Sports conglomerate ESPN recently released its rankings on most influential NBA player to ever play and ranked brand new Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James as the second best ever to impact the game. Michael Jordan topped James on the list, edging James out and adding fuel to barbershop talks nationwide. But are the rankings right? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO SportsDesk debates if James is truly just the second most influential NBA player to ever lace ‘em up.
Riley: James’ has had a stranglehold on the Association as its prime headliner since he entered the league in 2003. James arrived in the league right at the dawn of the social media age so the constant media attention only added to his global reach. Then the championships, the commercials and performance made him an universal celebrity. His impact on the game tops Jordan simply by opportunity. This isn’t about who’s better but most influential? By the volume alone it’s James.
Green: Now just think Jordan had the same reach even without Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and ESPN televising his high school games. Jordan’s skillset made him a living legend and the first of many. The shoes, apparel and marketing and sheer promotion was the first of any athlete at that time. It paved the way for James who came along right as the internet was booming. Jordan was transcendent and universal before electronics transformed the world. Everybody wanted to be Jordan. If there were critics out there, they didn’t hate Jordan, they feared him. While James is getting murals vandalized in yet another city, Jordan’s Chicago statue still stands right in front of the arena unscathed.
Riley: There were people who despised Jordan too, they just didn’t have the social platform that online trolls do today to express it. Just because fans weren’t burning Jordan’s jersey and posting to YouTube doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We just didn’t see it. News and media is programmed to blast volatile acts first and the good times second. James’ youth basketball clinics have given rise to the seriousness of amateur basketball and elevated competition. His work in the community vastly supersedes anything Jordan ever did. Charity support, school centers and youth support have been staples of James’ career. The admiration, criticism and award collection showcase just how impactful James has been. Rewind James back to Jordan’s era and he’d still have the same impact if not more simply off his dedicated work to the communities he’s played in. Jordan’s impact on basketball was tremendous but James has transcended into a celebrity icon that far surpassed Jordan’s prime.
Green: James’ impact in the community has been applaudable, but when we’re simply talking about the game of basketball there’s no comparison. Jordan was unmarked in the NBA. No blemishes, no scars. Once he hit his first title, he continued winning them every season in which he played the whole year. He was impeccable. He couldn’t lose. That type of impact on the game forces any fan or even critic to give respect whenever his name is mentioned. Yell Jordan’s name in a crowd and a majority of bystanders would agree on him being arguably the best to ever play. Shout LeBron’s name in any sports arena and watch the debate begin. Just like it is now. Jordan influenced the game because he was the best. LeBron influenced the game largely based off media coverage before he even won his first ring. LeBron’s been packed with hype since he hit the scene as a teenager but let’s not confuse that with influence. If we’re talking about how the game is marketed and played today, Jordan influenced that. He influenced it all.
This article originally appeared in the AFRO.