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LeBron James Or Michael Jordan? The Debate Goes On


If you like basketball and you really, really like sequels, tonight is Game 1 of your dream NBA finals. It is the Golden State Warriors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers again - fourth year in a row. Now, most experts would agree the Warriors will likely defend their title handily. We shall see about that. Meanwhile, we're going to turn to an old debate that is still raging - who is the best men's basketball player of all time, LeBron James or Michael Jordan? For fans of a certain age, Jordan is, was and always will be the greatest.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Inbound to Cartwright, to Jordan. Time winding down. Michael for 3 - yeah. Hell yeah. Yeah. Yes, yes, yes.

KELLY: Now, LeBron James likely will not win six championships like Jordan did, but eight straight finals appearances and being the NBA's version of the Terminator make for a heck of an argument for being the greatest.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: James. Two seconds. One second to the win. LeBron James, deliverance.

KELLY: All right, so who is the best ever? Well, to hash this out, we have called upon Sami Hassan. He runs The Bulls Times, which is a blog about the Chicago Bulls. And he will be making the case for Jordan. Sami Hassan, welcome.

SAMI HASSAN: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Also, in LeBron's corner, we have Chris Manning, editor-in-chief of Fear The Sword, a Cavaliers blog. They are both with us via Skype. And welcome.

CHRIS MANNING: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: All right, since LeBron's playing tonight, Chris Manning, let's start with you. Give me the 30-second case - LeBron James, greatest NBA player of all time.

MANNING: For LeBron, it's that he's been this dominant for 15 years, that he seems to keep getting better over that time. In that span, he's made eight straight finals. Yes, he hasn't won all of them, but he came back from 3-1 against the 73-win Warriors, and he's done it with some pretty bad teams. You look at the team he dragged to the finals this year, history is not going to look kindly upon the performances or the talent that he has got to the finals this year.

KELLY: OK, that's a pretty compelling case. Let's put that to our Michael Jordan supporter, Sami Hassan. Make the case for your guy.

HASSAN: While LeBron James dominated the East majority of his career, Michael Jordan has dominated the whole league. He's had 11 complete seasons with the Bulls, and with those 11 seasons he won six rings, 10 scoring titles. He's done things that no other player in his generation or almost any other generation has ever done.

KELLY: With no insult intended to the fine players of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jordan had a better team behind him. Do we need to take that into account, Sami Hassan?

HASSAN: Well, when it comes to winning, yes, you can talk about that. But even if you don't talk about championship, you can still bring up the discussion that Jordan is better on both ends of the court.

KELLY: I'm going to weigh in here because this is the second time I've heard this debate this morning. I conducted a rigorously scientific survey of my children in the car this morning - neither of whom, it should be mentioned, were alive when Michael Jordan was playing in the NBA. And they both voted for Jordan, which surprised me because I thought this would be generational. They're watching LeBron play in his prime. Is part of this a generational thing?

HASSAN: I mean, I think it is. I think I am someone who - I was born in '93, so I was not alive through the vast majority of the Jordan era. I'm from Cleveland. I've grown up watching LeBron. And I think even as an extension of it, you have kids now that Steph Curry to them is the greatest thing they've ever seen because that is their age. So I definitely think it is a generational thing.

KELLY: Either of you remotely open to the idea that the answer here is neither of them, that Magic Johnson or Julius Erving or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell - that somebody entirely different deserves the mantle?

HASSAN: Well, it all depends on what you're looking for. If it's winning, then it's Bill Russell. Me personally, I like to factor in everything combined, which would, you know, conclude to Michael Jordan.

KELLY: Chris Manning, I'm going to guess you might beg to differ.

MANNING: Well, I do think that - intellectually, I think that's a way to entertain it. But I think what it comes down to, when you break down the different areas and you try to account for every variable possible, for me it does come down to these two guys.

KELLY: All right. That is Chris Manning, editor-in-chief of the Cavs blog Fear The Sword, and Sami Hassan of the blog The Bulls Times. Thanks so much to you both.

HASSAN: Thank you.

MANNING: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STILL CORNERS SONG, "THE FIXER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.