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A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Jordan or LeBron?

With the legacy of LeBron James growing after every NBA season, the debate whether he has surpassed Michael Jordan as the best basketball player ever is also heating up. Of course, it is extremely difficult to compare two players from different eras in a team sport, but it is certainly fun.

When one looks at statistics, neither player has a clear advantage. Michael Jordan had a slightly higher average number of points, but a slightly lower number of rebounds and assists. LeBron's shooting percentage is a bit higher as well. James is bigger and bulkier than Jordan was, but he doesn't play that close to the basket. He has the ball in his hands most of the time, which makes him a point guard in a sense, while Jordan always had someone else handling the ball in his teams, and he was a true shooting guard. Both James and Jordan are incredibly athletic, but Jordan, a bit leaner, looked a bit more gracious.

A lot of pundits and fans point out to the fact that Michael Jordan has never lost in an NBA finals, and that he has won more championship rings than LeBron, who has more runner-up finishes than titles, but this circumstance can hardly be a factor in a team sport. The 1990s Chicago Bulls had perfect chemistry between the coach and the team, with no one -- not even the brilliant Scottie Pippen -- challenging Jordan's role as the leader of the team. James has already changed his team twice, and usually has a squad of minor support characters around him. This year the Cleveland Cavaliers were not particularly talented as individuals, and it was almost entirely thanks to James' superhuman effort that they made it to the finals, where they encountered a team with an almost all-star roster.

With the conclusion that they have very similar physical abilities, the debate can now turn over to the mental toughness. I have never seen an athlete as confident and determined as Jordan was, but LeBron is not far off. His desire and assurance have certainly reached equal heights in the past few seasons. Both of them were just destined to succeed, and they managed to handle and balance their popularity and celebrity status well. Jordan was the first to make his name into a brand, and he did not seem to falter under a great media attention, but LeBron is strongly following in his footsteps.

The only intangible factor not mentioned is the charisma. Charisma is not directly related to the game of basketball, but  it is an important factor in the debate about the personalities of these two players, which is also part of their general rank as entertainers and public figures. Neither of the two is particularly witty or eloquent, but the feeling is that Jordan had more of that trait we call charm or presence, which has helped him reach the pinnacle of the pyramid called the sports' all-time greats. Charisma cannot decide the debate who the greatest player is, but it might explain the deciding reason why most basketball fans still think Jordan is the greatest.

Svetozar Postic

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