In the wake of ESPN debuting The Last Dance over the weekend, the debate about whether its subject, Michael Jordan, or LA Lakers star LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time has been given new life. Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone is the latest to weigh in, sharing his own thoughts in an interview with USA Today’s Mark Medina. And while he stopped short of picking one player or the other, he did note that Jordan definitely had something that LeBron doesn’t.
Malone — who led the Nuggets to a 43-22 record and the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference standings before the coronavirus brought the NBA to a standstill — told USA Today via Zoom call that LeBron lacks MJ’s legendary “killer mentality.”
“It’s always an ongoing argument about who is the GOAT. Michael obviously is up there and is the greatest of all time. There are not many Michael Jordans out there. I coached LeBron James for five years and have a great relationship with him. LeBron did not have the same mindset or killer mentality that Michael Jordan is supposed to have had. But LeBron James is arguably the greatest of all time as well.”
Although that answer feels akin to a cop-out, with Malone seemingly indicating that both players have achieved GOAT status, his mention of Jordan’s killer instinct on the court could definitely indicate that he’s leaning toward the Chicago Bulls legend and six-time NBA champion in the argument.
The Last Dance is a Jordan-centric docu-series covering the Bulls’ 1997-98 season, during which they defeated the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals to complete their second three-peat of championships. At the conclusion of the campaign, the Bulls elected to go in a new direction, bidding adieu to future Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Phil Jackson, while Jordan elected to retire for the second time.
Since its first two (of 10) episodes aired on Sunday, the Jordan-James debate has returned to the social consciousness in a major way. Earlier this week, Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant made his own pick public. He claimed that Jordan (not LeBron) would be the best player in today’s NBA if he were playing now, despite the fact that the league has changed dramatically in the 17 years since MJ last took to the hardwood.
Over 15 seasons, Jordan averaged 30 points, six rebounds, five assists, and more than two steals per game. James, meanwhile, has averaged 27 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and 1.6 steals per contest over a 17-year span.