The NBA, like America, is on an unsustainable course of growth and excess. The league is taking more and more three-pointers every year, and playing at a faster and faster pace — and just two teams, the top one percent of the league, have a near monopoly on elite players. The Warriors and Cavs will likely face each other in this year’s championship for the third consecutive time. A backlash is coming. America, too, has experienced a backlash: in this case, to the accelerated pace of global finance, demographic change and widening inequality.
Two years ago and maybe even last year, it was worthwhile to compare LeBron James to Kobe Bryant. But today, some fans have not yet acknowledged the obvious—King James reigns supreme and it’s not even close.
Of the several arguments that pervade the National Basketball Association today, there is none more controversial, more polarizing, and more litigious than the debate on whom the best player in the game is: Kobe Bean Bryant or LeBron Raymone James. Kobe Bryant embodies an extremely talented, hard-working, technically sound prodigy whose work-ethic is unknown to most of his peers. In LeBron James, players and fans alike see an enormously gifted, duly scintillating, freak of an athlete who is perhaps the only player in all of sports that has exceeded all the hype surrounding him, having garnered national attention early in his career. So which of these players is better?
When asked why he supported conservative and notorious racist Jesse Helms over Democrat Harvey Gantt in the 1996 North Carolina Senatorial race, Michael Jordan replied, “Republicans buy Nikes too.” And thus began the athlete’s 21st century business model: Dominate sport. Get endorsement contract. Obey the law … and stay out of politics.
Tiger Woods and LeBron James have followed this paradigm to perfection in becoming the wealthiest and most recognizable athletes of our generation. They and others like them all have an opportunity to influence the society by breaking down racial and gender barriers and by expressing their political views. Yet, they continually shy away from this responsibility for the sake of their reputation and their bank accounts.