The Jordan v. James Fallacy

Edit done by Dalan Overstreet

We are officially in the valley of the sports calendar. As I am writing this, College Football is still a couple months away. The NFL, through sheer dedication to incompetence, has everyone in a weird spot. There’s Baseball, which, ugh, sorry I’ll never be a fan. I have reconciled with that fact. Lastly, we’re as far away from a new NBA season as possible. I don’t know, maybe it’s time to give Soccer a try.

I’m being dramatic. I barely paid attention to the NBA this season. We all kinda knew how this whole thing would go, right? There were a few surprises, but the conclusion was akin to death and taxes.  We’re actually approaching what has become the least predictable, and my favorite, time of the Basketball Season: NBA Free Agency.  We’re not quite to the fun part yet, though. We have to do the whole, “how do we define careers?” thing now.  By that I mean we’re going to talk about Lebron James.

Lebron and the Cavs fell short again this year, if being swept count as, “falling short”. The Finals loss doesn’t really matter, at least in the context of this post. This blog piece isn’t about assessing legacies, its about assessing the conversation about legacies, or at least one aspect of the conversation.

The GOAT debates always inspire passion, especially within Basketball. The sport is just different than other major American sports leagues. The foundation of the NFL and MLB is more predicated on a connection to the city and its people, the rivalries and tradition. There are some teams that fit that mold in the Association (ex: Celtics, Knicks), but NBA has always been about its stars.  The Greatest player isn’t just the best, he’s the game’s avatar.

Lebron’s career has never been analyzed in a vacuum. It has always been placed against the resumes of Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and, for the focus of this blog, Michael Jordan. MJ has been widely acknowledged as the greatest Basketball player for over two decades. That’s a pretty decent chunk of the NBA’s history, but for some, including myself, that’s essentially forever. To challenge Jordan’s mantle is to challenge an opinion the 20-something-year-olds have held as fact.

What makes Jordan the greatest ever exactly?  Well, a lot. I could list the stats, but I have to reiterate that actually comparing them isn’t the point here. Just know he scored a lot of points, won 5 MVPs and went undefeated in the NBA Finals. He also sold a bunch of sneakers, changed how brands market their products and starred in a movie with the Looney Tunes that six-year old me didn’t realize was bad at the time. Jordan truly became a 20th Century icon.

How does Lebron James stack up? If you’re interested, take a look. Suffice it to say, Lebron is a once in a generation player.  His teams have a crazy streak of reaching the Finals, has posted some insane numbers in his last four trips to said Finals and seems to be a candidate to score more points than anyone by the time he calls it a career. On top of this, he has built his own branding empire and the autonomy he has shown during Free Agency has shaped the NBA for almost a decade.

So who do I think is better? My answer: Does anyone actually care what I say?

This is the flaw of the Jordan vs. James debate: It’s reactive and defensive.

The problem in this isn’t the question, but the response. I doubt my opinion could ever sway any minds…and that is the point. My answer would only serve as validation to some and be instantly rejected by others. The debate has turned into an exercise in confirmation, too partisan to be discussed objectively.

There is, obviously, a debate we could have. They are two Titans of the sport with comparable numbers and achievements. There is merit in the topic.  As I stated earlier though, the NBA stands on the greatness of individuals. There is a side-effect to it: The “Player” Fan.

When I was a kid, I was definitely a Michael Jordan fan and would’ve followed him to the gates of Hell if he ever took his talents there. I grew out of that and became a miserable Pistons fan. Some never adopted a team, forever aligning themselves to a name rather than a jersey. When you realize this, the nonsensical, stubborn nature of this makes far more sense. Whether they remained with Jordan or made a switch to Lebron, Kobe or whoever else, that’s THEIR guy. They are as dedicated to these players as some are to their hometowns or alumni are to their schools. No matter what, you’ll defend your side forever. With this, the debate straddles a line between legit discussion and fan-boy dreck.

As someone who doesn’t care what the answer is I’d love thoughtful dialogue on this. Michael Jordan and Lebron James are the two best players I’ve ever seen (sorry not sorry, Kobe). Maybe when Lebron retires it’ll be better, or at least entertaining again.  As for now, I’ve checked out.

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