The debate about whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest player in NBA history remains ongoing. The Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan the mid-1980s, and he went on to dominate in the ’90s, winning all six of his NBA titles.
James was the top overall pick in 2003. The NBA in the 1990s was certainly different era, both on and off the basketball court. James’ longtime friend and sports agent Rich Paul offered his thoughts on how the current basketball era has presented a tougher set of circumstances for the Lakers superstar.
Paul argued that today’s new cycle was something Jordan did not have to contend with during his playing days.
“Mike transcended the game. When Kobe came, Kobe was a silhouette of Mike. That’s everything, which is great. But LeBron is the first player to have to deal with a 24/7/365 news cycle of sports and opinions from those that’s not even capable or carry the expertise to give a valid opinion,” Paul said during an appearance on “Gils Arena Show.”
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Paul added that Jordan faced considerably less criticism during his career, saying the Bulls all-time great only had to deal with a critique from sports columnist Peter Vecsey.
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“In addition to, ‘I’m not really gonna do it how y’all want me to do. I’m probably going to decide how I wanna do it.’ We all know that don’t go over well, right? And so then, you have this environment in this sports society that’s created and so now you have to root against. That’s a whole other thing Mike never had to deal with because his hardest critic was probably, Peter Vecsey.
“I just think LeBron’s antlers is in platinum, and Michael Jordan’s may be in gold. Why? Because he had to be compared to Mike. Who did Mike have to be compared to?”
Jordan did have to deal with detractors during and after his playing career, but the advent of social media certainly ramped up the level of criticism athletes face.
As far as comparisons go, it can be argued that Jordan was compared to Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and 11-time champion Bill Russell — all of whom entered the NBA prior to him. Shortly after Jordan and the Chicago Bulls began losing to the “Bad Boy” Pistons in the postseason, the idea that Jordan could not “win the big one” became a talking point.
Jordan was also criticized for what was widely viewed as a failed attempt to play professional baseball. Jordan was coming off three straight championships with the Bulls and was still in his prime, but in October 1993 he decided to switch sports.
What followed was a mostly forgettable stint with the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A affiliate — the Birmingham Barons.
It can be argued that James is the first NBA superstar that has had to deal with pros and cons that come with the social media era. While a sports column from Vecsey or others may not have received a boost from social media, it certainly had the power to shift the conversation during Jordan’s playing days.
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Comparing eras in sports can be tricky. It is likely that Jordan or James would have thrived on the basketball court in any era.