LeBron James placed second in the Top 75 players by The Athletic while Michael Jordan occupied the top spot. James' agent Rich Paul believes his friend had a more challenging path to greatness than MJ.
"They also wanted LeBron to act like, be like Michael, and he wasn't"
The Athletic's version of Top 75 players aligns with the NBA's 75th anniversary. To each, his own and the rankings are probably similar to many others: MJ is still the GOAT, with runner-up still up for debate between LeBron James and whoever else.
Rich Paul, James' agent, and longtime friend thinks LeBron's path to greatness was harder than MJ.
"The road for LeBron was just as hard, if not harder than the road was for Michael. For a number of reasons. And I think the biggest reason is, everyone wants you to do something the way somebody else did it previously. LeBron was a kid. (The media) wanted LeBron to be like Mike; they wanted Michael to speak to them in any capacity, which he probably didn't. They wanted Michael to be his friend, which he probably wasn't. They also wanted LeBron to act like, be like Michael, and he wasn't. There were more people that smiled and hoped LeBron failed than there ever was rooting for him to succeed in the beginning."
It's not MJ's fault for raising the bar too high that stars who came after him have a more complex path to greatness. When Jordan came to the league, it wasn't like everything had been spoon-fed to him. Mike also had to earn everything. Jordan had to beat Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and the Bad Boys of Detroit, among others, before staking his claim as the greatest ever.
Bryant tried to emulate MJ: his moves, mentality, and approach to the game. James is no Kobe or MJ, but he was judged based on how The Mamba and His Airness played. Is it unfair to view James and Kobe or any other player under the lens of how MJ did it? To some extent, yes, but it's all part of the process.
That is why MJ is still the GOAT. Players are still chasing after his shadow decades after he retired. No matter how good a player is, LeBron will always be compared to Jordan's rings, mentality, and dominance.
Is there a chance that James could catch up and snatch the throne from Mike? Probably, if he ties MJ's titles or wins two MVPs. The definition of greatness varies, and it evolves from time to time. So, comparing players who played in different eras and positions is based on personal preference. Sure, it's a great topic for debate, but there's no way of knowing. But, without hard evidence, all we have are assumptions and wishful thinking.
Rob Parker thinks otherwise
In the Odd Couple podcast hosted by Chris Broussard & Rob Parker, the latter offered his take on why other people think MJ had it easy.
"People who think that Michael Jordan had an easy road or that he was beloved it's just not true."
Broussard added that James was scrutinized more because of social media. Grant Hill, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady were all assumed to be the next face of the league post MJ era, but they were not bashed nor criticized for failing to live up to the hype or billing as the next MJ.
In a way, Giannis Antetokounmpo will have to chase James' ghost in his path to greatness. That's just how it works: players opening new opportunities and challenges for the next generation to accomplish.
For some, James has already taken over MJ's spot as the greatest ever, and they might not be necessarily wrong. LeBron James is the greatest in his era, while Jordan was the greatest in his generation. So let's just end the debate with that.