There is a sizable percentage of sports fans who steadfastly believe that Lebron James will never be as good as or better at basketball thanÂ MichaelÂ Jordan was. Note, I didn’t say “believe that Lebron James is currently as good as or better than Michael Jordan.” No, these people believe that Lebron is completely incapable of ever reaching that status. There is literally nothing he can do to change their minds.
The reasons for this belief vary. Some provide factual arguments.Â (Jordan never lost in the NBA Finals. Lebron has already lost twice.) Some prefer to craft their arguments around style/aesthetics. (Jordan’s game was more graceful and seemed a bit more refined than Lebron’s.) Some even get caught up in selectiveÂ nostalgia. (The faultiest argument, these are the type of people who discount anything that happens now because things were “better” back in the day.)
The most common argument, though, is based on something that’s both completelyÂ intangible and completely true: Jordan was, by all accounts, an uber-competitiveÂ asshole who’d cut his own mother’s throat to win a hand in spades. Lebron, by all accounts, is competitive enough, but not nearly asÂ competitiveÂ as Jordan.
And, the argument states, since he’s not that type ofÂ competitor—since he doesn’t have that same killer instinct—he’ll never be able to match or exceed Michael.
At this point, you might be wondering why I’d include Beyonce in the title of a piece comparing Michael Jordan to Lebron James. “Perhaps” you might be thinking “he originally wanted to write about Beyonce, changed his mind, but forgot to change the title. That damn Champ is a rascal!”
Well, Beyonce has been on my mind since the oft-talked about release of Bow Down/I Been On. As alluded to last week, the reaction to the song has been more interesting than the song itself, and one of the main reactions has been, simply, confusion.
“In the last two years, Beyonce has given birth to her first child, performed at the Super Bowl and the President’s inauguration, and signed multi-million dollar contracts with Pepsi and H&M (among others). Oh, and she also has a devoted fanbase anxiously anticipating her every move, is worth a couple hundred million dollars, and is married to man worth more. She’s at the top of the world. Why the hell is she worried about haters, bitches, and hating-ass bitches?”
I won’t pretend that I know exactly what makes Beyonce tick. But, from what I know of her, it seems like she has the exact same thing driving her that seemed to drive Michael Jordan: Insecurity. Not “insecurity” in terms of a lack of self-esteem or self-belief. But, the type of insecurity that makes someone perpetually worried about competitors. The type of insecurity that makes someone so consumed with being the best and with having everyone agree that they’re the best that they actively search for slights to motivate them. And, if these slights don’t exist, they invent them.
This is what makes someone sing an impromptu acapella nationalÂ anthemÂ just to prove to everyone that they can actually to it—even though no one actually doubted that they could. It’s what causes a man to go out of his way to dominate a person who had the misfortune of dating the man’s wife before he even knew she existed!
This way of thinking isn’t limited to Beyonce and Michael Jordan, either. There are multiple accounts of how Steve Jobs’ motivation and creativity stemmed from him being consumed with other companies somehow catching up to Apple. He drove as hard as he did not because of a joy of innovation but because he believed he needed to be that way to stay ahead. He felt that his company’s—and, by extension, his own—status wasÂ tenuous, and he was willing to so whatever he could to maintain it. This “drive” regularly resulted in him insulting and publicly humiliatingÂ members of his own team.
Jobs is just one example, and I could probably list dozens more. People so obsessed withÂ maintainingÂ their place and position that they sacrifice a bit of their humanity in the process. Naturally, when people who act this way happen to be successful, we have the tendency to attach a certain romanticism to it.
“So what if Michael Jordan put rat poison in Karl Malone’s Gatorade? He’s a winner, and that’s what winners need to do to win! Maybe if you put rat poison in your bosses’ coffee, you’d finally get a promotion.”Â
Sometimes this romanticism is taken to an extreme. We start to believe that being completely consumed with beating everyone else, with having a “killer instinct,” with being a queen who needs to remind others to “bow down,” isn’t just a way to be successful, it’s the only way.Â
This takes us back to Lebron.
As mentioned earlier, I do know there is a widely-held belief that he’s not a “killer” the same way Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or, shit, Beyonce is. And, while a “killer instinct” is anÂ immeasurableÂ quality, there are certain things a person can do or not do to indicate whether they possess it. Those believing Lebron doesn’t commonly cite him joining up with Dwyane Wade as proof. Basically, Jordan never would have volunteered to team up with a rival because he would have been too focused on beating him.
I agree. Jordan would not have done that. If you believe that and you’re reading this, you’re probably also thinking that what Lebron did shows more “insecurity” than anything Jordan has ever done. But, when you start thinking of Lebron in terms of what a regular human being would do/think instead of how we’ve been conditioned to believe how “successful” people are supposed to act/think, his actions seem more, well, “secure.”
Lebron doesn’t actually have any rivals. The media and some fans might try to push certain narratives, but from every reasonable and objective measurement, he’s been the best basketball player on Earth for (at least) the last four years. Jordan also had that title while he was in his prime. But, the difference between him and Lebron is that Lebron doesn’t seem to have the same need to prove it. Knowing you’re already peerless allows you to look at people like D. Wade and Chris Bosh as friends who could help him achieve a goal and have some fun instead of rivals that need vanquished. It allows you the belief in yourself to make the right basketball play instead of attempting toÂ mimicÂ the style of “hero ball” expected of you. It lets you invite the guy who’s supposed to be your rival for the next decade to workout together and learn from each other.
As I type this, the Miami Heat are coming off of their 26th consecutive win. Lebron was two rebounds shy of a triple double. He will win his 4th MVP this spring, and, barring injury, he should win his second NBA title. He is also 28 years old, which means he has a good four or five more years with the “best in the world” crown, more than enough time to collect more MVPs and championships.
He will still never be like Mike or Steve or Beyonce. Neither will most of us. But—as he continues to prove—you can be the best at what you do and still be human too.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)