The debate between who’s better, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, is never going away. Everyone from Twitter users to TV talking heads like Stephen A. Smith has made that discussion a permanent fixture of the sports world.
James and Jordan haven’t ever pretended that the conversation isn’t out there. There is no ignoring the reality that James could be chasing Jordan until both are long gone. It’s interesting, then, to hear Jordan’s belief of when there may be a significant and meaningful answer.
Michael Jordan said LeBron James could be as revered as him in 20 years
Some numbers and statistics don’t lie, especially in surveys. So when the Harris Poll went out in 2009 and 2015 to ask Americans who they believed were the greatest athletes of all time, the results spoke for themselves.
Jordan topped the list in both years, with baseball legend Babe Ruth and boxing great Muhammad Ali right behind him. Tiger Woods finished second in 2009 but fell to eighth in 2015; Ruth and Ali each moved up a spot.
In a 2020 interview with Cigar Aficionado, Jordan and Marvin Shanken, the outlet’s publisher, discussed those rankings. The six-time champion remarked that he was easily the youngest of those three and explained he felt recency bias played a role in him topping the list.
“So, in essence, it’s all elevated on who is watching now. If you ask 20 years from now, I’m pretty sure LeBron may be me, you know, based on who’s going to be making the voting. … If you ask me, I can never give you an opinion about things like that because as an athlete, all you want to do is be the best athlete you can do.“
Jordan’s commentary might have finally answered the question about determining who’s better
Perhaps the worst part about the James and Jordan debate is that there is no end in sight. The majority of people are already locked into their side and cast their non-existent vote.
LeBron James, Michael Jordan comparisons are difficult to make because MJ & LBJ didn’t play in the same era MJ’s Bulls teammate Toni Kukoc shared during our @zennioptical EYECONS Q&A.
“Never played against each other.
“Michael brought world basketball to another level.” pic.twitter.com/jWaNRbuqiP
— 👑 Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson (@ScoopB) July 19, 2021
Jordan’s estimated timeframe makes sense. Many of those surveyed in 2040 will have grown up watching James and may have been too young to see Jordan in his prime with the Chicago Bulls.
That’s what makes Jordan’s commentary so fascinating. In a way, the final answer might not come through advanced stats or how many rings James, who has four, has when he finally retires. It might instead fall to the people making their thoughts heard through a reputable survey.
With that said, think about who ranked immediately behind Jordan in 2015. Ruth became the first superstar athlete and almost feels like a myth now. His called shot in the 1932 World Series is something out of a fantasy novel, not an actual game.
Ali was a legend in the ring who also made a global impact as an activist and philanthropist. He represented the era of change in America, and Ruth embodied the Roaring Twenties and a nation devoting eyes, ears, and dollars to sports.
Even if the Harris Poll is conducted in 2070, those three still may rank in the top-five despite the vast majority of voters never seeing them compete. Similarly, it will be interesting to see where James ranks if they do the survey again anytime soon. The Los Angeles Lakers star finished seventh in 2015 behind that trio, Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, and Joe Montana.
The debate between James and Jordan will still never end
"Michael Jordan is the greatest scorer ever but I think LeBron James is the best scorer of his era." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/Kp2oPhb3jv
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) May 18, 2021
With the Brady-Mahomes comparisons off the table, bar patrons and Twitter users may return to discussing if LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.
Please, don’t have that conversation either. ESPN and Fox Sports have embraced that debate for over a decade, dating back to before James even won his first championship.
James is the greatest player of his generation, and he’s easily the best to take the court since Jordan retired for good after the 2002-03 season. Can’t that be enough? Why does everything need to be a debate? Those who prefer Jordan will never concede, and those who grew up watching James will almost certainly choose him.
And eventually, perhaps the same conversation will happen with Brady and Mahomes. Those who watched the bulk of Brady’s career will argue he’s the best, and younger fans who saw every throw Mahomes made will be inclined to choose him. History tends to repeat that way.