Who is the best?
Michael Jordan: The best there ever was. The best there ever will be.
Sure, the line has been said. In fact, it's emblazoned on a bronze statue standing directly in front of the United Center in Chicago. As the truncated NBA season trudges along, I'd rather focus on something other than the Wizards 2-12 record (yes, I had to go there).
With another season, we're yet again inundated with the MJ comparisons. Is Kobe Bryant the next Michael Jordan or does LeBron James lay claim to that title?
Finally, the man at the center of the debate weighed in (or at least his biographer did). Roland Lazenby spoke to Jordan while working on his book and recently tweeted this: "MJ just told me Kobe's the only one to have done the work, to deserve the comparison."
With all due respect to the great 23, I'm here to say neither Bryant nor James are -- and will ever be -- deserving of that title.
As a society we love to crown "the next (insert title)." We're never content appreciating talent for what it is; we have to compartmentalize it or give it a point of reference. While it's flattering, it's still limiting.
No doubt, Bryant and James respect Jordan's ability and career. However, if you asked both, they'd probably say they want to be the next best version of themselves. It's why many speculate James chose the Heat over the Bulls.
When you've already deemed yourself a "King," how can you become a plebeian in the house that the NBA's five-time most valuable player built?
Despite taking his talents to South Beach, however, the comparison still follows James and, moreso, Bryant. So, let's look at the numbers. There's the little-talked about fact that Jordan has six rings, Bryant five, and James…well, you know this. Jordan also holds the record for the NBA Finals record for the highest single-game scoring average. In all his trips to the Finals, Bryant hasn't surpassed that yet. And James? Once again…you know this.
Take away the stats. As a former 10-year-old that may or may not have owned a Bulls Starter jacket, I'm here to tell you it's the Jordan intangibles that can never be touched. Bryant and James were both destined to be stars, while MJ once got cut from his high school varsity team. People liked that, at least for a brief time, Jordan had the underdog bit working for him. It enhanced the "intangibles."
More importantly, Bryant and James both faced huge public backlash. For the duration of his career, Jordan's image was squeaky clean. He was a superstar on the court and a Space Jam rockstar off of it. He was a true role model--at least through public persona within that time period. It's why kids line around mall corners (and still do to this day) to buy Air Jordans and why parents pull out the wallets.
We romanticize Jordan almost a decade after his retirement because his image was just as perfect as his jump shot. A trait that, despite all their talent, Bryant and James still have not mastered.