far different discussion between who is the better player. I always say you have first pick, I’ll have second pick and I’ll be very happy whichever player I got. But as far as career, and when you talk about longevity, records broken, I don’t think LeBron James’ career will take a backseat to anyone.”
James, still going at 35 in nearly posting a triple-double in Game 1, has amassed 34,241 points, third on the all-time list. The King of Akron is about 4,000 shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record. James’ contract expires with the Lakers after the 2021-22 season.
“He can well become the all-time leading scorer in the NBA and that may not be his greatest skill,’’ Van Gundy said. “To me, when you think passing is his greatest skill (and) he may well be the all-time leading scorer, that speaks incredibly to his versatility. And then the winning that follows him everywhere to win with multiple teams.”
James’ critics argue his bid to be The GOAT is dampened by losing the NBA Finals six times — twice with Miami and four times with Cleveland (in two stints there).
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“A lot of people talk about the Heat and the championships he lost,’’ said Van Gundy, who is broadcasting his 14th Finals. “I never looked at a team of his other than maybe Dallas (in 2011), where I thought they had the better team when they lost in The Finals. It’s a remarkable career that takes a backseat to no one.’’
During the conference call, Van Gundy also touted his partner Mark Jackson as a future head coach, saying GMs would be “crazy’’ not to interview him.
Ironically, Van Gundy, the former Knicks head coach and one of Tom Thibodeau’s closest allies, is reportedly a candidate for the Clippers’ job.