Being athletically gifted is something most of the human population won’t experience so living vicariously through one’s favorite professional athlete can become a daily obsession. For anyone 35 years or older, Michael Jordan would arguably be the greatest basketball player to ever grace the court. For anyone younger their choice for the “Greatest Of All Time” would probably be Lebron James. Comparing Jordan And James is one of the most complicated sports comparisons in history. Due to changes in NBA rules and much of the bravado and physical-ness leaving the game, Jordan voters would agree that Lebron James has had to deal with a lot less of the brutal punishment that his “airness” faced throughout his hall of fame career. How would “King James” fans respond to that statement? They would intensely argue the fact that athletes in today’s era are bigger, stronger, faster and if Jordan played in this era he would not be able to take the physical punishment that an otherwise 6’8 260 pound Lebron James handles game to game. Reviewing the more empty parts of this argument will more likely cause this debate to end in a stalemate, but going over some of the more valid points may help clear the air on this fan battle that will last for decades to come.
Talking heads and pundits would go straight to the stat book and claim that six title rings without ever losing a championship series would be the clincher that makes Jordan the greatest. A very true statement. Michael Jordan never lost in a championship series. But there would have to be a more meticulous look at his career in order to cast a vote in the Air Jordan box for greatest of all time. Michael Jordan never decided to move on to an all-star loaded team. Michael Jordan was nothing less than abused when he finished at the basket especially after his long time rival Detroit Pistons invoked “the Jordan Rules.” The only way to really decide how much of an impact that the physical part has on this argument of the greatest player is to bring to light that the NBA has been “skinny-jeanified.” Yes the athletes are bigger and stronger and can obviously put a hurting on anyone, but there is a level of softness that did not exist during the Jordan era. Nevertheless Lebron James has at times been brutally punished when driving and finishing at the hoop. His body may indeed look like it was a personal project of God himself but this doesn’t mean he escapes the game by game assault. Let’s not be fruitless in our review by saying something dumb like “Jordan was a lot smaller so he was tougher.” Using someone’s physical superiority against them is a ploy by a physically inferior individual to push some hapless agenda. It’s an absolute fact that Lebron James has more physical talent than Michael Jordan. But on the flip side of this coin, Jordan possessed a mental grasp to the game that made everything he did on the court truly instinctive.
Now then what may be the only reasonable point that could tip the scales of this argument is era-swapping. Would Michael Jordan win six championship rings in this era? And if he did would he be able to 3-peat twice? And if you put Lebron James in the late 80’s and 90’s era would he be as dominate going to the basket with guys like Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman who were vested assassins guarding the paint. Side note. Would James get away with so much traveling in an era before refs admitted to fixing games (double click me). Lebron James physical attributes would make him a dominate force in that era irregardless of traveling calls and referees who had a little more integrity towards the game. Even the best defenders such as Dennis Rodman would have had nightmares trying to contain one of history’s greatest human specimens. If Jordan was in the current era he would have a mental advantage on any of active player. While the NBA has become a realm for the supreme athlete with guys who literally jump over other human beings and even small sedans as a form of entertainment, the mental toughness of the game is sheepish. Bottomline. Unless there is the invention of an era swapping time machine, fans of Jordan and James will continue to have a futile argument. The fact is that both hall of fame players would be great in any era because of their entire skill set that they brought and bring to the game. Currently Jordan retains the title of “greatest of all time”. And it won’t be until Lebron James retires that we have a clearer debate on whether “King James” usurps the crown and throne from “his Airness.” Love it or hate it but in the end….it is what is.