Skip to main content

At this point in time, there’s nothing ground-breaking about comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan. Whether you agree or disagree with the practice, two of basketball’s greats are always going to be placed in parallel to each other; it’s not exactly fair, but that’s how sports-based debates tend to work.

If you insist that His Airness is forever superior to LeBron, you’re in luck. According to Mario Chalmers, who played alongside James in Miami, the current Laker can’t touch MJ in one area: the fear he inspired in opponents.

Agree with that assessment? Think it’s only one man’s opinion? Let’s roll the tape and check it out.

Mario Chalmers gives Michael Jordan the edge when it comes to NBA fear factors

If you’ve ever played sports, you know that the very sight of a specific opponent can strike fear into your heart. Mario Chalmers understands that, but he doesn’t think LeBron James moves the needle in that department.

“Nobody fears Bron,” his former teammate explained during a Playmaker interview. “Nobody’s like, ‘Damn, I gotta go play against LeBron tonight.’ Nobody said that. I don’t know why because I’ve seen people be scared when they actually line up to him. But they’re not scared thinking about that matchup.”

At that point, the specter of Michael Jordan entered the conversation. When you’re talking about all-time NBA greatness, after all, it’s inevitable that the living legend will make an appearance.

“You hear anybody from that era talk about going against Jordan, there’s a fear,” Chalmers continued. “So when you have people that fear a player, then that’s telling you something different already. Jordan is just that guy; like everything was like, ‘I wanna be like Mike.'”

Is it fair to count those as factors in the Jordan vs. LeBron debate?

LeBron James (L) and Michael Jordan (R) shake hands at the 2022 NBA All-Star Game
Michael Jordan and LeBron James are always going to be compared to each other. | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Upon first blush, it’s easy to read Chalmers’ comments as supporting Michael Jordan’s superiority. He, after all, inspired fear that LeBron James simply can’t match. When you apply a bit of further thought, though, things get a bit less clear.

First, in regard to the fear factor, it is worth noting that James does intimidate the opposition when they actually line up against him. While there could be something to be said for striking fear in the collective heart of the NBA — maybe that’s because MJ was more of a trash-talker than LeBron? Or perhaps it’s tied to modern players being more friendly with each other? — it’s not like King James is viewed as an easy matchup.

Then, moving on to the “I wanna be like Mike” factor, it’s not exactly fair to use that as a feather in Jordan’s cap and a strike against James.

Did MJ’s incredible talent play a role in that pop-cultural presence? Of course, but he was also the beneficiary of good fortune. Jordan entered the NBA scene at a time when the Association was becoming a global presence. While he needed to be a star to seize that opportunity, someone was bound to become the league’s first superstar.

By the time LeBron James turned pro, we had seen multiple iterations of NBA talent. Jordan had just hung up his sneakers for the final time. Guys like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Vince Carter were captivating the global audience. Even in James’ own draft class, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade took up some of the spotlight. In that landscape, where so many players have both established themselves as stars and taken advantage of modern marketing, it’s understandable that no one player holds the same grip on the fan base that Jordan did.

It’s also worth noting that it isn’t really James’ fault that he hit the court after Jordan. Does MJ deserve some credit for redefining what it means to be a star? Of course, but that can’t really be a strike against someone who simply happened to be born after him.

Does that mean that LeBron James should be ranked ahead of Michael Jordan? You can be the judge of that for yourself. When you’re pitting the two men against each other, though, just make sure you’re grading fairly.

Related

Michael Jordan Joined the Dream Team for 1 Reason, and It Wasn’t to Win Gold