But after having a front row view of LeBron James for three games during Eastern Conference finals against his Chicago Bulls, Pippen believes he has witnessed the player who will surpass Jordan as the greatest ever.
"Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game," the NBA Hall of Famer said Friday on Mike & Mike In The Morning on ESPN Radio. "But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will but he keeps everybody involved.
"You have to be on your P's and Q's on defense. No guy on the basketball court is a threat to score with LeBron James out there. Not only will LeBron dominate from the offensive end as well, but he's also doing it on the defensive end, which really makes him the complete package. He's able to get in those passing lanes, shoot those gaps and create transition opportunities where he is pretty much unstoppable."
But as hard as it may be for some of who is question James’ heart and determination after watching him give up in the playoffs in back-to-back years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Pippen may actually be on to something.
James has seemed to take his game to a completely different level in his eighth season in the NBA. He has been unstoppable in these playoffs whether it has been creating for himself driving the ball or on the perimeter or creating for his teammates.
"I'm seeing a great player, and a player that we've all admired for the last [seven] years of his career, but this [eighth] year here, he has really brought the complete package," Pippen said. "I've never seen a player that can dominate a game the way LeBron James can. He don't always have to score. He makes plays for other guys. But when the game is on the line and you need a shot to be made, he's going to make that play. He's shown that throughout this series that he can make big shots.
"I think there has always been a knock on him that he don't make the big shots down the stretch. Well, I think they can put that behind him now. He's a shot-maker. And right now he's a man on a mission."
Never have we seen a player of James’ stature, 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, who can run, jump and shoot the way he can and then who is so unselfish with the ball. Some have tried to compare James’ game to that of ex-Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson, who redefined the point guard role as a 6-foot-9 freak of a passer. Others have tried to make the comparison with Jordan.
The problem with both comparisons is Johnson was not close to the athlete James is or Jordan was never as unselfish and didn’t develop a legitimate jump shot until much later in his career.
Interestingly, someone referred to James as Magic Jordan earlier today and that could make sense. The problem James faces is receiving such praise without the hardware that Jordan and Johnson collected during their careers. Jordan and Pippen won six NBA championships together, which is why man were surprised at his statement Friday.
Horace Grant, who was a teammate of Pippen and Jordan in Chicago, disagrees with Pippen’s assessment of James.
"Pip is my man, and we will always be close but I totally disagree," Grant said Friday on The Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN 1000. "LeBron is going to be one of the top players to ever play the game. But Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who we bumped heads with at times, is I think in my era, the best who ever played the game.
"I'm kind of at a loss for words because Michael Jordan ... when you win numerous MVPs and you've taken the team to six championships--and probably could have been eight if he didn't retire those two years--and MVPs in the playoffs ... and he made us better.
"Believe me, he made myself, Scottie, B.J. [Armstrong], even Bill Cartwright--who I love--he made us better players. He gave us that confidence. But first we had to earn his trust. And once we earned his trust you saw championship after championship."
Some believe this could be the start of James’ run to multiple titles and building a dynasty in Miami. James left Cleveland to join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami last summer. And in one season together they are set to play Dallas for their first NBA Championship beginning next week.
So the comparisons might be tough for some to see. Perhaps the James-over-Jordan leap will become clearer after these NBA Finals.
(Photo: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)