Originally appeared on USAToday.com Published 8:39 p.m. ET June 8, 2018
Note: While many NBA fans have said if LeBron James’ supporting cast did more, the Cavs would be more competitive. BJ Armstrong, a former member of Jordan’s supporting cast, shares his perspective. Armstrong says everything new is old, everything LeBron is Jordan. His take on James and the Cavaliers:
The NBA Finals are giving me a feeling of deja vu. Everyone keeps saying all LeBron James needs is help. Maybe true but, with the greatest respect, he also needs to help himself.
In 1989-90 I became one of the group known as the Jordanaires, a/k/a the Bulls. From the day I arrived in Chicago, I knew what everyone else on the team did: Michael Jordan was a phenomenal talent. Yet, as the team deferred to MJ’s talent, we could not get past the hurdle of defeating the “Bad Boys” Pistons in the conference finals. Seeing the Cavs in these Finals, I’m seeing the way we were playing then. It’s textbook isolation basketball. Back in the last century, MJ would get the ball and the rest of us on the team would all stand around while he scored. It was a sight to see, but it wasn’t team basketball. What it was was all of us enabling MJ to showcase his best individual talent.
At some point, MJ realized that, as great as he was, he alone could not beat the Pistons. That’s what the Jordan Rules were all about — employing a defensive scheme with the sole purpose of limiting hero basketball. Similarly, LeBron has to commit to the team’s system of play. So far, he’s been incredible, but he’s not been a willing participant in the team. This is where trust comes in. He has to trust the system.
It reminds me of when everyone was telling Jordan he didn’t have enough to win. His teammates just weren’t good enough — me being one of them. What was really missing was the trust to win. Once MJ found that trust, we beat the Pistons and went on to win the NBA championship many times over. In doing so, MJ discovered that his teammates WERE good enough, because he was part of the team.
Greatness is empowered in a system where you pass the ball, not pound it. Everyone has to be committed to this system. The best player on the team has to realize that he needs the team in order to win — and I don’t mean passing the ball when he gets double-teamed. He, and everyone else, has to buy into the system. MJ passed me the ball not because he was being double-teamed, but because he trusted we were playing together as a group. Michael’s greatness was, in part, knowing how to move the pieces on the board in the triangle offense system of play. Isolation basketball will always be part of the game. But the system has to be predicated on ball movement and, more importantly, player movement.
LeBron James has proven he can lead by example. My wish for LeBron is to understand the following: He’s an exceptional leader because he leads by example. The next step on the road to Legend, which he’s already on, is to trust he’s the best player in the best system anywhere in basketball. Then his coach, the system and his teammates — the TEAM — will be good enough to win.
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