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Work On Your Game Content/Discipline/I Realized Why LeBron James Won’t Touch Michael Jordan [Daily Game]
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I Realized Why LeBron James Won’t Touch Michael Jordan [Daily Game]

LeBron Vs Michael is a popular debate for talking head TV and internet shows, particularly because the argument will never conclude. LeBron and Jordan will never play one-on-one, or guard each other in any five-on-five game. And every time LeBron notches another career accomplishment, or some known person shares an opinion, that fills a good 10-15 minutes of airtime on tomorrow’s show.

There are myriad ways to approach the LeBron-Jordan debate:

Career stats


Cultural impact on the court

Cultural impact off the court

Physical skills (dribbling, shooting, etc)

Level of competitors beaten

Quality of teammates

Help each guy “needed” to finally win

My argument here is about none of that. Mine is in terms of what Work On Your Game is all about: Getting the most that we can get out of ourselves, and producing results with it, regardless of how that “most” measures up to anyone else’s. Some people’s best, for example, gets them a D3 college career and plenty of fond memories. Another guy’s best makes him a Basketball Hall Of Famer. It’s all relative.

Michael Jordan and LeBron James are both damn good — talented enough to be top Draft picks and franchise players; skilled enough to be the unanimously-agreed-upon Best Player In The League for a good percentage of their careers. Both determined and clutch enough to win championships over teams that many fans thought they should lose to (I’ll forever own my Cavs in six prediction from the 2016 Finals, which the Cavs won in seven). Both iconic players whom entire generations of future players grew up emulating in unique ways.

But there’s one major difference.

I watched a couple episodes of LeBron’s The Shop (I guess it’s cool to hear LBJ openly cussing and such, but there’s nothing on the show that couldn’t be found on any famous woke Black person’s Twitter timeline) and plan to watch at least one ep of his Shut Up And Dribble (though I don’t like the title). It was great to hear stuff about LeBron opening a school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. We all remember the “u bum” tweet directed at President Donald Trump.

I remember back when, earlier in his career, LeBron stated “global icon” as one of his goals. He has, amazingly, exceeded expectations as a basketball player. A lot of players, NBA and amateur, follow his lead in many things. Having goals is a requirement for success; LeBron is either already at global icon status or on his way to it.

That status is exactly why he cannot touch Mike as a basketball player.

I recently read Michael Leahy’s book, which details Jordan’s final two seasons in the NBA playing for the Washington Wizards. Though he was no longer “Air Jordan” in those two relatively underwhelming years, MJ still made the All-Star game both seasons — and not just because he was popular — he was pretty good. The Wizards missed the Playoffs both years, but MJ was clearly their best player. The key thing I got from reading about those two forgettable Washington MJ seasons: The only thing Michael Jordan cared about was kicking ass on the basketball court. His icon status came as a result of that ass-kicking, not because he was aiming to become one. And that difference matters.

Jordan missed the final 22 games of his first Wiz season due to a knee operation. It’s how that operation came to be needed that struck me.

MJ had developed tendinitis from going too hard, too fast after an offseason injury had curtailed his preparation for the comeback.  Thing is, as the tendinitis worsened, Mike would hear nothing of sitting out a game or having his minutes reduced. He kept playing, going as hard as he could, every game, until the knees were so bad that even he couldn’t will himself up and down an NBA court.

I’ve read stories of how, back in the Chicago days, Jordan’s team would be leading in a scrimmage in practice, and the coach would stop the scrimmage and switch MJ onto the losing team. A furious Jordan would then bring that team back to win the scrimmage.

Or, how Phil Jackson would tell MJ to sit out practice, yet Mike would force his way into a scrimmage that day anyway, wearing street shoes, and be out there dunking on guys. His hunger to compete is what drove Michael Jordan to be good, then great, then iconic, and to shoot out all the bullets out of his clip, so to speak. There was never a question of if Mike was playing hard or if he cared about winning on a particular night.

Phil Jackson knew he could never get Mike to voluntarily sit out a game; in his last three seasons with the Bulls, Jordan played in 357 of 358 games — including preseason, regular season and All-Star games. Yes, this was the pre-resting era, but I don’t see Mike sitting out a game. He loved the competition too much.

LeBron James sits out games for “rest (365 days minus 82 games = 283 rest days),” then offers the lame reasoning that he’s played in every arena before, so the fans shouldn’t have a problem with it (still the worst quote I’ve ever heard from LeBron James), or that he never had the goal of playing in all 82 games of a season (really?).

His many off-the-court, more than an athlete ventures, the healthy scratch rest days, and the obvious ramping up of focus and engagement on the court as a season progresses for the last several years all add up to one point about LeBron: He’s saving some of himself. For what, is for him to answer.

Michael Jordan lived to compete and dominate and win. That’s why he came back to the Wizards. That’s why he played in 357 of 358 possible games from 1995-98. He couldn’t do anything less. That’s why he won those six championships while never facing a Finals Game 7. To compete the way he wanted to compete, Michael organized his life around doing all he could do to maximize his basketball ability. He gave as close to 100% that could be given. The closest any super-gifted player has come to that standard since, is Kobe Bryant: Whole life dedicated to maximizing basketball, and nothing else.

Whatever LeBron James is giving of himself for basketball, it’s less than 100%.

It has to be.

Executive producing and starring in a television show, opening a school, and whatever else LeBron is doing to make that global icon thing a reality, requires investments, like your physical presence. It takes brainpower. It takes focus. It takes attention and energy. And every minute and thought spent on that other stuff is a minute or thought not spent on your basketball game.

Well, you could say, LeBron has done pretty damn well with his formula. He’s made the Finals all those times. Won multiple rings. Will go down as Top-5 all time if he stopped playing today. What’s the big deal?

What I stated above is not an indictment of LBJ’s choices; it’s his life. You just have to remember who we’re comparing him to.

The deal is, to outdo Mike, you’d have to give what Mike gave. And LeBron has consciously chosen to do things a different way, spreading himself out in such a way as to have impact in many different arenas. This is not necessarily a worse way — just a different way. And if the conversation is basketball achievement, there’s no way he can win vs. Mike.

Mike won 6 rings, never losing in the Playoffs after 1990 and never facing a Finals game 7. Kobe won 5 rings. LeBron has more gifts than them both and has 3.

Yes, I know the Warriors superteam and the depth of the League and the terrible Cleveland front office and how he never had a worthy #2 teammate his first 7 seasons and how the Heat failed to get younger around him. I know.

I also believe know how the universe works: It conspires to help you achieve the thing you truly want the most. I know what Mike wanted. I know what Kobe wanted. I believe that LeBron James wants to be a global icon more than he wants to be the most dominant basketball player on the planet. He has the resources to dedicate all of himself to just basketball, but has chosen to be more than an athlete.

And there’s nothing wrong with this desire. It’s a good formula for the 99.9% of basketball players who won’t be LeBron, who won’t even play college ball, let alone in the NBA Finals, who need to be more than an athlete, because they won’t have a choice but to diversify their interests.

LeBron didn’t have to diversify, but he chose to. And every little bit of diversification means a little less for basketball. And that little bit can be the difference between a win and a loss, playing in a game or sitting for rest. Winning because you have to win, or proudly announcing that you play games in chill mode.

I’m a Lebron James fan. I have a few pairs of his shoes (I have more of Jordan’s, but still). LeBron has been the best player in the NBA for ten years straight. I was pissed when the Heat lost the 2011 Finals to Dallas. LBJ is the ultimate physics specimen prototype for a basketball player.

Michael’s physical makeup was pretty good, too. Yet it was the mental aspect that separated him — from all his competition then, and from whomever else is “next up” now. He had to direct all his resources to basketball to achieve what he did. That’s more fun to talk about than it is to do.

And that’s why there is only one Mike.


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