There are two key talking points people have when they’re making their case as to why Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, as opposed to LeBron James.
The first is Jordan’s rings. Jordan won six rings with the Chicago Bulls. while James has three at the age of 35. The second is Jordan’s hunger to win, which is what made him a favorite of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. Whether it’s fair to James or not, he’s been criticized throughout his career for being too passive.
While Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone doesn’t think there’s a clear answer to the GOAT debate, he gave his opinion on James’ mental makeup compared to Jordan’s in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday (via Mark Medina of USA Today):
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.”
Malone elaborated on why he believes Jordan was the fiercer competitor of the two:
“Michael Jordan was not just a great player. He would reach into your chest and pull your heart out if he had to win a game,” Malone said. “You don’t see that really often. He had that killer mindset and brought it every single night. That’s why all of these many years later, he’s the greatest of all time.”
That might be more of a testament to Malone’s high opinion of Jordan than it is to his thoughts on James, but it’s safe to assume James won’t take it that way. If there’s anything we’ve learned about James over the years, it’s that he uses whatever he can take as motivation, and someone that coached him saying he didn’t have that “killer mentality” certainly qualifies.
In other words, if the Lakers and Nuggets meet in the Western Conference Finals this season, Malone better have a great game plan for James. Otherwise, James is going to show him just how blood-thirsty he can be.