Heir Apparent: Looking for MJ’s True Successor

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever. That statement is an indisputable fact, something that most basketball experts and junkies the world over accept and hold to be the gospel truth. There are very few people who would ever challenge that claim that Jordan has over the “greatest ever” mantle in his chosen sport. Many have even anointed him as the greatest athlete to ever walk the planet – so his dominance of basketball is unchallenged.

Jordan Over the Hype

The measure of Michael Jordan’s status as the greatest to ever play the game of basketball is that he went beyond the crazy hype that surrounded his name – and particularly, his game. Jordan is probably the only sportsman to ever exceed the entire hype job that was directed his way. Being hyped is a natural of a star athlete’s life – it is just a part of how they are marketed and presented to the public.

His Airness – one of MJ’s most popular nicknames – was always able to back up all the praise and adulation that were heaped upon him by the press and ordinary sports fans. He grew to be bigger than his team – the Chicago Bulls during his dominant years and the Washington Wizards in what might be an ill-advised comeback – and then he grew to become even bigger than the NBA. And then something truly rare happened as he grew to become even bigger than his sport. He effectively became an American cultural phenomenon and later a global icon.

MJ’s Accomplishments: Indisputable and Unparalleled

Let us have a look at what really gave substance to Michael Jordan’s greatness – his accomplishments both on and off the basketball court. Let us start out with his accomplishments on the court then and see how he was able to reach his status through his play. When it comes to awards, MJ won the NBA’s regular season Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award five times, wining it in the 1987-88, 1990-91, 1991-92, 1995-96, 1997-98 seasons. Only two other men have won the award at least five times. Bill Russell also won five while Kareem Abdul-Jabber won the award six times.

When Michael entered the league in the 1984-85 NBA season, he was named its Rookie of the Year as well as earning a place on the league’s All-NBA second team. He also won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in the 1987-88 season as well as being the league’s Slam Dunk champion in 1987 and 1988. When it comes to scoring titles, MJ holds the all-time record with 10 (1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90, 1990-91, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98). Three times he was also the league’s leader in steals (1987-88, 1989-90, 1992-93).

Some consider that winning titles is the ultimate measure of success in the NBA and in every other sport. Of this, Jordan certainly had his fair share as he led his team, the Chicago Bulls, to tiles in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998. Those were a couple of three peats that were sandwiched by his time pursuing pro baseball. Before he came to the NBA, Jordan also won at the collegiate level when he was a part of the North Carolina Tar Heels under Coach Dean Smith that won the 1982 National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship. And for good measure, Michael also won a couple of Olympic gold medals, as a member of the Bob Knight led team that won in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and as part of the fabled Original Dream Team that won the gold in Barcelona eight years later.

Off the court, Jordan has also garnered much success, especially when it comes to being an endorser and spokesperson for several companies. His biggest affiliation however, is with Nike, where his Air Jordan sneakers continue to be the most popular and successful line of athletic shoes today. Jordan has also endorsed products from companies such as Gatorade, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Hanes, Wheaties, and many others.

Searching for the Heir

So there’s no question about how great Michael Jordan and the impact that had, both on and off the basketball court. He has been retired for a decade now and that means that the hottest topic related to him is the still on-going search for his successor. Now this is nothing official, but just a fun way of speculating about who could become Michael’s successor as far as his greatness on and off the court is concerned.

Among the many names that have been offered in recent years about who would actually become the “heir apparent”, there are a couple of names that have stood out and are now locked in combat – at least in the minds of fans and some experts – as to who could possibly follow Michael’s footsteps. It is therefore of great interest to look closely at the careers of two possible “heirs” – Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

The Black Mamba vs. The King

Kobe Bryant vs. Lebron James, The Black Bamba vs. The King. You can call it what you want, but this is a very hot topic among NBA fans in general and the fans of those two players in particular. The fans of both players, and even some basketball pundits, have anointed them as the successors to Jordan’s greatness. Of course, each camp have their reasons why one is considered better than the other, although admittedly at this point, both Bryant and James still fall far behind what Jordan was able to accomplish during his playing career. In sheer accomplishments on the court, it is already going to be an interesting matchup between the two. Even though Kobe Bryant has been in the NBA a little longer than James, that does not mean their careers cannot be compared.

On Court Accomplishments

Kobe Bryant came into the league in 1996, while Lebron James followed suit in 2003. Both players jumped into the pros straight from high school, with both being heralded and highly regarded as high-school players. As of this writing, Kobe has already been in the league for 17 seasons, while James has only just wrapped up his 10th year in the NBA. As for the actual regular season games that they have played, Bryant is way ahead of James here – after the 2012-13 season, he has already played a total of 1,239 regular season games compared to James’ 765. That total has even exceeded the games that Jordan played in the league which is 1,072. Of course it is no fault on Jordan or James’ part that Kobe is way ahead of them in this category. He simply played earlier than Lebron while MJ retired twice and played three years in college.

If we look at the individual awards that the two have won, it seems that James is ahead. He has already won four MVP awards to only one for Bryant. Lebron won it in 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, and 2012-13. He has already joined the ranks of the truly elite has he is now among only five men to have won the NBA’s MVP award at least four times. The other four were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain. That’s pretty excellent company there, indeed. Kobe, on the other hand, won his lone MVP award in the 2007-08 season, although it could be argued that he probably should have won at least a couple more. They are tied with their NBA Finals MVP awards with two each. Bryant won it in 2009 and 2010 while James got his in 2012 and just this past June.

As far as the championship hardware that they have collected is concerned, at this point Bryant is a little ahead of James. Kobe Bryant helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA title in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010. With his five NBA championship rings so far, he only needs one more to tie Michael Jordan in that category. Lebron James only has two at this point, but his team the Miami Heat are the defending back to back champions with titles in 2012 and just this last June. And because of that he is in a very good position to surpass or at least match what Kobe has at the moment. The potential for more championships is open to James and the sky is the limit for him as far as what he can still achieve in his basketball career.

At this point it is easy to say that Kobe is slightly ahead of James in the discussion about who is Michael Jordan’s heir apparent is concerned. What he has contributed to the game is without question, aside from the fact that he has been in the league longer and has won more than James at this point. But the best might be yet to come for Lebron, and who knows if he might be able to string several championships in succession or at least amass them in a more impressive manner than Kobe has. Even though both might eventually fall short of even equalling Jordan’s greatness, it is still going to be pretty interesting to see who’ll one day be closest to reaching what the great Air Jordan achieved.