For the most part, Chicago Bulls GOAT Michael Jordan and Lakers superstar LeBron James did a really good job with the media spotlight.
An aspect of the all-time greats in the NBA that is usually not considered, but does help to tell their story on and off-the-court, is how they dealt with the media and how much access they gave into their lives. Absolutely no one should expect any NBA star to give media and fans complete access to their lives. But part of being a public figure can be at least painting some narrative of how your personality matches up off-the-court compared to on. How this matter can play a part in a player’s overall narrative in the public eye is greatly exemplified by the Chicago Bulls legendary shooting guard Michael Jordan.
And very few superstars in the history of the league had as much fascination and intrigue into their lives on and off-the-court as MJ. At this point, the plot lines, stories, and conspiracies associated with MJ away from basketball are almost more often discussed than his actual hoops game.
MJ’s personal life during his playing days in the NBA with the Bulls was really put under the microscope during the premier of the recent hit 10-part documentary series “The Last Dance”. While MJ did control the narrative during The Last Dance, it still showed off a lot of aspects of his personality on and off-the-court that fans both knew and didn’t know.
The reaction to The Last Dance from fans, current and former players, and the media, was also telling to how MJ is viewed on and off-the-court.
Yet if one thing is true, it’s that MJ was very likely the most polarizing athlete of his time and one of the most influential in modern history. Everyone had an opinion on Jordan and his image.
A recent piece published by the New Yorker dove deeper on “The Jordan Rules” and former Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Smith. This piece from the New Yorker showed how Jordan was displayed there and in general in the public eye by the media.
As a whole, the article has a lot of comparisons between MJ’s influence during his hay day alongside what Los Angeles Lakers superstar forward LeBron James has in the modern NBA. Here’s one of the more interesting parts in this New Yorker piece pertaining to the MJ-LeBron comps in the media.
Now everything is privacy. The locker room was just open.
For a 7 p.m. game, Jordan would come at, like, 3 p.m. or something, so I’d get there and just talk with him for three hours. Now you’ve got ten minutes with guys, if that. LeBron is celebrated for being one of the few in the whole league who comes out before the game and gives the media five minutes. Jordan gave everybody three hours.
Now this is a take that severely favors Jordan in the eyes of the media. Just because he spent more time on media availability than LeBron isn’t the sole reason why he was better in this regard. But, especially early in his career, the openness of MJ’s attitude with the media was something special and not really before seen with an NBA superstar of his stature. Jordan did become more closed off to the media as he moved deeper into his career.
There was also a more favorable image that the general public tended to have of Jordan. By the early-to-mid 1990’s, he was the unquestioned best player in the NBA with multiple championships. That was something that eluded LeBron through his initial run with the Cleveland Cavaliers. And he even lost his first NBA Finals in his run with the Miami Heat. He would later claim two titles with the Heat and one with the Cavs in his second stint in his home state. That brings him to the three he possesses now.
At this moment, LeBron is about the closest comparison for Jordan in terms of level of stardom and overall influence among NBA players. But no one has quite finished off their narrative with the same style and flair that Jordan did. It is really difficult to find a good modern day comparison in the NBA to MJ.