ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has made it no secret that he belongs to the old school, often going on the record calling this generation’s NBA players soft and lacking “that dog” in them as he likes to call it. It is for this sentiment that Smith's peers never miss the chance to bring up the NBA GOAT debate while on the air with him. Molly Qerim, the host of ESPN’s First Take, did just this. She asked Steven A. would LeBron winning the title this year help him "finally catch MJ"?
“No. I'm gonna say it again, for the thousandth time - LeBron will never exceed MJ in my eyes. Because I'm counting what I've witnessed the first 8 or 9 years of his career. I'm taking all of that into consideration. I'm not talking numbers. I'm talking approach. I'm talking mentality.”
Steve A. Smith, First Take
This is an interesting take from Stephen A. who has maintained that he has LeBron James a second to Michael Jordan as the game’s greatest player ever, going as far as saying that it is not even close. However, a few weeks ago, when discussing a finals match-up versus a healthy Brooklyn Nets team, he did tell Molly, Max, and Kendrick Perkins that there was one way LeBron could potentially match MJ in his mind.
“If LeBron and the Lakers go through the Jazz or the Suns, the Clippers and a healthy Brooklyn team to win the title, I may just have to put him up there with MJ.”
Stephen A. Smith, ESPN First Take
Seeing as the topic of conversation was that this season could be LeBron’s most difficult path to a championship, it’s surprising to hear Stephen A. say that The King would always remain second to His Airness. After all, with Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers healthy in the championship round, it does not seem far-fetched at all that the purple and gold take the title again this year against the most lethal big three ever assembled. If they can do that to bring LeBron at par with MJ in Stephen A’s mind, shouldn’t a feat that can bring him past MJ feasible?
“The lack of a killer instinct, someone who [LeBron] seemed to shy away from the moment. The approach and the mentality of MJ, it’s just my preference.” - Stephen A. Smith.
Steve A. Smith, First Take
There are reasonable arguments for either side, and the strength of the case lies in how you present the facts and make the necessary inference. However, it does eventually come down to preference, and while there is no doubt that LeBron wants to one day be unanimously known as the game’s greatest player, even he knows that is merely a pipe dream.
What this is really about is receiving the same respect Jordan has garnered from peers and predecessors. Surely, when the numbers 6 and 23 go up into the rafters of the teams blessed to have had him, he will be more than pleased with the result.