There never will be another Michael Jordan.
There can’t be.
You never can re-create the scene, the culture, the history, the moment in time when Jordan ruled pro basketball.
But I’m beginning to think there never will be another LeBron James, either.
I well remember when Jordan was making his rather silly but perfectly-in-character comeback with the Wizards in 2001 after retiring from the Bulls and being out of the NBA for three years.
(If you’ll recall, he was a part-owner and the president of basketball operations for the Wizards, with the distinction of making super-dud Kwame Brown the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft.)
As the 38-year-old Jordan practiced that summer in closed-door sessions at Hoops the Gym with other NBA players, a teenage kid still in high school played in some games, too. It was a slender James, in from Ohio for the elite competition.
There they were on the same floor, the fading king and the budding prince, the past and future of basketball.
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There is no sense in arguing who is the better player, the bigger star and all the rest that makes sports-talk radio and blog debates go around and around. They are both epic athletes and blessings to the game.
But they are different people from different eras, their careers not intersecting except for those pickup games in Chicago many years ago. James was good in those contests, often passing the ball, blending in without dominating. Jordan, of course, was the bull hog, rooting wherever he wanted.
The point now is that James, at 33, after 15 seasons in the NBA, is as good as he ever has been, while Jordan, at 55, simply looks good in his Italian suits while puffing on a random cigar.
In fact, James virtually willed his mediocre Cavaliers team out of the first round of the playoffs against the Pacers, saving his best for the do-or-die seventh game Sunday, finishing with 45 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes in a 105-101 victory.
Ten years ago, James dropped 45 points on the Celtics in a Game 7. Now he’s the only player in NBA history to do it twice in a Game 7.
In the series against the Pacers, James played more than 40 minutes six times. Nobody else has averaged as many minutes this postseason. He had 12 assists in Game 1. He had 10 rebounds or more five times and more than 40 points three times.
Far from slowing down, it seems James is playing as well as he ever has after 1,143 regular-season games and 225 playoff games. This is amazing. This is lore.
Jordan was spectacular at 33, too, averaging 37.9 minutes during the regular season and an incredible 42.3 minutes in the playoffs en route to leading the Bulls to their fifth NBA championship. But he retired a year later and never should have come back.
But he did. And just like that, we had the two eras splitting apart — the old NBA without cellphones, iPads or social media and the world James inhabits, with its cameras, citizen journalists and drones.
James is 6-8 and at least 250 pounds, while Jordan was 6-6 and slender, anywhere from 195 to 210 pounds. James can back anybody down with muscle, while Jordan did it with craft. James has a solid three-point shot and a monster dunk in his arsenal. Jordan mastered the mid-range fallaway and, of course, skied like a bird.
But each man can (or could) handle the ball like a magician, with massive hands, and each has or had magnificent court vision.
Some of Jordan’s stats are astounding, almost crazy. Such as the time he made 26 of 27 free throws against the Nets or played 50 minutes against the Cavs, scoring 69 points to go with 18 rebounds, six assists and four steals.
James has all the crazy stats, too, including having played in eight NBA Finals, winning three of them. Jordan, of course, has six crowns. But we’re not measuring players that way. Many parts of a team game are out of a star player’s control. After all, wasn’t little Isaiah Thomas supposed to be the Cavs’ point guard? And wasn’t that James playing point in Game 7?
Now the Cavs are taking on the Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and we’ll see what James has left.
‘‘I’m burnt right now,’’ he said after the first round.
But he’s playing again. And, my, what an amazing sight.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcastsand Google Playor via RSS feed.