For all his media posturing and noncommittal product endorsements, Michael Jordan was an average guy with an above-average ability to play basketball. We liked him because we could relate to him, even when we knew he was making hundreds of millions of dollars selling shoes, Coke, and kids movies.
Lebron James and Kobe Bryant possess Jordan’s hoop talent, but not nearly the same off-the-court following.
Bryant has been labeled the heir apparent to MJ since the late ’90s, when he began to show flashes of brilliance while still a teenager. Athletically, it’s hard to argue with what Kobe brings to the table. He has Jordan’s size, skill set, and desire to win.
Yet for all on-court accomplishments, Kobe’s personality is prickly and tough to relate to for some people.
The Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard can attest to some of the most loyal fans in sports (Really, have you ever seen as staunch an advocate of one player as a Kobe fan?), but that fan base isn’t nearly big enough to allow Bryant to compete marketing-wise with Jordan.
Add to that a mercurial mid-career switch between apparel endorsers (Kobe got his starting selling Adidas product, before switching to Nike), and that whole adultery mess which cost Bryant endorsements and fans, and you have a player that, no matter his skill, has sunk too far to be able to swim.
Lebron, on the other hand, is much more capable of channeling Jordan’s personality.
The Cleveland Cavaliers forward has made it a point to be a visible marketer of as many brands as will have him. Nike, especially, has been willing to showcase James in as many ways as possible. He has been a funny man (Remember “The Lebrons”?), a “soldier,” and a champion, all while selling a signature line of shoes and apparel that not even Kobe can claim to possess.
On the court, James is a force unlike any other. At 6’8″, 260, Lebron is a new type of player that has never been seen before in basketball. He has the speed and skill set of Kobe and Jordan, but the size and power of a Karl Malone. A true guard/forward hybrid.
Despite all that, the one thing that’s tough to comprehend about James is why he acts the way he does.
Unlike Jordan, who came off as an average guy doing average things, much of what Lebron says and does appears very calculated and well-thought out. From his pregame chalk toss to the postgame interviews, James seems cognizant of every action he performs, which makes him all the more peculiar in trying to understand.
Of course, neither Kobe nor Lebron is or ever will be Michael Jordan. Jordan was one of a kind, both on and off the court, but was always considered the best in both aspects. Kobe and Lebron are the closest we have come in the post-Jordan years to finding an heir to the Air’s throne. But what do we really think of these guys?