By: Jackson Kelley
There is one thing that will forever separate Michael Jordan from LeBron James. No, it's not their respective career averages or even their mammoth endorsement deals. Surely between the both of them, these guys could open up a bank and a hall of fame, if they wanted to.
The division, in question here, is one that’s unquantifiable. What will always separate the two greatest basketball players of all-time, is their participation (or lack thereof) in NBA extracurriculars.
It is perhaps the most perpetual “who’s better” arguments, in professional sports: Michael Jordan or LeBron James?
Their manifold supporters share a largely overlapping Venn diagram. We’re talking about statistical GOATs. The sample size is considerable (15 seasons) and these surefire hall of famers are still neck-and-neck. They are reciprocally the only fair comparison for one another.
Despite his accomplishments, LeBron would admit that he shrivels like a worshipper, in the presence of “His Airness”. Even LeBron idolized Jordan, growing up (he probably still does). There’s no shame in that. But it’s important to remember how Michael Jordan earned his intimidating appellation.
This superlative nickname derives from his super-memorable performances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest - a contest that LeBron James refuses to compete in.
Michael Jordan rendered the NBA Slam Dunk Contest the undisputed climax of All-Star Weekend. It was the athletically bellicose response to it’s more tranquil counterpart - the Three-Point Contest.
If dunking’s popularity thundered, Michael Jordan was the red hot lightning that the vibrations emanated from. The world was watching and he was like an atmospheric satellite.
Some of the most indelible fingerprints that Jordan left on the NBA were made during All-Star Weekends. Timeless highlights, such as his famous leap from the free throw line, the arcane acrobatics of his 360s and the unfettered ferocity of his double-pumps flash through the minds of fans, now decades later.
Michael Jordan generated a logo with a dunk. Good luck trumping that. Somehow he contemporized the game, as if he had changed the rules. Jordan single-handedly made basketball “hip”, before hip-hop was pop. Dunks were his brushstrokes and the Slam Dunk Contest was his most supple and susceptible canvas.
So when there comes a “Chosen One” who can imitate the inimitable Michael Jordan, why would he elect to sit out of his idol’s favorite competition? These are the proving grounds - the gauntlets that will punctuate the eternal argument of “who’s better”.
The appointed heir, LeBron James, has decided that he will never enter an NBA Slam Dunk Contest, for no ostensible reason other than fear. And LeBron doesn’t receive enough criticism for this cowardly move.
If LeBron wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as the greatest, why doesn’t he do as the greatest did?
Some have conjectured that LeBron chooses to sit out of the Dunk Contest in an attempt to ensure his longevity. But he willingly participates in the superfluous All-Star Game, which has contact, where the Slam Dunk Contest is practically devoid of any potential danger.
Without evidence, one could surmise that LeBron is just as fearful of losing as he is of injury. It’s possible that he believes an underperformance in the Dunk Contest would tarnish his GOAT-bid irreparably. After all, this is the arena where Michael Jordan absolutely dominated.
Yes, LeBron’s contribution to the sport of basketball is invaluable. We search for disparities, when comparing legends, because they are so singularly talented. Conversely LeBron has damaged the NBA All-Star Weekend, by withholding his incomparable talents from the now antiquated dunking showcase.
Imagine a Slam Dunk Contest that featured LeBron James. The mere notion induces salivation in the fans who want to see this happen - anyone who watches basketball. In an event that has been corrupted by the dishonorable use of props, LeBron could provide a much needed injection of electric showmanship.
Unfortunately, at this point in his career, it doesn’t seem likely that LeBron will ever make his highly anticipated appearance in the Dunk Contest. Just like the center of a Tootsie Pop, “the world may never know” how many dunks it takes to get to the center of Michael Jordan’s legacy. Or something like that...
Whenever he retires, LeBron James will mathematically be right up there with Michael Jordan. In fact, after 15 seasons, LeBron has actually surpassed Jordan in a few peripheral categories, such as assists and rebounds. But the separation will endlessly remain: We will never witness the ultimate showdown between basketball’s ultimate showoffs.