Christopher Reeve is Still Superman to Me or LeBron James will Never be Greater than Michael Jordan

LeBron James can score 65 points tonight and lead the Miami Heat to back-to-back NBA championships, go on to win the next seven Finals in a row and he still won’t be greater than Michael Jordan. Well, at least not in the court of public opinion. For the same reason no baseball player will ever be better than Willie Mays, Jim Brown is the greatest running back, Marvin Gaye will always be the greatest soul singer, Rakim or Biggie will alternately be considered the G.O.A.T. and Christopher Reeves will always be Superman, regardless of how will Henry Cavil and Dean Cain played the role.

Generational ownership.

Generational ownership grants the copyright of greatness to those who witnessed or came of age during a particular time when other folks were doing great things. Thing about it, old Black folks are always telling you how things were so much better when they were doing such and such and how so and so is much better than this new boy you listen to.  God forgive you, but I know there were times when you wanted to slap an elder when they made some thirty year comparison that wouldn’t stand up anywhere outside of that space you were in. But they’ve earned that right. Or have they?

People are the catalogs of history, but there are flaws in every system and personal bias goes a lot further than a missed decimal point. There are older cats who swear Dr. J is the greatest there ever was, almost as if they stopped watching basketball after June 19, 1984 and they never saw Michael Jordan play a day. That’s because the reaction they received from The Doctor reminds them of a greater, simpler time in their lives or that was the height of their fandom. Logic is completely disregarded when these conversations are being held; stats and facts are bent to whomever they benefit at the time and the most microscopic blemishes are blown completely out of proportion because losing the title of “the greatest ever” in your generation almost seems like you’re losing a piece of yourself or the significance of that time in your life is diminished a little.

People are stupid.

Evolution creates the space necessary for greatness to expand and its definition redefined, constantly. Michael Jordan exceeded the standard of greatness in basketball in ways people never imagined. Think, at the time, Dr. J, Magic and Larry were widely thought to be at the top of the all lists along with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Nearly 30 years later, those names are usually running behind Jordan’s in sentences that include the words best and ever. So why is it so impossible to believe that LeBron James could one day supplant Michael as the greatest player of all-time? The impact of Michael Jordan around the world is only surpassed by Jesus and Muhammad Ali and when Jesus comes back, I’m sure a few church folks will say he was as good as the first time, because the first time is usually all that matters to people.

LeBron James is the most physically gifted athlete ever. Point blank. He’s bigger than most power forwards, but outruns point guards and has the tools to reshape the game in his image. However, over the course of his nine year career, there’s been a question of mental toughness because of his (perceived) inability in the big moment. There’s been talk of  him lacking the “clutch gene” many great athletes demonstrate, like he didn’t score 25 straight points against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals or as if he doesn’t average 33.8 points per game in his four career game sevens. The man is 28-years-old, playing in his third consecutive NBA Finals, but we’re discussing his legacy when he may have ten years left to play.

It’s truly unprecedented. We’ve never had this discussion about any other athlete while still in the prime of his career; the Kobe/Jordan comparisons were based in similarities and Kobe’s drive to be considered greater than Michael Jordan. LeBron didn’t ask for any of this. He’s gone out and played team ball to a fault, deferring to Dwyane Wade in times when he should take the team on his back. But that’s the way he plays the game, think of how he sees the court and how he flies around defensively, his impact on the game is much greater (most of the time) than his scoring. We want dominance. It’s what we’re used to as a culture, conquerors. Most of us want LeBron to assert his dominance on a game from the jump ball and step on his opponent’s neck until their eyes pop out in submission.

Are you not entertained?

If the Heat do the unthinkable and lose on their home court tonight, LeBron’s Finals record will fall to 1-3 (the same as Dr. J) and the Big 3 era in Miami will largely be considered a failure. The scrutiny in the next five months will be unbearable and the criticism LeBron directly receives will be undeserved, but it will come. He’s simultaneously the most heralded and vilified athlete and I believe it all really weighs clumsily on his head like his headband. It’s impossible for him to shrug the comparisons, criticisms, acclaim, slings and arrows off as he plays one-on-one against history. A history he can never defeat, because much like how I believe Henry Cavill did an excellent job in Man of Steel, Christopher Reeve is still Superman to me. 

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