The relationship between Jordan and LeBron started when the latter was 16, as a part of Nike’s pitch to LBJ – at the time the most wanted free-agent on the shoe market. It was a powerful route Nike embarked on and may have been a decisive moment in LeBron’s decision process.
“When LeBron was sixteen, he and Carter went to Chicago to play in some pickup games with some NBA players. The workouts were at Hoops Gym outside the city, a facility run by well-known trainer Tim Grover. One day Grover asked LeBron to stick around after the workouts ended. Then a high-end sports car pulled into the lot, and Michael Jordan got out. LeBron and Carter were numb. Of course, Jordan was LeBron’s idol, and the moment overwhelmed him. So did Jordan handing over his cell phone number.”Brian Windhorst, LeBron, Inc. : The Making of a Billion-Dollar Athlete
Jordan took him under his wing, becoming a mentor for a young star who, at the time, was already a semi-public figure. The relationship between the two continued, as Jordan made his final comeback to the league.
Over the years, when Jordan would come to Cleveland to play with the Wizards, he would reach out to James and spend some time with him. It’s a common practice in NBA circles, as established NBA stars are always mentoring young up and coming basketball phenoms. Jordan did it with LeBron, LeBron did it with Durant, and countless other prospects, preparing the ground for their NBA careers.
Jordan unquestionably saw something in LeBron. It’s safe to say he wouldn’t build a bond with just anyone. His Airness has to consider you worthy of his time and effort, and James fits those parameters. Them spending time together made it seem like MJ saw something special in James. However, it seems he had doubts about LBJ adapting well to the overall talent of NBA players, as he predicted an adjustment period when he decided to go pro.
“Once he gets to this level, I don’t think he’s in the upper echelon of two guards or small forwards. I think he’s toward the bottom — respectively, so, because there’s so much about his game that he’s going to have to adapt to. He has unbelievable potential. I think that’s what everybody is looking at; everybody is raving about. But he hasn’t played against competition consistently, college or pros. He’s played against high school kids. You have to give that some credence.”Michael Jordan
It’s safe to say MJ was wrong with his scouting report on the King. From his first game against the Kings, where he had 25 points and 9 assists, it didn’t take a genius to realize that kid was going to be unique. His rookie season was a testimony to it, as James won the Rookie of the Year, at the time becoming the third rookie to average 20-5-5. Big O did it in 1960, and MJ did it in 1984.
Sure, he did have to go through some sort of growing pains, but not nearly to an extent, as Jordan predicted. LeBron became the team’s best player the first day he stepped foot on the floor and found his groove right away. The level of competition was nothing like he had ever faced before, but it didn’t take him long to start dominating on the individual level. James did have to make some adjustments to his game, mainly from a physicality standpoint, but find me a player who doesn’t. So yeah, MJ’s assessment was way off.
He did, however, predict a good NBA career for James. But when you think about it, only good? Come on, MJ, you’re better than that. Or is he?
“When you look at the skill level and his maturity at his age, he’s definitely talented enough. Five years from now? If he takes on the dedication of being the best basketball player he can be and continues to improve and accept challenges and not get comfortable with what’s been given to him or what the expectations may be, he could definitely be a good pro.”Michael Jordan
I don’t have to explain why Jordan was off on this one. Well, he wasn’t exactly off, but he just greatly underestimated James. Was it about MJ’s lack of sensationalism toward others and not giving respect when it hasn’t been earned? Maybe. But perhaps it was more about Jordan revealing his talent evaluation chops yet again, as he did countless times with the Hornets.
As great as His Airness was as a player, he simply lacks the ability to recognize talent. I’m not just talking about LeBron. He was responsible for the arguably the worst number one pick ever when he selected Kwame Brown. The list goes on, as he took Adam Morrison third overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. I could go on with a series of questionable moves Jordan had made as an executive, but they all point out to the same thing; MJ was never able to assess talent accurately.
His statements on LeBron verify it. But you know what, it’s ok. The man can’t excel at everything. It may be the skill he will develop over time. At the end of the day, it’s in his nature to get better at whatever it is that he’s doing.