The premiere of “The Last Dance” has brought Michael Jordan back to the forefront of the national conversation and reignited the debate over whether Jordan is indeed the greatest basketball player of all time.
LeBron James naturally factors into that discussion due to his sustained dominance over the last 17 seasons, and also because Jordan reportedly green-lit the production of the documentary series on the day that James and the Cavaliers had their 2016 NBA Championship parade.
Jordan and James obviously never overlapped during their basketball careers, and the style of play differed substantially between their two eras, so comparisons are tricky, not that that stops anyone from offering their takes. One person whose opinion does hold some weight, however, is James Worthy. Worthy played with Jordan at North Carolina and then against him for several years while with the Lakers. As an analyst for Spectrum SportsNet, Worthy also has had up close and personal access to James over the last two seasons.
Danny Green (a former Tar Heel and current teammate of James stoking the flames) asked Worthy to choose between the two on his podcast “Inside the Green Room”, and Worthy’s answer was illuminating:
“It’s tough man, I’m winning with either one. We’ve never seen a physical physique like LeBron James. LeBron James had it since he came into the league, I mean he could go play middle linebacker or tight end for the Dallas Cowboys right now.... If I had to make my choice, I’m going with MJ because I played with him. I know he’s deadly, and I don’t think there’s anybody in the league today that has the tenacity that he had. Michael’s not nice.
I don’t know man, I love LeBron. I’m going to have to go with my boy, cuz he chose me.”
It is perfectly understandable for Worthy to choose the player he personally played with as the greatest of all time, especially because Jordan helped Worthy win an NCAA title for legendary head coach Dean Smith, which was really important to everyone who played for North Carolina. The part of this answer that makes it so quintessentially Worthy is that he says Jordan “chose” him, as if his decision to play for the Tar Heels was solely dependent on Worthy’s presence on the team.
James still has some some time to add to his case, and winning a title with a third NBA franchise could be just the ticket, particularly in Worthy’s eyes. If James helped end the Lakers’ championship drought, that might be enough to swing Worthy’s vote in the King’s favor.