The debate over whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest player in NBA history remains ongoing. The Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan in the mid-1980s, and he continued to dominate in the ’90s, winning all six of his NBA titles.
James was the No. 1 pick in 2003. The NBA in the 1990s was definitely a different time, both on and off the basketball court. James’s longtime friend and sports agent Rich Paul shared his thoughts on how the current era of basketball has presented a tougher set of circumstances for the Lakers superstar.
Paul argued that today’s new cycle was something Jordan didn’t have to deal with when playing.
“Mike transcended the game. When Kobe came in, Kobe was a silhouette of Mike. That’s all, which is great. But LeBron is the first player to have to deal with a 24/7/365 news cycle about sports and the opinions of those in attendance. I’m not even capable or have the expertise to give a valid opinion,” Paul said during an appearance on The Gils Arena Show.
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Paul added that Jordan has faced far less criticism in his career, saying the Bulls’ all-time great only had to face one criticism from sportscaster Peter Vecsey.
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“Besides, ‘I’m not really going to do it the way you want me to. I’ll probably decide how I want to do it.’ We all know that’s not going well, right? And so you have this environment in this sports society that was created and so now you have to oppose. That’s a whole other thing to Mike never had to face it because his toughest critic was probably Peter Vecsey.
“I just think LeBron’s woods are platinum, and Michael Jordan’s can be gold. Why? Because he had to be compared to Mike. Who did Mike have to be compared to?”
Jordan faced detractors during and after his playing career, but the advent of social media has certainly increased the level of criticism athletes face.
When it comes to comparisons, it’s safe to say that Jordan has been compared to Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and 11-time champion Bill Russell – all of whom entered the NBA before him. Shortly after Jordan and the Chicago Bulls began losing to the “Bad Boy” Pistons in the playoffs, the idea that Jordan couldn’t “win the big one” became a talking point.
Jordan was also criticized for what was widely seen as a failed attempt to play professional baseball. Jordan had just won three straight championships with the Bulls and was still in his prime, but in October 1993 he decided to switch sports.
What followed was a mostly unforgettable stint with the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox – the Birmingham Barons.
Arguably, James is the first NBA superstar to have had to deal with the ups and downs of the social media era. While a sports column by Vecsey or others may not have received support from social media, it certainly had conversation-changing power during Jordan’s playing days.
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Comparing eras of the sport can be tricky. It’s likely that Jordan or James would have thrived on the basketball court in any era.