Every basketball fan has an opinion on the LeBron-versus-Michael debate, but few of those opinions, if any, are as informed as that of Bob Ryan. The Boston Globe columnist emeritus has seen, covered, and interviewed every great NBA player for, well, a long time.
So, assuming that James still lags behind Jordan in the GOAT discussion, what does The Chosen One have to do in the remainder of his career to close the gap?
“Well, the one thing he could do is tie Michael at six,” the 71-year-old Ryan said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You, referring to championships. “That would help in the argument – if it’s important. These are arguments that are aesthetic arguments. They’re a fun part of being a sports fan. In the end, what do they matter – what I think, what you think. They have their accomplishments. Neither one has to apologize, ultimately, for anything, you would think – although, frankly, Michael has almost next to nothing to apologize for, but LeBron does have a few things to apologize for.”
Some playoff no-shows. Leaving Cleveland. The Decision. The list goes on.
“So now it comes down to watching them play,” Ryan said. “My final-argument answer when people say who do you like is this: If I were playing for my life, I would take Michael because he was the most ruthless competitor ever at a high level. Bill Russell probably would be the other example of a take-no-prisoners competitor at the highest level. Michael was a ruthless competitor. LeBron is not a ruthless competitor. He’s a nice guy, he’s a team guy, he’s a deferential guy with teammates and I like to say that the difference between the two where one guy got to the pinnacle of his profession and the other guy is now at the pinnacle of his profession is (this): Michael didn’t win the whole thing until he learned how to share, and LeBron didn’t win the whole thing until he learned to accept the responsibility of being the best player on the floor and then acting accordingly. They’re totally different personalities.”
LeBron backers have many arguments to make on his behalf. The rebounds, the assists, the NBA Finals appearances – there’s a lot in his favor. And, unlike Jordan, he’s never lost a first-round playoff series.
“That’s true,” Ryan said, “(but) one of the great calling cards for Michael is that during his run of six championships, he never even had to play in a seventh game. There’s something to be said for that – the dominance was so dominant, he was so influential, his teams were so good in that context that he never played a seventh game in the Finals. So there’s different ways we can shape the argument.”