Before any more of us jump on the Michael Jordan bandwagon and use his statement about the new-look Miami Heat as a knock against LeBron James for the next decade or so -- before the LeBron-will-never-be-Michael conversations continue -- there are a couple of variables that need to be addressed.
This is what MJ said in his imperfect analogy between his time in the game and the new James-Wade-Bosh triple-team in Miami: "There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team.' In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."
Fact is, for Jordan to have been in the position -- this is with hindsight, mind you -- to make a move with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson like James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh just did, he would have had to be tight friends with Bird and Magic from the minute they all entered the league. If not before.
Truth is, he wasn't.
The deal with James, Bosh and Wade is as rooted in friendship as the arrangement Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge made that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. McHale and Ainge were teammates for nine years in Boston and won three rings together. They maintained a friendly relationship as general managers of different franchises in their post-playing careers. Think their history together had nothing to do with KG landing in "Green-ville"?
To ignore the friendship facet of the Heat situation is disingenuous. And to not consider it in making the comparative analysis Jordan did is unfair to Wade, Bosh and James.
Especially James, the one at the center of it all.
Magic, Bird and Jordan, although they liked and respected one another, did not get down like that in their playing days. They weren't friends. Weren't fam. And because of that, it's almost impossible to take what Jordan is saying as an admissible assessment. It's definitely hard to accept it as something we can hold against LeBron for leaving Cleveland to go to Miami.
A more accurate and applicable analogy might have been possible if Jordan had set up a scenario in which he'd played for Charlotte -- near his hometown, the same way Cleveland is near LeBron's Akron -- for the first seven years of his career, during which he'd won no rings and didn't have Scottie Pippen as a teammate or Phil Jackson as a coach. And if he'd imagined further that his contract was up at the same time that, say, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley were becoming free agents and Ewing -- already with the Knicks -- pitched the concept of those three friends playing together in New York … if Jordan had set it up that way and still said he would have turned down the opportunity so he could prove he was "the Man," then his comments might be easier to accept and appreciate.
But, of course, that's not Jordan's reality.
His reality right now is that he's the majority owner of the Bobcats. So more important than him saying that he'd never have orchestrated an MJ-Bird-Magic collaboration as a player is whether he'd resist a James-Wade-Bosh-like alliance as an owner.
If we take Michael at his word about wanting "to beat those guys," then he should have the same mentality as an owner as he did as a player. Shouldn't he?
So to follow this logic through from his comments about what he wouldn't do, Jordan would rather try to win a championship with Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson on his roster than sign three of the league's 10 best players for his squad. And if one of Jordan's "superstar" players suggested that scenario to him -- as Wade did to the ownership of the Heat -- he'd turn it down!
This is what makes it so hard to believe in what MJ, whose passion to win was unparalleled, just said. It's hard to believe that he'd stay true to what he said he'd never have done as a player if the same opportunity fell into his owner's lap the way the James-Wade-Bosh deal did for Micky Arison in Miami.
And that is what, deep down, makes it hard to believe that even Jordan believes it. Simply put, this is why it would be wrong to take his comments and apply them directly to the situation at hand, why it would be wrong to suggest that Jordan believes the Miami situation is an admission of surrender by LeBron, implying that LBJ is really not a "king" because kings don't join forces with other kings, or that there is room for only one "king" per team.
Outside of the many verifiable truths that are being overlooked here (such as, fundamentally there is no difference between this and the assembling of the original Dream Team), it's hard to believe that Michael Jordan, if given the exact same situation LeBron was in, would have done something differently.
Regardless of what he says.
And it's virtually inconceivable to believe that he will carry that same mentality and philosophy with him as an owner.
He's too smart for that.
So when he says "there's no way" he would have done what LeBron just did, it contradicts almost everything we hold dear when we honor Jordan's legacy. Because the way I see it, LeBron's decision -- right or wrong, agree or disagree -- was about basketball. It was about trying to win championships, not win hearts. It was about an opportunity to make history, not prove a point.
To us, Michael Jordan personifies, defines and embodies winning in the context of team sports. No one did it better. But his comments wreak of something different. It's a fragrance called "For The Love Of Self," not "For The Love Of The Game."
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.