Retired NBA guard Ron Harper is one of the latest guys to chime in on the ever-growing GOAT debate. In his mind, LeBron should be compared to guys like Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson instead of MJ. But what makes his opinion different than everyone else's?
He played from 1986-2001, with a front-row seat to Jordan and his famous Bulls teams.
Here's what he said to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype:
Kennedy: Having seen Jordan up close – on and off the court – can you share why you don’t like that LeBron-Jordan comparison, which has become pretty common?
Harper: They make the wrong comparison. When you look at LeBron James, you have to think of Oscar Robertson or Magic Johnson – big guards who can do everything. One thing they don’t give MJ credit for was his defense. MJ was an aggressive defensive player – one of the best of all-time at that two-guard spot. He doesn’t get any credit for that because everyone wants to talk about the way he scored the basketball, but MJ was a great defensive ball player too. So I don’t really put LeBron in that MJ conversation. I put LeBron with those big guys.
So, Harper seems to credit Jordan's defense as one of the big separators between him and Bron. When you compare, the case can certainly be made that Jordan was a much superior defender. He has a Defensive Player of the Year award, 3 more All-Defensive Team selections, and averaged more blocks and steals than James. Plus, both Magic and Robertson mirror Bron's game better than anyone, and some aren't even convinced the "King" has passed them yet.
But to Harper, it was the way Mike flipped that "switch" that made him such an enigma.
He didn’t just intimidate you [during the game]. When you played against MJ, you were thinking about it the night before. You knew that you had to get a good night’s sleep because he was going to come with it. Some guys would start trash talking with him. I used to ask guys, “Why are you talking trash to him first?! That’s not smart!”
Before we were teammates, I remember I was getting ready to play against him and the night before our game, he had me and some other guys over to his house to play cards. So we’re at MJ’s house the night before [our game] and we’re playing cards and he was sitting right next to me. He kept trying to talk to me like, “Harpy! What’s up, man? Everything good?” I’m just like… [Looks straight ahead, wide-eyed]. I’d just mumble, “Hey Mike, how you doing?” That’s it. He asked me, “What’s wrong?” I told him, “I ain’t going to talk to you and say anything you can use to get upset because you’ll just keep shooting the damn ball over me and score on me all night. I’m just going to be nice and polite to you, buddy.” (Laughs)
But there were guys who would talk trash to him. Reggie Miller used to talk trash to him. Nick Anderson would do it. Gary Payton would talk trash to everybody – he couldn’t shut up. (Laughs) But he talked trash to MJ too. A lot of guys would start talking to him and that just flipped a switch in him. I’d see him go, “What’d you just say? Hey, throw me the ball.” It was fun… when you were on his team.
It sounds like Jordan was just someone you didn't wanna mess with on the basketball court. That story by Harper really says a lot about how much guys were careful not to piss him off.
For as good as LeBron may be, does he instill that level of fear into his opponents? Does he command that level of respect?
There are the types of things that give Jordan an edge (in some minds) over LeBron James. It's not necessarily the stat-sheet which makes the difference but, rather, the immeasurable, uncountable way Jordan dominated the basketball world.