LeBron James is the best player to ever pick up a basketball, but Michael Jordan will always be The Greatest.
It doesn’t matter whether or not LeBron wins tonight. In fact, he’ll probably lose. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is having the most dominating Finals performance in history. And it doesn’t change the fact that he can do more on a basketball court than anyone we have ever laid our eyes on.
And it also doesn’t change the fact that, in terms of legacy, nothing will change. Nothing will change with the next triple-double. And nothing will change with the next championship.
There’s a group of people on Twitter, it seems, that have made it their singular goal to destroy LeBron James. Every shot criticized, every foul hounded, every word dissected until its original meaning is lost to memory. LeBron is the first athlete to have ever had the spotlight of social media shining on him his whole career, and since Sports Illustrated pronounced him “The Chosen One” while he was still a junior in high school, he has been the most hated man in sports – the old, “Why him? Why does he get everything while I don’t?” In a time where that bitter voice is given a platform, the haters have jumped on every opportunity they’re handed. Twitter timelines during a Cavs game turn into a chorus discrediting LeBron’s every move.
While LeBron has been torn down, Michael has been built up and up and up. He’s no longer a former player. He’s not even legend. He’s the NBA’s pharaoh – a god living among us. Judging from what is written and said today, he never missed a shot. Never lost a game. Never spoke the wrong words, picked the wrong fights or made a bad play.
Of course, that’s not nearly the truth. He missed half of his shots. He lost four of every ten games. He turned the ball over nearly three times a game. Look just a little closer under the gloating tweets, and you’ll find out that Michael Jordan, like everyone else, is human after all.
This altered history, one where Michael did no wrong, is at this point irreversible. Like Christopher Columbus, no matter how many people smear his legend, we will always hold parades.
What is lost in Twitter’s war to protect the legend of MJ is the even richer legend of LeBron James. His is the most extraordinary story in sports today. His is the most extraordinary story in America today, a story so uniquely American that it reads like it was written by Steinbeck or Fitzgerald or Hemingway. Born to a single, teenage mother in Akron, LeBron bounced from apartment to apartment growing up. In high school, carried his best friends to a State Championship. He went pro out of high school, got drafted by his hometown team and tried and tried to carry them on his own, but it broke him. He fled, and then he returned. And now, he is carrying them on his own again, and the results, win or lose, are staggering.
Yet people still pile on the hate, and they do it in heaps because LeBron scares them. He shakes our reality.
Michael is the greatest. Basketball has positions. Everybody needs help.
LeBron challenges every one of those statements. LeBron challenges us to redefine our definition of success, of failure and of greatness.
I can’t tell you what success or failure or greatness is, but I think it has something to do with making us ask those questions.
So, fine, maybe LeBron isn’t the greatest basketball player ever. Maybe that position is already and forever occupied by Michael.
But here’s to LeBron James, whatever his title might be. He’s the best.