HOUSTON — The weekend started on Friday, when LeBron James started talking about Michael Jordan talking about LeBron James.
This is the nature of NBA All-Star weekend, which finishes with the All-Star game at 8 p.m. ET Sunday at Toyota Center in Houston. It is a weekend for sorting things out — who’s better than whom, what is the state of the NBA, how popular is basketball globally and how much are you going to tip the guy for the mixtape you just accepted on the street?
It was a natural time, then, for Jordan to say he would take Kobe Bryant over James, and an ever better time for James to shoot back.
“I don’t really have a take on it,” James said Friday in Houston. “He said he would take Kobe over me because he’s won five [championships]. That’s his own opinion.”
James also explained that carrying out that sort of reasoning to its logical conclusion would mean taking Robert Horry (seven rings) over Jordan (six).
Bryant felt like he had the idea.
“I think the message is winning is above everything else,” he said. “That’s what drives him. Same thing that drives him now, win as many as you can. And it’s really that simple.”
James won’t be able to do anything to change Jordan’s mind Sunday in Houston, but it should be observed that it wasn’t just a coincidence all of this came up now. Jordan turned 50 Sunday, his legacy as the greatest basketball player of all time still intact — but threatened.
Threatened by James, who at age 28 has one championship and now holds a title once held for so many years by Jordan: Best Basketball Player Alive. James had to have the championship ring before he was ever going to be given that title unanimously, but he won that title last June and now is playing basketball at a level untouched by the rest of the NBA.
James averages 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. He is shooting 56.5 percent from the floor, which is the fourth time in his career he has carried a field goal percentage better than 50, but the first time in his career he’s been closer to 60 percent.
“He’s hitting one of those patches where the hard work and talent all come together,” Bryant said of James. “And just hit one of those hot streaks. Some of us have been there before, and there’s just no feeling about it.”
James also might be the best perimeter defender in basketball, and he is without question the most terrifying force ever to run a fast break. It’s no accident we’re talking about all this now, All-Star Weekend 2013, the weekend Jordan finally got old.
“He’s getting old,” said Kevin Garnett. ” It’s good to see him getting old.”
As long as we’re counting, Jordan played in 13 All-Star games, averaging 20.1 points and being named All-Star MVP three times. Sunday marks James’ ninth All-Star game. He’s averaging 23 points in these things and has been named MVP twice. Bryant is playing in his 13th All-Star game, is averaging 20.8 points and has four MVP awards.
So you wonder if James, or Bryant, will be out to prove a point Sunday night.
It is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, however, who leads the NBA in scoring (29.2 points per game) and a slightly-favored West squad. The West has three of the NBA’s top five scorers in Durant, Bryant (26.8) and Houston’s James Harden (26.1).
The East has James, but it is missing one of its best players in Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, who had knee surgery just days ago. The East is the better defensive squad. In addition to James, it boasts Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Kevin Garnett and Tyson Chandler.
Defense isn’t typically much of a factor in All-Star games, but it could, perhaps, key a run by the East once the game turns competitive in the second half.
“The first half is the feel‑out process,” James said. “We try to get a feel on what we’re going to see. The second half, everyone’s competitive nature kicks in. At that time both teams want to win.”
And, sometimes, there are other things to sort out too.