Putting the MJ Vs. LeBron Debate to Bed

06/02/2011 12:12 pm ET | Updated Aug 02, 2011
  • Anne Sobel Lecturer in Film Production, Northwestern University in Qatar

The conversation is everywhere. It has been for a long time. However, with LeBron closing in on his first championship, it has reached a fever pitch. It's on Scotty Pippen's sacrilegious lips, its on You Tube fan videos, it's in the trailer for the new movieBad Teacher.

The conversation was inevitable. Who is the next Michael Jordan? A hero among heroes, Jordan became so iconic that future generations would want, dare I say need, to have their own idol, one who far exceeds the talent of eponymous #23. While his jersey hangs in rafters of the United Center people wonder, who will take his crown? At first, it was shaping up to be Kobe Bryant. But #24 was no one up on #23. Bryant's on-court personality too divisive, his name tarnished by an ugly tabloid drama. He missed the critical second threepeat with Phil Jackson. So now we are face to face with LeBron James, and who better than a King to steal a crown?

In the conversation, there is no shortage of facts and figures: championships, field goals, rebounds. But numbers betray the heart of the matter, because Jordan is the measuring stick. Not for the number of game clinching shots. Or for minutes played. Not for clutch three pointers. Instead, Michael Jordan measures something far more precious and intangible: influence. Michael Jordan has inspired sports and culture for two decades. If you asked who Sachin Tenduklar was, I might describe him as the Michael Jordan of cricket. If one were to describe Lady GaGa, one might say she is the Michael Jordan of pop stars. Michael Jordan is no longer just a pronoun, he is an adjective, and at times, even a verb.

Michael Jordan is the shoe, the Wheaties box, the catchy jingle. He is the shrug and the smile, the silhouette dunk, the extended tongue of glory. He is Paul Bunyan, Babe Ruth, Casanova, Hercules. Michael Jordan is George Washington - a stone monument forever etched on the face of Mt. Dunkmore. When armchair statisticians try and hold LeBron up to Michael, there is an omnipresent variable they somehow seem to forget:

Michael Jordan is the face of athleticism, the symbol of mere mortals possessing superhuman talent, in other words: the legend of basketball.

He hit at the right time, with the right notes. He wept for the passing of his father after winning his 4th championship. He rubbed elbows with Bill Murray and Marvin the Martian. He smoked cigars, partied with Kid N' Play and dressed up like your grandma. He invented the Love of the Game clause.

Oh never fear. LeBron will be remembered. He holds his head high in the ranks of Bird, Barkley, Bryant, Chamberlain, West and Magic. But LeBron James was born of Michael Jordan's rib and to say otherwise is unholy in the House of Basketball.