By: Nabil Abou
A simple Google search of “LeBron James vs Michael Jordan G.O.A.T.” shows a seemingly endless list of websites and video content devoted to the debate.
Whether it’s sports commentators and pundits, current and former NBA players, or high school students discussing the topic between classes, it seems the conversation doesn’t have an end in sight.
The talk resurfaced recently when James broke the NBA scoring record on Feb. 8, eclipsing Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s mark set in 1984, a record that once seemed insurmountable.
And while it might be fun to argue who the greatest of any sport or discipline may be, the conversation should not just be about championships won or records in the finals. It should be about all aspects of an athlete’s career. In the process of trying to decide one's greatness on the court, we may be overlooking what also makes one, in this case, James, great: his impact on the greater community.
James’ work in his local and national community cannot be overstated. His LeBron James Family Foundation has raised over $100 million and given to seven foundations, supporting at least 12 causes.
In 2018, James founded his “I Promise” School, with the aim of reaching at-risk individuals. According to its website, “The I Promise School's mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives…an education and living an active, healthy lifestyle is pivotal to the development of children and young adults.” During the pandemic, he provided meals to 340 students to families at his school, enough food for 1,300 people.
James’ TV special “The Decision” was aired to raise money and donate to various centers of the Boys & Girls Club of America, a community that educates and mentors young people. The special received a viewership of 10 million people and the sponsors and commercials raised $2 million. Perhaps more importantly, though, in the end $3 million was spread across projects in 59 clubs in the seven cities. The Boys & Girls club estimates that 200,000 kids were affected by James’ donation.
James has also created a community center, House Three Thirty, to offer services to the people of Akron, Ohio, his birthplace. House Three Thirty is a multi-use center providing programming and services for I PROMISE families and the larger Akron community.
Oh, and he’s also helped three different teams win four championships.
It is the last fact, though, that gets all the attention when others attempt to argue his greatness, even though it is clear that what James has been able to accomplish outside of basketball is most noteworthy.
Yes, James makes his teammates better. Yes, he has a very high basketball IQ and he knows how a defense is going to react before it reacts. Yes, he creates so much gravity around him that it opens up space for his teammates. Yes, he is an amazing passer allowing him to hit his teammates for open shots and easy layups. Yes, he instills the mindset that every team he plays on has a chance to be a contender. Yes, he has scored the most points in history. Yes, he has four MVP awards, four Finals MVP awards, and two Olympic gold medals. Yes, he is a leader and sets a great example of how an NBA player should be.
But because of what James has accomplished in and for the community, any conversation assessing his greatness is incomplete without including the impact of his off-the-court efforts.
End of conversation.