King James or His Airness

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Updated: October 20, 2021
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The question of greatness inevitably creates a gray space of subjectivity that lends itself to heated debates, none more profound than the Jordan-Lebron GOAT discussion. One variable in the equation that makes it so intriguing is that the dialogue is a living and breathing entity that is still evolving. Every playoff series for James is highlighted and infused with meaning that may have not existed if not for being measured by the greatness of ghosts and specifically his Airness, Michael Jeffery Jordan. The outcome of these upcoming playoffs not only shapes the narrative of the present but inevitably will tip the scales of arguments in the decades to come.

Often when these debates are held on ESPN or FS1, the GOAT discussion and our top 10 listings are convoluted into one argument. Specifically, the large wine-stained blemish created in Dallas in Lebron’s disappearance in the Finals is compared to similar poor performances by other top 10 players. The difference though is that the GOAT discussion is a singularity and really only exists between two players. The faults and failures of Kobe, Bird, or Magic are irrelevant. With longevity, stats, and overall consistency for high-level production, there is no human being that has or will surpass King James. He is the true Iron man of the NBA, even to such an extent that analysts fear to bet against him at his ripe age of 36.

However, there is one specific moment that acts as an honest microcosm that defines this equation. It was game 1 of the 2018 Finals, Cavs vs Warriors. King James looked lowkey unstoppable, putting up 50 points in 4 quarters against arguably the greatest squad ever assemble in the KD-Curry Warriors. The mental lapse of JR Smith forced the game into overtime. On the sidelines, Lebron James was shown openly upset at his teammates and coaching staff once he was informed, they did indeed have a timeout that they failed to use. What happened next is something that is rarely talked about, but in my opinion, is the trump card in the Jordan-Lebron debate. For the first 2 and half minutes of overtime, Lebron didn’t attempt a field goal. He scored once at the free-throw line and was visibly shaken emotionally from the events that led to OT.

It is unimaginable that Jordan would ever enter overtime and mentally collapse in such a way that would cause him to stop shooting. Every great player has dry quarters, poor performances where the lid appears to be sealed shut on the rim. This was not one of those nights though. Lebron’s shot was wet from distance and the Warriors had no answer for his constant penetration inside the paint. Being held to a single point at the free-throw line for overtime wasn’t due to a defensive scheme, double teams, or even fatigue. It was a mental implosion by the greatest player of this generation, by not the greatest of all time.

The GOAT discussion has many moving parts, variables, nuances that some parties emphasize, and others diminish. However, the most important one outside of numbers and accolades is, if given the choice heading into a 7-game series, who would you choose as the head of the snake for your squad? Michael Jordan was a stone-cold killer. His dire need for greatness and victory verged on the edge of psychopathic. For the general psychological health of a human being, it probably wasn’t the best characteristic. For a superstar heading into a Finals, it is the only mentality that the greatest of all time can carry.

As wise as Lebron has been with his body and managing his on-court intensity during the regular season, Jordan simply had no off-switch. Any time he was on the court he was out for blood. It was because of this that when the Finals came, he never saw a game 7. Jordan didn’t just want to win, he wanted to embarrass his opponents. With everything calculated in, Lebron is the clear-cut 2nd greatest player of all time, however, if heading into a 7 game series, there might be 2 or 3 names I would select ahead of him in hopes of a title.

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