NBA: In GOAT debate, does LeBron get edge because Jordan took time off from basketball?

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2020 08:35 PM

LeBron James never missed a season in 17 years in the league, while Michael Jordan was retired for some 4 and a half seasons. Nelson Chenault, USA Today Sports/Reuters/file; Netflix

If anything, Michael Jordan’s career trajectory isn’t anything like any basketball fan has seen before or since for just one reason — he retired at the height of his basketball prime after his father is gunned down to pursue baseball only to come back and win a second 3-peat.

Like who does that?

Jordan left the game for more than a year, and that break — which began with his retirement announcement in October 1993 and lasted until February 1995 — has spawned numerous what-ifs.

What if he didn’t leave, how many championships would he have won? How many MVPs? Would the Houston Rockets, who won two titles in Jordan’s absence, have become champions? Would Jordan have become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer?

Those are some of the questions that have been up for debate for the longest time.

One argument though that references Jordan’s hiatus is more recent and something basketball fans never get tired of rehashing — the one that pits Jordan and LeBron James in the GOAT conversation.

And the one thing LeBron stans delight at in bringing up is the fact that James has played for 17 years straight.

James never missed a season, embracing the spotlight as a 19-year-old coming into the league and fighting through the glaring spotlight of his superstardom and the criticism leveled at him — from choke jobs when he was new in the league to the “Decision” in 2009, his occasional passive-aggressive behavior and most recently his comments on Hong Kong.

But James sucked it up unlike, accuse LeBron’s admirers, Jordan who needed time off because he had grown tired of being in the limelight.

To be fair, in the “The Last Dance”, the 10-part documentary series chronicling Jordan and the Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s, one of the reasons Jordan took a hiatus was to take up baseball, a childhood pursuit encouraged first and foremost by his father, James.

Later in the documentary, it was mentioned that the time away from the hard court let Jordan breathe after James’ murder.

Still, it’s fuel to the what-if fire — What if Jordan didn’t retire in 1993, would he have won 6 titles despite being exhausted from the media circus? Is an 8-peat scenario plausible? Would he have ended the GOAT debate if he completed the five seasons — including the 1998-99, 1999-2000, and 2000-2001 campaigns — in which he left the game?

James has his flaws, sure, but one thing going for him so far has been his durability. Jordan was tough, maybe tougher, no question, but those four lost seasons is something his critics are holding on to when they argue there’s somebody else who’s the greatest of all time.

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