It’s the debate that never ends. It’s the pineapples and pizza of the sporting world.
LeBron or Jordan.
What do you see when you think of Michael Jordan? Shoes? The tongue? Flu game? Rings?
What do you see when you think of LeBron? “Crab dribbles?” The Decision? or Bringing a ship to The Land?
We lived LeBron. We’re living LeBron. All the triumphs, all the failures, we dissect and remember. Early triumphs like game winners in the playoffs against Orlando to countless second passes that end in a missed corner-3, we critique him with the gamut of being the chosen one to lacking the killer instinct it takes to be the GOAT.
But the arguments never leave the court. The impact each has had in their respective eras are touched by none, and the stats can be euro-stepped into any narrative you want to make. In my opinion, the answer will never be settled if we stick strictly to game. But if you take game + impact, here we can see a difference.
Other players had signature shoes before him, but when Jordan teamed up with Tinker Hatfield over at Nike and started pumping out Jordan 3, 4, 5’s and on… There was a shift. Those things took over a culture and are responsible for sub-economies centered entirely around the sneaker shopping game. The Jordan Brand has been integral in shaping off-court culture for over 20 years and is just as strong today. Pickup games, new-school fits, fashion lines, you name it. You can find a pair of Jordan’s on anyone from a 7-year-old baller from the burbs to Darren Rovell.
But Jordan wasn’t regarded around the league, or even the world, as a well-liked individual. Now I never met him, he could actually be a swell guy. He seemed to make a great flight companion in those Haines “bacon-neck” commercials back in the day, but rumors still fly to this day about the true motivation to leave basketball mid ‘90’s for baseball, and his relationship with the public hasn’t always been…amicable, to say the least.
In the political realm, Jordan didn’t necessarily jump to the podium. “Republicans buy shoes, too” is the extent of what I know about his leanings. Maybe he was staying in his lane knowing the masses don’t want to hear political opinions from a basketball player. Maybe that isn’t a great line of thinking in and of itself. Who am I to say?
What I will say is that, in regard to establishing change outside of the court, LeBron is in a league of his own.
LeBron has continually found ways to motivate, inspire, and bring aide to the communities around him. The LeBron James Family Foundation spends about $1 million a year focused on education. His “I Promise” campaign pledges over $40 million in scholarship funds for Akron-based students. In partnership with the Akron school board, he is opening his own public school also in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
LeBron has been at the pinnacle of sport for over a decade and never faltered. High school sweetheart, father of three, he’s remained a role model to millions after being thrust into a situation at 18 years old that nobody could even dream of. He may be corny as hell on Instagram and he may have robbed the world of witnessing him in the dunk contest, but he may just be the best face of any professional league – ever.
LeBron is also “more than just an athlete.”
You may have heard about his public spat with journalist Laura Ingraham. More on that here.
While Jordan has stayed away from political statements because “Republicans buy shoes, too,” LeBron has always publicly held his stance. He’s made multiple statements through the NBA in his career that have moved the needle on political issues. He’s no politician – so take it as you will. The pushback against listening to athletes because they are athletes and not qualified to speak on the subject is tiring. The fact of the matter is he is standing for his values and not letting a paycheck hold his tongue.
Yes, I know Michael Jordan gives back. I know he donates, inspires, and motivates millions. But I believe LeBron, coined a “super hero” by the great Gregg Popovich, is the one who is truly facilitating change and is doing the dirty work at a grassroot level.
Regardless, you have two players in two different eras that played two different positions. Both were the best player on the planet in their prime. Both did things their own way.
I’m going LeBron over Jordan for social impact reasons. Case closed, see ya next week.