Paving the Way

Imagine my astonishment when, on Valentine’s Day, my girlfriend opened the floodgates with the following: “So do you think LeBron is better than Michael Jordan?”

We were sitting at our favorite Mexican restaurant, with ESPN prattling in the background about LeBron James. I used this moment to plead my case that whenever he is on television, I must watch at any (reasonable) cost. This season is a once-in-a-lifetime treasure, and I can’t cater to woman’s avoidance of sports and miss out on a blooming legend.

So, after minutes of unreceptive sports talk, my answer to her question was one I’m sure has been said before: MJ is the best at winning games, LeBron is the best at dominating them. A layman’s escape from upsetting both parties.

How serendipitous, I thought, when Wright Thompson wrote this dazzling piece on Jordan’s 50-year-old reflections of a life long left behind. As any good profile does, it provided answers all potential questions. Oh, how I wanted to read MJ’s reaction to LeBron comparison’s.

Here’s the greatest player of his generation analyzing the greatest player of this generation:

The announcers gush about LeBron, mentioning him in the same sentence with Jordan, who hears every word. Those words have an effect on him. He stares at the TV and points out a flaw in LeBron’s game.

“I study him,” he says.

When LeBron goes right, he usually drives; when he goes left, he usually shoots a jumper. It has to do with his mechanics and how he loads the ball for release. “So if I have to guard him,” Jordan says, “I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”

So that’s it. A cracker-jack formula on how to stop LeBron James from a man who has never held that task. What if LeBron passes to a wide-open three, MJ? What if he just overpowers you? What about the million other variables that LeBron brings with him by simply picking up a ball?

Now, this is not to discredit arguably the greatest NBA player to ever live. And it is an argument. It would be a stagnant world if we never learned from the greats and failed to pick up where they left off. In a sense, it goes beyond immortality. MJ set a bar and it was up to all who followed to reach it, to push beyond it. That’s why competition exists. LeBron, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant all see it.

It’s age and pride that blinds the rest.

As I read Thompson’s piece, I saw through my once obscured vision. Whether it’s MJ, the 16-0 Dolphins or the sixth “Rocky” movie, there’s a bitterness that comes from seeing the youth surpass you, if only because you aren’t there to defend yourself. It’s infuriating. It was mostly evident when MJ dismissed the Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana argument because we “don’t remember” how Montana played. He, like many others, is on the side of the history because he refuses to accept that it could possibly be done better. As if it tarnishes the accolades laid out before.

This is my persona split in two. One is the benevolent coach/editor who went home overjoyed at the success of his successors. Time passes until he becomes a bitter old fuddy-duddy who has nothing but criticisms and envy for those reliving his past.

All it really is, if he can admit, is a shroud of excuses like, “I was always injured,” or “I was fed to the dogs too fast.” Those are personal demons I’ve had to go through, and I wish not to elaborate on them further because no one is writing a profile about me. But I would rather buy one of every color on a Monopoly board before I let you get a full set. Competitiveness knows no boundaries.

Then at some point, the ambition faded. It’s a choice that a heavy dose of Jason Mraz and job searching will help fix, proving that ambition can change forms. I don’t want to be a top high school runner or a beast college journalist anymore because that’s not where I belong now. I left it in the best hands and best way that I could and did my best while I was there. There’s nothing left to prove.

The hope is that the youth grow into a noble cast and finish your groundwork. In any circumstance, this is most often the case. I don’t know what’s going on at the old high school, but I’m glad the University Daily Kansan is in steady hands. I can’t say I’m surprised.

I was frustrated reading about MJ talking about having that youthful 218-pound body back so he could show these kids how it was done. By saying that, he is discrediting his own aspect of the game, and that was the most saddening revelation of the story. I get the whole competitive aspect, bu how can anyone find inner peace living like this? The LeBrons and Kobes of the world aren’t trying to ruin everything he’s done, they are trying to build off it. The more you bark about you and your former colleagues’ accomplishments, the more it diminishes what’s happening. Give the kids some credit.

They are here because you were.

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