Does it Matter if LeBron James is Better Than Michael Jordan?
The recent airing of ESPN’s popular The Last Dance documentary mini-series about NBA star Michael Jordan’s wildly successful career and run at a sixth and final championship has stirred the fires of re-evaluating whether or not he is the greatest player of all-time (which has been a popular opinion for the better part of the last 25–30 years). Current star LeBron James is the player who has most often been presented as the alternative choice. No matter what side you may take in the Michael versus LeBron debate, the central question that must be asked is does it really matter?
There should be universal consensus that regardless of the direction the wind blows, Jordan and James are two of the most talented and successful players to ever step on a basketball court. Anyone who can say with a straight face that they are not may want to take up another sport. However, even the successful invention of a time machine wouldn’t be able to definitively settle the debate as to which of them were better, so why are so many people trying?
Making comparisons can be a lot of fun, especially in sports. Heck, even I enjoy dabbling occasionally, including in this particular topic. In truth, it really is an exercise in futility, given the lack of any final word that can ever be truly achieved in such debates. It really comes down to the deep satisfaction we have as human beings in taking a stance on an issue, drawing a line in the sand and defending our side until the end of time. The only reality is our own and any contrary opinion is processed as purely irrational.
The James/Jordan debate really comes down to two different generations with distinctly different styles of NBA play battling for supremacy. Jordan represents his era of play — a more physical style that came with rougher defense and more team-oriented basketball; emphasizing passing and ball movement. LeBron and his era are congruent with freestyling, three-pointers and more one-on-one play. In many ways this is an extension of the Boomer versus Millennial face-off that has permeated society in recent years but no less frustrating for each person who so strongly believes in how they feel.
Nitpicking at the abilities and results of great players like Jordan and LeBron only serve to diminish the argument. I personally believe Jordan to be the better player but since it can’t be by that wide of a margin, I have to come to terms with it being an opinion instead of fact.
There may be some 85-year-old sitting somewhere believing that George Mikan, the original NBA big man, is the greatest player of all time. Who am I or anyone else to tell them otherwise? When you think about it, there is no universal definition as to the perfect basketball player. Everyone has their own specifications and things they like and don’t like. If you look hard enough, you can identify stats or narratives that support your argument. That still doesn’t make it the final word.
Sports debates are similar to the action on the field of play itself. There will always be a strong element of competition, as different sides jockey for supremacy. If you can get past this, which admittedly most cannot, does it make a great deal of difference if a player is considered the best of all time instead of the second; the fifth; the sixth?
What we can say with absolute certainty is that Jordan and James are two of the greatest players in the history of the NBA and two of the best athletes the world has ever seen. Regardless of how you may want to rank them, they have brought respective significant impacts to the worlds of sports and culture and that most definitely does matter.