In light of Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday, he has found his way back into the limelight of the sports world. Because of this, you can’t turn on ESPN without hearing about Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, and everyone is asking – In their prime, who would win 1-on-1?
But since the two played in different eras, you can’t really answer that. Right? Wrong. First, we need to figure out what we’re comparing. Jordan had his best statistical year during the 1988-1989 season. But due to his inability to shoot the 3-ball, this was not him at his best. Jordan was at his best during the 1995-1996 season when he was 34 years old. James is playing the best basketball of his life right now so we’ll use the current 2012-2013 season for him.
Let’s be clear. We’re talking about Michael Jordan, not just Jordan. There’s a difference. Jordan is a legacy and a brand. The name, Jordan, or the idea of Jordan transcends human form. People have given deeper value to that name, considering him an untouchable being, not even a man anymore. A god, if you will. The legacy of Jordan rivals that of the GOAT, Muhammad Ali.
MICHAEL Jordan, the actual person, was a phenomenal athlete, and for a while, the greatest basketball player to ever live. THIS is who would be playing in the game against LeBron, not his legacy.
There would be two games played. The first one, James would win, simply because of the “big brother effect”. Every guy who has an older brother knows the feeling. Growing up you would always lose to your big brother because of the size difference. He was always just a little bigger and stronger and could just post you up every play. No matter who the more talented player was, the outcome was always the same until the little brother develops and catches up. In this situation, James would play big brother. While Jordan has an unmatched will to win, at a certain point, James would just push his lil bro around and take him to the hole.
At the end of the day, 6’9″ 265 is just too much for 6’6″ 220 to handle.
After the first game, there would be a rematch. Jordan wouldn’t be satisfied with losing and James wouldn’t be okay with the asterisk next to the win indicating that Hakeem Olajuwan’s individual post attention had finally paid off. So they’d play again and this time, he wouldn’t just post him up.
This time, the gameplan would be different, but the results would be the same. The thousands of people Witnessing James’ greatness would be in utter shock at how oddly human Jordan looks. Jaws would drop at the fact that even the great Jordan misses shots and could be defended. The score of the second would be closer than the 11-2 beatdown that Jordan would receive from his big brother in game one. This time he would manage 7 points. After knocking down a couple three-pointers with his newly increased range, he would get James to bite and have an easy dunk. But with the exception of one more money ball from downtown, he would be contained by the physical specimen that is LeBron James.
In no way, am I taking anything away from Jordan, he was the best player to ever play…until James came around. Kobe Bryant reached Jordan’s level, but only for a few seasons whereas Jordan maintained his “greatest ever” status for many years. I will say that in a 5-on-5 situation, Jordan did one thing that Bryant and James will never do as well – He made all those around him better. But for the sake of this 1-on-1 game, that doesn’t matter too much.
I’m not nearly informed or credible enough to say that Jordan is or isn’t the best player ever. From what I’ve seen, LeBron James fits that title, but who am I to determine that?
Older generations will all say Jordan is the best because that’s who they grew up watching. That’s the measuring stick that was established during their time. Younger kids grew up with the idea of Jordan as the greatest ever and were taught to believe that. Many of which have probably never seen him play. We turn on ESPN and see highlights of him dunking on people or hitting buzzer-beaters. That’s all we’re ever shown.
I challenge everyone who blindly declares Jordan the greatest ever to go back in the archives and actually watch his full games. Sure, he’s going to be very impressive, maybe even the best you’ve ever seen. But he’ll look strangely human. It catches you by surprise to see him miss a shot, or commit a turnover, or to get beat on defense. This is because his hype has built him up to be perfect. But at the end of the day, watching him play isn’t too different than watching Bryant. In fact, it’s scarily similar.
Because of Michael Jordan’s success on and off the court, his legacy will never be matched. Players such as Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James will come along who are as talented, but will not brand themselves the same way Jordan did, and that is why Jordan will always be considered the greatest basketball player ever.
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