In battle for hearts, LeBron James can’t catch Michael Jordan

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Michael Jordan speaks to the crowd at a Bulls’ championship celebration at Grand Park in 1997. (Photo by Matt Kryger)

LeBron James says he is chasing a ghost.

“The ghost played in Chicago,’’ he told Sports Illustrated.

I have news for him: He doesn’t have a ghost of a chance of catching Michael Jordan.

The reasons for that have nothing to do with me being from Chicago or James not having the ability to do what Jordan did. They have to do with the way people bear hug their sports heroes and never let go. They have to do with how superstars make people feel at a particular time in their lives.

If you were a Bulls fan or a Michael fan during those six NBA titles – and there are millions upon millions of you — life didn’t get much better, sports-wise. You had the most exciting player ever on your side. He could jump and score and stare down an opponent, and you wanted to believe that, if not for some unfortunate genetic mix-up, you’d be doing the same thing. You knew all his TV ads by heart. You wore his shoes.

It’s why, 13 years after his retirement, he still has a hold on hearts and wallets.

So into that wades LeBron James, a 6-foot-8, 249-pound monster of a basketball player. He can do anything he wants on the floor, and that is both his blessing and curse. He’s an exceptional passer, but among the pro-MJ crowd, that is seen as a hormonal shortcoming. Where Jordan attacked a problem by himself, James seems to want the basketball equivalent of a consensus. He wants to get his teammates involved. Never mind that his killer instinct brought the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors for the NBA title this season.

We can argue forever about who’s better. I happen to believe that LeBron is more talented physically than Jordan was but that he is not the basketball player that MJ was.

But James can’t win this battle. I don’t care if he wins six titles in his career (he has three). I don’t care if he wins eight. He’ll never change public opinion. There are too many people with too many good memories of Jordan. There are too many people with too big an emotional and sentimental investment.

Adding to the slam dunk, Jordan didn’t have a prime-time TV special called “The Decision’’ to announce he was taking his talents to South Beach. But if he had been in position to do so, would he have? I know: It’s heresy even to ask.

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