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Wiggins: Will He Follow the Path To Legendary?

The lasting words from Jim Durham and Johnny Kerr live on as one of the greatest basketball players of all time fearlessly drained a 15 foot jumper.

“The inbounds pass comes in to Jordan. Here’s Michael at the foul line, the shot on Ehlo… Good! The Bulls win it! They win it!”

“The Shot” put the Chicago Bulls ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-100 as time expired in game 4 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Semifinals.  As Michael Jordan jumped into the air, he also jumped into the history books, adding another game winning shot to his career.  Jordan would go on to win the 1993 NBA Finals as well as another Finals MVP award adding more Finals hardware to his collection of accolades.

Cleveland had come so close.  If it wasn’t for Number 23, who knows where the Cavaliers could have gone in ‘92, ‘93, and ‘94.  Jordan, along with the Knicks and Pacers in ‘95, ‘96, and ‘97, left a bad taste in Cavalier fans’ mouths for several years, until a savior was born in Akron, Ohio.

LeBron James was born on December 30th, 1984.  Born from a single mother, James grew up moving from apartment to apartment searching for a bright light through many years of dark times.

Luckily for James, a friend introduced him to the game of basketball.

James began doing things athletically nobody could do at such a young age.  Just to name a few: he was dunking a basketball at 15 and making incredible catches at the wide receiver position while playing the sport of football.

Even more impressively, he combined his athleticism and unique skillset into a dominating basketball player.

In his senior year of high school, James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game in his senior year, setting himself up well to be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.

After playing in the EA Sports Roundball Classic, the Jordan Capital Classic, and the 2003 McDonald’s All-American Game, James announced he would not pursue college and would enter the 2003 NBA Draft right out of high school.

By fate or by fortune, the Cavaliers went on to win the draft lottery, giving them the first overall pick in the draft.

They would draft James, who was leaving high school as one of the most hyped basketball players of all time.

LeBron James had the ideal tools to become one of the best basketball players in the NBA.  With that came very high expectations from the media and diehard Cavaliers fans.

The question was begged: Would LeBron James become the next Michael Jordan?

Much like Jordan, James would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award, after averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game.  He became the first Cavalier to win the award and joined Jordan as one of three rookies in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in their rookie campaigns. Within a couple of seasons, LeBron would be ready to lead his team to the playoffs, doing so 6 consecutive years starting in 2006.

“Mo Williams will throw in. Rashard Lewis playing off the ball. Williams gets it to LeBron. For three, for the win.. Yes! LeBron James at the Buzzer!”

Jordan had his way with the Cavaliers, but it was time for “The King” to return the favor, even if it wasn’t against the Bulls.  Michael Jordan no longer had the most famous buzzer-beater in Cleveland sports history.  “We just couldn’t afford to go down 0-2,” James said. “That’s just a great shot. Now we have to get ready for Game 3. There’s a lot to clean up.”  

Unfortunately, the league’s MVP couldn’t clean it up enough as the Cavs would go on to lose the series against the Orlando Magic in Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.

None of that mattered though. Basketball, like many sports, is a sport where success is determined mostly by the amount of championships won.

Questions were now at an all-time high whilst comparing James and Michael Jordan.

Both won MVP awards for the first time in their respective careers just 4 seasons into their journey.  They also had gone to the playoffs 4 years in a row, yet couldn’t get their hands on a Finals Championship.

LeBron entered the 2010 playoffs with a hefty load on his back.  It was his last year under contract with the Cavaliers, and much speculation was had about whether or not James would be back in a Cavs jersey the following year.

In the eyes of many NBA fans, it was now or never for LeBron to lead his team to a championship.

The Cavs would play a very tough Boston Celtics team in the Eastern Conference Finals.  LeBron showed flashes of Air Jordan, finishing Game 6 with a triple double.

Once again, his efforts didn’t matter.  The ultimate goal of a championship still had not been achieved.

“The Boston Celtics with the huge upset, they advance to the Conference Finals.  LeBron James’ season is over.  Is his career in Cleveland over? – Jim Durham

LeBron went on to take his talents to South Beach Miami in the offseason.  This lead to much hatred directed towards James by Cleveland fans, and quite notably from owner Dan Gilbert

Questions now swirled around about his career and legacy in comparison with MJ, even though it wouldn’t be until Jordan’s 7th playoff appearance that he would walk away a champion.

The notion that James was not living up to the expectations of Jordan continued to gain more and more traction around the NBA.

The media and the fans said that LeBron didn’t have the same competitive nature that Jordan had.  The move to Miami made many think that LeBron “couldn’t do it on his own,” and lead to people mentioning that Jordan never left the Bulls when he wasn’t winning.

James finally got the monkey off of his back, winning his first title in 2012 with the Miami Heat.  The Heat won the following year as well.

James went to the Finals all four years he played in Miami, including winning back-to-back titles.

While a great accomplishment, Michael Jordan completed a three-peat….. twice.  Critics said that LeBron choked. and that he wasn’t even close to the player Jordan was because of the failure.

Now, it was time to come back home to Cleveland in order to quiet the doubters, and restore his legacy with the team he began his career with.

James returned to the Finals in 2015, but fell short again losing to the Golden State Warriors.  There wouldn’t be as much backlash from this loss though.  He simply didn’t have a good enough supporting cast to win a championship, as injuries ravaged the Cavaliers.

LeBron has had an unbelievable career so far, yet many believe Jordan was by far a better player than James.

Most of that is based on the fact that Jordan won 6 championships with the Bulls, while James has only 2 championships, with 4 Finals losses.  Championships are key to any basketball player’s career, but side-by-side LeBron’s stats match up well with Jordan’s.

Michael Jordan has one more MVP award than James, but LeBron has made one more All-NBA team than MJ.

The debate will never end.  For one player though, it’s just getting started.  His name: Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario.  His father, Mitchell Wiggins, played in the NBA.  His mom, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a former Olympic track and field sprinter.

Wiggins was exceptionally athletic growing up.  He could run like a deer and jump out of the gym.  Eventually he would grow into his 6 foot 8 inch, 200 pound frame.

With so many highlight films online and nearly unlimited information about college prospects these days, comparisons begin extremely early in a player’s career, as they did for Wiggins.

The frame of Wiggins alone was enough to kick-start the comparisons to LeBron James and Michael Jordan.  LeBron is 6’8”, 240 pounds, and Jordan was 6’6”, 216 pounds.

Due to coming from extremely athletic parents, and the aforementioned body type, scouts were already drooling about Andrew Wiggins.  With a body and athletic build similar to Jordan and James, scouts liked to think he could become the next Jordan or LeBron.

Wiggins cruised through high school just like LeBron before him.  He put up ridiculous numbers.  His name began to catch on like a wildfire.

If someone hadn’t heard of Andrew Wiggins, it was only a matter of time before they would.  Especially after his senior season where he averaged 23.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game.

Wiggins posted numbers reasonably close to what LeBron accomplished in his senior year of high school.  Not only were the numbers comparable, but the way he moved without the ball, his motor, his leaping ability, and raw jumpshot, all were very similar to LeBron.

Wiggins had the wow factor.  His film impressed everyone.  Everything he did was better than any other prospect.

Eventually, he would be ranked the top prospect for his class.  From then on, everything Wiggins did on a basketball court would be watched and analyzed in every way possible.  At one point, he was criticized for his work ethic.

Wiggins responded by scoring 57 points in his next game.

In 2013, he would be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year; the highest award in high school basketball.  Wiggins would finish his senior year campaign playing in the Jordan Brand Classic All-American game as well as the McDonald’s All-American game, just like LeBron James did.

If it wasn’t for new NCAA rules, Wiggins would have entered the NBA right out of high school, just like LeBron James did.

Instead, it was time to select a college to play for in order to make him draft eligible.

This would be a very tough decision.  The rumors began to fly around about where he would end up.  Florida State was the early favorite, considering both of his parents attended school there.  However, every major program was doing all they could do within NCAA rules to get his signature on their letter of intent, and it would be a long, difficult process.

The wait was over on May 14th, 2013.  Andrew Wiggins committed to Kansas after weighing his other top options: Florida State, Kentucky, and North Carolina.  The hype of Andrew Wiggins kept growing and comparisons did as well.  

At Kansas, Wiggins went through some growing pains and hit some bumps in the road.  People questioned whether he really was the best player in the nation.  At times, he looked lost. His raw fundamentals were apparent.

Playing in the Big 12 Conference was tough, and the intense expectations of Kansas fans made it tougher.

Fans began to ask how in the world this guy was comparable to LeBron James or Michael Jordan.

Wiggins would respond just like he had done in high school.  On January 13th, 2014, the 15th ranked Kansas Jayhawks would play the 8th ranked Iowa State Cyclones.

At the half, the score was knotted up at 36.  However, the Jayhawks would pull away, and for the first time, Wiggins looked like the player he was hyped to be.  He scored 17 points and pulled down an incredible 19 rebounds in Ames, Iowa.

The confidence and determination started to become very apparent.  His mannerisms started to look more and more like MJ and LeBron.  After that impressive double-double, Wiggins would score 27 points against TCU, and then another 29 against Iowa State, this time in Allen Fieldhouse.

On March 8, 2014, the phenom scored 41 points against West Virginia.  He was now well on his way to the number 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

In his one year of college, Wiggins put up Jordan-esque numbers, as they both averaged over 17 points and over 5 rebounds per game in college.

However, a very important question still lingered: Can he do it in the NBA?

In June of 2014, the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the draft lottery.  They had the number one pick and everyone knew what they would do with it.  Cleveland fans began to regain hope and trust in their team. Andrew Wiggins  was the easy choice to be the first pick in the draft, and Cavs fans hoped he would be the next King in Cleveland.

But then, LeBron shockingly returned to The Land, and speculation began that Wiggins wouldn’t be with the team very much longer.

The Cavaliers were ready to win immediately.  The unproven Wiggins needed to be traded in order to make room for All-Star Kevin Love in Cleveland.  Eventually the deal was done, and Andrew Wiggins was on his way to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Wiggins started all 82 games of his rookie season.  He averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists.  Once again, very similar to the numbers that LeBron and Jordan had put up in their rookie seasons.

Jordan globalized the game, making it more popular than ever before.  For many, Michael Jordan was and is the greatest basketball player of all-time.  However, the comparisons will always be present.

Everyone is always looking for the next best thing.  Who will transcend the game the way MJ did?  LeBron is making his case.  Will Andrew Wiggins make a strong case for himself?

He comes from an athletic family, played for a top college and coach at Kansas, and was the number one overall pick.  Only time will tell. Until then, the comparisons and debate will never end.