Recently, LeBron James referred to himself as the greatest player of all-time due to his ability to bring a championship to Cleveland after a 52 year drought, as well as toppling what was considered, at the time, the greatest team ever assembled—and at the very least, the winningest.
And people got big mad. Arrogant. Disrespectful. Let other people say it for you. Yada-yada-yada. The Post even ran an article entitled ‘LeBron James’s GOAT talk got Internet to dig up Michael Jordan’s much humbler comments’. (What a fucking mouthful that was) The article goes on to compare the accomplishments of Jordan to LeBron’s (the chosen accomplishments out-pointing LeBron) and an indictment of James’s perceived hubris.
When I hear the word hubris, I think of Hamlet, because it implies, or really it needs, a downfall. We likely won’t see a downfall from James (because of how much care he puts into his body—making his, undoubtedly, the greatest career in terms of longevity) as well as the fact that we’re discussing basketball and a king and not a prince and seven dead bodies on a stage. Curtain falls.
I’m not here to argue LeBron vs Jordan. The GOAT discussion is purely for entertainment and youtube comments and reveals far more about the debators than the athletes. What I care about are the accusations of disrespect and arrogance.
A few years ago, a coworker asked me who I was going for in the finals. I replied that I would be cheering on the Cavs. Her face soured. She retorted, “I don’t like LeBron—he’s too prideful.”
What does that mean? Or rather, if humility is the opposite, what does that look like?
Remember when Kendrick dropped that verse on ‘Control’ and everyone shit themselves? I didn’t hear—no that’s not true—I did hear a lot of people call it disrespectful, though they meant it positively. They praised Kendrick for going at his peers; and they certainly didn’t call up Macklemore and ask if his feelings got hurt.
In an interview, shortly after, Run the Jewels was asked how they felt about the verse and EL-P, tired and annoyed, responded, “It’s so funny to me to see people freak out. All these born-again hip-hop purists, saying, Lyrics are important. No shit. Some of us been going for the throat our whole careers.” And there’s Killer Mike in the background throwing up his hands like he’s at church (cue Doom, “Got more lyrics than the church got ooh lords”) cause real rappers didn’t sweat shit cause they’re real rappers.
At the end of the verse, after Kendrick lists rap-gods and his contemporaries, he says, “I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you niggas/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas” and then poses, “What is competition?”
People walk around in t-shirts bearing the likeness of Ali, with his iconic words slapped beneath, “I am the greatest.” They accused him of the very same disrespect and arrogance. Now we look back and marvel at the shit he talked. Do you understand how mad white America was at this big-ass negro telling white boys that they ain’t shit? And then proving it by punching their faces in? Would we like Ali more without the lines? Without the audacity?
If LeBron’s contemporaries find his statement disrespectful, all the better for us. Now we get to see great athletes go at each other. And to finish that Doom line, “And he hold the mic and your attention like two swords.” Iron sharpens iron.
Old heads always point to the battles between Bird and Magic. In fact, they use it to disqualify the lack of ‘parity’ in today’s NBA (though the whole idea of parity is also bullshit). Bird and Magic brought the best out of each other—often by talking shit. And we, as fans, live for that disrespect. What was the highlight of last season? Probably James Harden crossing over Wesley Matthews and licking his lips before draining a three. Cause greatness doesn’t come quietly. Again, we ask, what is humility? Boring. Puritanical. Likely, in opposition, to competition.
When KD came out this year and called himself the greatest player in the league, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Or when Harden said it. Because it doesn’t ring true. But when LeBron says it, suddenly it holds weight and scratches against the truth. And perhaps, that is the most disrespectful thing of all—that time turns and players get better and we grow old.