Michael Jordan is corporate, and LeBron James is woke. MJ worked hard at being vague to sell as many shoes and Gatorade as possible. LeBron wore “I can’t breathe”, got into an argument with a Fox anchor, and tweeted at the President of the United States.
That’s how Jordan and LeBron get compared nowadays. The only area in which almost every MJ fan will concede that LeBron’s done more is taking on sensitive social and political issues. As Kareem wrote about Jordan, he “took commerce over conscience.” While I agree with Kareem, I’m not sure LeBron’s totally different. In a way, I think Michael Jordan is more honest than LeBron. Hear me out.
A Woj Bomb this time of year usually refers to Woj tweeting free agency news before the ink dried up on a contract. But a few days ago, the tables were turned. We found out Wojnarowski got suspended after replying to an email from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). In the email, Hawley criticized the league for deciding to allow messages that promote social justice on its jerseys this summer but not allow messages that support law enforcement or are critical of China’s Communist Party. Woj replied with a “fu** you.”
After news of Woj being suspended came out, many NBA stars tweeted #freeWoj, in support of the NBA Insider. One of them was LeBron James. Quickly after that, Hawley responded to LeBron with this.
As someone who would never be described as anything close to a fan of the Republican party, I have to say – Howley’s won that round. Once you enter the political arena, something LeBron’s done and is praised for in comparison to MJ, your track record becomes fair game. We’ve covered LeBron’s poor reaction to Morey’s tweet before, so for the purposes of this argument, I’ll just stick to comparing MJ and LeBron on this topic.
Never thought I’d say this, but it comes down to Jordan understanding Jay-Z better. Jordan and LeBron aren’t “businessmen, they’re a business, man.” Like any other business, we will judge their decisions and words with a grain of salt, looking out for the most common thing businesses do – compromise principles for profit. That’s a disadvantage of a person being a brand. You become the representative of you business 100% of the time.
In addition to that, when LeBron takes on a public image of an educator (a term he used several times in his recent media availability), someone who believes he knows more than most and will use his platform to spread his knowledge, it comes with a burden – you have to practice what you preach. The catch is you don’t get to choose in which areas of your life that’s the case, we expect you to practice what you preach (almost) all the time.
It seems to me Michael Jordan had a much better understanding of this dynamic. Once you step into the political arena, the scrutiny increases tenfold, and if you are not just a person but also a “business, man” it is almost impossible to pass that test. When a company messes up, you fire the CEO or the board and say you turned a new leaf. LeBron and MJ can’t do that.
In such circumstances, it is more honest to stay within the business realm, focus on profit, and accept all that comes with it. LeBron, the social activist and educator, cannot expect us to separate what he does in that area, and not compare it to LeBron the “business, man”, and his lifetime billion-dollar contract with Nike. That’s why he will get hit with #freeHongKong every time, and it will be a legitimate criticism.
Don’t get me wrong, I think everything LeBron’s done to promote equality and give young people a chance to get an education is tremendous. With those actions, James is making the world a better place. But we live in a world plagued with self-promotion. I’m not sure “having your own channel” is turning out to be a net positive in the grand scheme of things.
Jordan didn’t support Harvey Gantt for Governor in 1990, LeBron didn’t support Hong Kong protesters in 2019. The only difference is, Jordan never promoted himself as a social justice champion and an educator. While he may not have said it, LeBron’s actions speak for themselves – Chinese buy sneakers (and produce them), too.