Does H-O-R-S-E make a GOAT?

Published 10:33 am Monday, June 18, 2018

I don’t know for certain whether LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, but I do wish that debate would just go away like an airball jump shot. Swoosh, nothing but air.

Seems like that’s all you hear about these days, and with pro basketball now put to rest until November. That is, unless you want to count this month’s NBA draft, or better still: the Las Vegas Summer League. (Don’t laugh, just ask our own Kent Bazemore, who got a great start to his pro career hanging from the rim – but not in the casinos! – in Sin City).

I don’t know who or what started this deliberation. Probably some vapid blowhard on a sports talk show. Or maybe it was social media. Doesn’t take much to pick a topic and run it into the ground on Facebook nowadays.

It’s a flawed argument to begin with and probably pointless to boot. Some things you just can’t figure. It’s like some of those genius-only math equations, or a philosophical religious concept you could argue after Sunday School or Bible Study. I admit, some of those are legitimately worth some discussion. But the rest……!?!

Where’s it going to go…and where’s it going to end!?!

First, a little history. With close to 30 years living in Wilmington under my belt I can tell you I can’t be completely unbiased in the Jordan vs. LeBron argument.

Watching MJ play at the old Roland-Grice gymnasium in what was then a junior high school, and later at E.A. Laney High (where, yes – he was cut from the varsity team the first year he tried out for the team!), all the way up through Carolina to those six championship rings to crying at his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

LeBron vs. Michael is just stupid. Aside from the answer “nobody cares!” are the obvious problems that they played in different eras against different opponents with different skill sets and teammates. LeBron has a body more comparable to Paul Pierce than Michael Jordan: rugged and muscular instead of wiry and sinewy.

But if LBJ and MJ played at the same moment in time, the key word being “if”, then how would they stack up?

LeBron out leaps Jordan, runs the floor faster and blocks more shots. MJ had a higher basketball IQ, was a better defender (9-time All-NBA Defensive Team), and it’s hard to argue he wasn’t more competitive. It took a while, but you finally have to admit he made those around him better. Remember when that was a mark of greatness? LeBron does it all because he has to do it all, and that casts a total eclipse over the rest of his teammates.

So, the best we can come up with would be that LeBron would probably win a game of one-on-one – first one to 30, and maybe a game of H-O-R-S-E. (And, yes, again: I remember Jordan challenging Larry Bird with “nothing but net!”) But once it counted for real, Jordan and four more guys would mop the floor against LeBron and any of the teams he’s played for so far. You, too, Miami!

But you know what else? Neither would be in the same realm as Bill Russell, or for that matter, Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Ultimately, the debate has to come down to winning. Consider that from 1957 to 1969, Russell’s teams won 11 NBA titles. LeBron has three, MJ has six.

End of argument.

What we have now are a generation of sports fans who want to believe that, like some of us old fogeys did when we were their age, that they are watching the greatest to ever play the game. If they can’t argue the facts, they just yell a little louder and call you names like Stephen A. Smith.

And they are easily ignored, sort of like the NBA regular season.

And if you really want to mess with these people arguing over the best of all time, tell them to look up another guy out of Wilmington. I think he used to dribble to the strains of “Sweet Georgia Brown”.

Here’s to you Meadowlark Lemon. The greatest of all time.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211