The Athletic has finished their reveal of the greatest 75 players in NBA history just in time for All-Star weekend in Cleveland. To no one’s surprise the top three players, according to their panel are Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Removing “Cap” from the discussion, though I could easily argue he’s the best, the MJ vs. Bron debate for the top spot has people losing their minds. Head of Klutch Sports and Bron’s friend Rich Paul believes his guy’s journey was just as hard, if not harder than MJ’s.
“The road for LeBron was just as hard, if not harder than the road was for Michael,” said Rich Paul, LeBron’s agent and longtime friend. “For a number of reasons. And I think the biggest reason is, everyone wants you to do something the way somebody else did it previously.”
Comparison is the thief of joy. But sports fans can’t help themselves and these debates drive so much of the NBA’s coverage and online chatter.
Before LeBron arrived on the scene, MJ was considered the greatest player of all-time. His six championships, six Finals MVPs, five league MVPs, etc. in the collective consciousness of sports fans meant he was the GOAT.
It was a combination of supreme on court play, his swag factor, and the Nike marketing machine. MJ was ubiquitous, and he was the face of the NBA. We thought we’d never see someone dominate like that again.
Along came Bron, thrust into the spotlight as a high school sophomore, on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior and dubbed “The Chosen One.”
From that moment on the MJ comparisons began.
“LeBron was a kid. (The media) wanted LeBron to be like Mike; they wanted Michael to speak to them in any capacity, which he probably didn’t,” said Paul. “They wanted Michael to be his friend, which he probably wasn’t. They also wanted LeBron to act like, be like Michael, and he wasn’t. There were more people that smiled and hoped LeBron failed than there ever was rooting for him to succeed in the beginning.”
As to which player’s road to greatness was “harder” how do we even measure that? Being a multiple-time champion, MVP, All-Star, and All-NBA selection isn’t easy. That level of consistency is hard, no matter what era you played in. There’s a reason the list of players to have won three or more titles, two or more MVPs, and two or more Finals MVPs is short.
What MJ, Bron and Kareem accomplished is on another level.
Who had the more difficult path to greatness: MJ or LeBron?
— First Take (@FirstTake) February 18, 2022
What we can say definitively is this. All three players are in a league of their own as it relates to all time greats.
What LeBron has done since high school is simply incredible. He was a child superstar with all the expectations in the world, and he’s lived up to them. The fact that he hasn’t fallen off the rails is amazing, given what history has shown us with child superstars.
If you want to argue number of champions go ahead and do that. But it’s a silly and reductive point to argue. Championships are team awards, yet somehow the average sports fan equates them to a single individual. Nobody wins titles alone.
Instead of debating who had it harder, enjoy the fact that you’ve had the privilege of witnessing greatness.
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