June 21, 2024

The just concluded National Basketball Association 2020 finals saw the crowning of the Los Angeles Lakers as champions. Although it was a shortened season and the games were held closed doors in a bubble, the championship is as historic as any other. Not even the pandemic could diminish the sweetness of the victory. It is the 17th championship trophy for the Los Angeles Lakers, tying with the Boston Celtics, as the franchise with the most number of championships in the NBA.
After the conclusion of game six against an overmatched Miami Heat, Lakers superstar Lebron James was awarded the Most Valuable Player. It was his fourth in as many championships that he won. With that, he put a stamp of greatness in his career and earned for himself the distinction of contending to be the best player to ever play the game. Henceforth, basketball fanatics cannot help but compare him with another NBA great in the person of Michael Jordan. Everybody in the basketball world is wondering whether James is in a position to surpass Jordan as the “greatest of all time” (GOAT) or has already done so. The debate rages on.
Long regarded as the best ever basketball player in the universe, Jordan held the title for quite some time. Nobody came close to his talent and ability. He was “Air Jordan.” He was the most recognizable face and the most popular athlete in the planet. He was way ahead of his time. The way he played basketball was more than superb. He was poetry in motion. He was unstoppable in ways no other player can be. He had everything. He was strong, he had an incomparable thirst for winning, he was charismatic, he played with grace under pressure, he had a mind and body that defied logic, he was as much a born winner as he was a born leader. Larry Bird best described him when he said that “he is a god disguised as Michael Jordan.”
But all good things must come to an end. The Jordan era is about to end and the Lebron James era is about to begin. Of course, Jordan fans will disagree. They will feel slighted with the thought that James is being compared to Jordan. To them, Jordan is and will always be the GOAT. To them, James is a mere pretender who does not even come close to what Jordan accomplished in the court. Oh yeah? Let me be a part of the debate. I say that James is far better than Jordan.
I think that the only reason why Jordan is being considered to be the GOAT is because he was born in an era when basketball, specifically the NBA, was at the pinnacle of its popularity. It was during the Chicago Bull’s dynasty that basketball was on an upswing and players from the NBA were looked upon as more than mortals. Jordan was way above the game during those times and people around the world easily noticed because the level of talent is not as dense as it is now. Whereas before, Jordan only had to contend with his fellow American players since Europe, Asia, Africa, and other continents were in no position to produce top caliber players this time around. James had to compete with players like Jokic, Antekoukumpo, Doncic, and others equally as exciting and athletic, coming from all over the world. Despite the flow of foreign players to the NBA, James still dominates.
To me, the greatest of Jordan is the creation of media. He was hyped because of his endorsement value. Those who were polled to evaluate and assess who in their opinion is the GOAT, like Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’ Neal, snd Charles Barkeley, are people who are biased for Jordan. They were players during the Jordan era and they played against him. Some are his very close friends. Having some measure of intimacy with his “Airness,” they will vote for him. True, some of these players had their game days overlap with that of James, however, they were then already at the twilight of their careers with the coming upstart still to carve a name for himself. In fairness, the poll should include the contemporaries of James so as to garner a fair jury.
In terms of likability, Jordan is far, far off from James. It is easier to relate with Jordan than it is with James. Fathers and mothers would most likely pick Jordan to be the role model for their children rather than James. Jordan is fashionable and lives a clean life. He makes no political statements and was never involved in any scandal. The same cannot be said of James. He has an opinion on every political issue and his life inside and outside the court is as scandalous as his background. This, by itself, is a major factor why people say Jordan is the greater player than James. But the sole factor in determining who the GOAT between the two should be limited inside the basketball court because that is where the comparison must boil down to. In terms of accomplishment, James has done more.
James made an instant contender of every team he played for notwithstanding the sub-par players that were cast beside him. During his rookie year, he towed the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers to the semi-finals. He was in the finals for every NBA season save for last year when he just moved with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won his first championship in his fourth season and won three more with different teams. At the age of 35 he is showing no signs of slowing down, meaning he will win more. Regardless of where he plays, he is dominant.
The same cannot be said of Jordan. True, he was sensational during his rookie year, but not even his acrobatics can qualify his team to the final four. He won his first championship in his seventh season only because he had to reorient his game to learn that winning is a team effort. Sure, his six championships were both three peats but so were the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell in the 1960s and the Los Angeles Lakers of Kobe Bryant in the 1990s. Nothing unusual with that. Jordan retired then unretired than retired and again unretired. His stint with the Washington Wizards for two seasons was nothing but forgettable. The only reason why he was there was because he is Michael Jordan.
It is a pity that Jordan’s career and that of James did not coincide with each other. Otherwise, I am pretty sure there will be no further debate on who is the GOAT.