The Dumbest (and Most Common) Argument for Why Michael Jordan, Not LeBron James, Is the Greatest Basketball Player Ever

Illustration for article titled The Dumbest (and Most Common) Argument for Why Michael Jordan, Not LeBron James, Is the Greatest Basketball Player Ever
Photo: Gregory Shamus (Getty Images)

“Don’t be a prisoner of the moment!” said the person on the internet, who is 36 years old, about the reaction to LeBron James’ theatrics against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. And against the Raptors the game before that. And against the Raptors the game before that. And against the Indiana Pacers the series before that. And against the entire NBA the season before that series.

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It is a thing that suggests a performative critical sobriety. “Don’t be a prisoner of the moment” is a snootier way of saying, “Your opinions about LeBron’s place in basketball’s hierarchy are too hysterical to be trusted. Mine, however, are based in reality.”

Admittedly, there is merit to this way of thinking. It is correct not to be a prisoner of the moment! We should always be mindful of the past, and particularly mindful when saying things like “LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time.” Because without a mindfulness of the past and the players that came before him, declaring him the best of all time means nothing! At that point, you might as well just say, “LeBron James is the greatest philogenie of the metaquadrant” because they would both mean the same thing!

But being a prisoner of the moment is not inherently worse than existing as a prisoner of the past, which is what these internet people tend to be. In fact, I’d argue that existing as a prisoner of the present is better and smarter.

Because, for that 36-year old internet person with those memories of Michael Jordan’s greatness—the recollections the internet person latches onto like a hickey attached to an delectable neck—his argument is anchored in the present-day intellectual and emotional resonance of things he experienced 25 fucking years ago.

“Fuck no, LeBron can’t be better than Mike,” this internet person is saying “because the way watching Michael Jordan made me feel when I was 11 isn’t the same as watching LeBron James now that I’m an adult!”

“I am not as impressed as a grown adult person watching someone do impressive things as I was when I was an adolescence watching someone different do impressive things!” this internet person is also saying, adding, “The 11-year-old me is just a more reliable assessor of GOAT status than any adult—myself included—could possibly be today.” 

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This is a dumb and bad (and unfortunately common) argument. And the next time someone makes this dumb and bad and unfortunately common argument in your presence, call them a philogenie!

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

DISCUSSION

kccomplainsalot
KC Complains A Lot

As someone who is, at best, a casual observer of basketball...who cares?

Every “debate” I’ve seen about this seems dumb as hell. Why can we not just watch LeBron and watch and marvel at him and also think Michael Jordan is the best?

We spend countless times trying to de-legitimize either one of them instead of, ya know... just respecting that they are of the most physically gifted athletes in the history of the world and that should be good.

It reminds me of people debating who the best pro wrestler of all time was. Debating which wrestler was best at fake fighting is kinda pointless, especially as wrestler has evolved and become a completely different thing than it used to be, and therefore judging all these different eras really does boil down to bitching about which thing is more nostalgic.

Just let LeBron be great. His greatness doesn’t diminish Jordan’s. Have some goddamn fun, y’all.