Jordan, Johnson, and James
July 28th, 2010

I’m playing catch-up from my blog-cation the past couple of weeks.  So please pardon the fact that this story may have already phased out of the national conversation, but I’m still pondering it.

Unless you live under a rock (in which case you probably don’t have internet and aren’t reading this) you know that a couple of weeks ago LeBron James announced that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and joining his buddies Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in Miami.  All of South Beach celebrated, and everyone from Chicago to New York to Cleveland itself wished a pox on King James for forsaking them.  Ahhh, the drama.

But once all the loving and hating that stemmed from the initial announcement settled down two elder statesmen of the game of basketball stirred up some drama of their own.  First Michael Jordan and then Magic Johnson came out and publicly stated (as though we were all curious) “I would never have done what LeBron did.”   And this got me scratching my head.

Why does this matter? Why is it relevant?  Why do we care what two retired players claim they would or wouldn’t have done in a different era under different circumstances with different opportunities?

(As an aside, kudos to LeBron for keeping his mouth shut and not responding, “Well, Michael, I wouldn’t have developed a massive gambling problem.”  And, “Well, Magic, I wouldn’t have caroused around having unprotected sex with random women until I contracted HIV.”  I suspect that took some real restraint on LeBron’s part.)

Because this little outburst from Jordan and Johnson perplexed me I did what most women would do: I asked my husband about it.  Not surprisingly, he had already discussed the same topic with some friends of his and was able to offer a broader sampling of feedback than I was expecting.  According to GAP (and his buddies at work) the purpose of rejecting LeBron’s decision has something to do with the integrity of the competitor.  As it was explained to me winning isn’t enough; and going to someone else’s team, playing with a stacked deck, and then winning isn’t the same as winning on your own.  The implied message from MJ-1 and MJ-2 is that LeBron should have stayed the course in Cleveland, continued to build the team up around himself, and then proceeded to win a series of championships.  Further still, the argument apparently goes that now that he’s left the Cavs to join forces with more elite teammates he may never be able to clinch the title of “best man to ever have played the game” because whatever he accomplishes now won’t have been on his back alone.

Now please pardon me here, but I think that is bloody ridiculous.  It’s all semantics.  GAP explained that LeBron “went to Wade’s team.”  Whereas the Cavaliers was “his team” the Heat is someone else’s.  Also, now that he’s playing with other superstars LeBron’s talents will supposedly be masked and his candidacy for “the greatest player in history” substantially diluted.   And apparently in the world of patriarchy and pissing matches, this matters.

I, for one, just don’t get it.  I don’t understand why it matters to grown men who has marked what territory.  Much less do I understand why long-retired superstars who should be resting happily on their laurels are passing value judgments based on a situation they themselves never encountered (unless it’s to reclaim dying media relevance).  And as for the “best player ever” argument I see it this way: either he is or he isn’t.  Perhaps this is naïve of me, but I say that being the best player ever means exhibiting the most talent and channeling that talent into the most success.  Whoever else happens to be on the court should be irrelevant.

4 Responses to “Jordan, Johnson, and James”

  1. Anne Says:

    Professional basketball….not my thing. That’s why I prefer the college guys! They shoot, they score, they royally screw up, and then they have to study for a final exam. Much better drama:)

  2. Katybeth Says:

    Passing judgment is never a good idea–although I do have a soft spot for Michael and well Magic….is just way cool. And in my opinion LeBron highest jump falls short of both Michael and Magic.

    It just seemed like in this case LeBron behavior did not reflect even a hint of sportsmanship on the other hand he never asked to be a role mode…

    I do appreciate that you took your best shot at pondering this and freely throwing your thoughts out for us to consider and ponder as well.


  3. Jan Says:

    Well, I’d have to remind “the guys” that basketball is, don’t forget, a team game, and even if Lebron stayed in Cleveland and won a title, he’d not be the only guy on the court. And, you younger fans should know: the greatest player ever was Bill Russell. Just ask me and Doug Gottleib.

  4. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Believe it or not – from a place of long long ago and far far away (in another lifetime when I actually saw MJ-2 play the likes of Larry Bird) – I have to agree with your husband. And as Jan said, this isn’t a game like tennis. It’s a team, even if there’s a star on the team. That changes everything about the player’s actual performance, as well as perceived performance.

    As for judging, that’s a different story. But should MJ and MJ be prevented from offering their opinions if everyone else can? And I agree, good of LeBron to keep his thoughts to himself afterward.