"He caused a lot of pain in my life," joked Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau about a man whose number and championship banners he was most responsible for being hung across the Berto Center practice floor.
Thibodeau was talking about Michael Jordan and while his take on media-fueled debate on how reigning league MVP LeBron James measures up to the player widely considered the greatest in NBA history left some wiggle room, it appeared that he was simply being diplomatic.
"They're different, but I think with all those type of comparisons, those are tough to make because I don't think you can do it until LeBron's done, so to speculate now, I guess it makes for interesting conversation. But you have to wait. And they're both great, and what Jordan did was incredible, but who knows? Kobe's had a great career, LeBron's had a great career and LeBron's still young, so there's still a long way to go for him. But Jordan kept so much pressure on you in so many different ways and it's a different game now than it was. Back then, it was a lot more physical than it is today.
"Also, you couldn't play zone defense the way you can today, so in some ways, having the ability to play some zone and use some zone principles, I think, helps. It's still difficult to guard the great players, but it helps some and the flip side of that is not being able to be as physical hurts you some. When Jordan was playing, you could play a lot more physical. He took a beating and I think all the great players take a beating, but it was probably to an extreme in the '90s and I think the game is a lot better today because they've cleaned a lot of that stuff up," he explained.
"I would say Jordan was the toughest player to game-plan against, because of all the problems that he caused and the way he dominated, to win six championships and unfortunately, I was a part of the other end of that with the Knicks and those were some great battles, and I thought we had a great team in New York, but what he did was just incredible. But you can make a case for a lot of guys and like I said, we have to wait until a guy's career is over before we draw any comparisons."
Bulls veteran Nazr Mohammed, who grew up in Chicago during Jordan's reign, was dismissive of the topic at hand.
"I also think debates of guys from different eras is one of the stupidest things out there," said Mohammed, adding it to a personal list that includes the media's preseason prognostications. "You cannot debate guys who played in totally different eras. Debates of who's the best when you've got guys who played different positions are silly to me."
Being that this is a Chicago-based media outlet with many users hailing from in and around the Windy City or with ties to city's sports franchises, most of the answers will be predictable, but here goes: After finally getting the championship monkey off his back last season, is James making up ground on Jordan or is it still not even close?