Whenever anyone talks about the Greatest of all Time (G.O.A.T.) conversation in the NBA, it’s either LeBron James or Michael Jordan. They’re both great players and regardless of what happens, the decision is ultimately going to be subjective.
With the conclusion of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part docu-series during Jordan’s tenure with the Chicago Bulls reigniting the G.O.A.T. conversation, I decided to look at both James’ and Jordan’s cultural impact as a whole to determine who is the NBA’s G.O.A.T.
A few clarifications: I’m focusing strictly on sneaker sales and pop culture references. This means songs, movies, shows and social media presence.
And so, without further ado, let’s dive into the Jordan vs. LeBron debate.
Sneakers are one of the biggest ways that a professional athlete can enhance their cultural impact. Although James is on his 17th signature sneaker with Nike, Jordan completely blows that out of the water with 34 signature sneakers. That said, Jordan only had 14 signature sneakers during his playing days but that’s neither here nor there.
When it comes to sneaker sales, “Air Jordan” skies above all else: Jordan and Jordan Brand made $130 million in 2018 solely on sneakers alone, according to Forbes. Additionally in 2019, Jordan Brand posted its first billion-dollar quarter. Meanwhile, James made $32 million in 2018.
It also helps that Jordan Brand has the ability to retro and re-release sneakers from Jordan’s playing days, as the annual Air Jordan XI holiday drops are some of the more sought after sneakers on the market. Plus, with collaborations with Drake, Travis Scott, Mark Wahlberg and many others, it’s easy to see who’s the G.O.A.T. when it comes to sneakers.
Pop Culture References: Songs
There’s a saying that musicians want to be athletes and athletes want to be musicians. However, since it’s extremely unlikely that a person can be both, musicians try to be an athlete the best way they can: through lyricism. That’s why it’s not outside the realm of possibility to hear songs about James and Jordan since their athleticism and finesse, respectively, captivated audiences around the world.
Because of how many songs come out with references to James and Jordan, it is almost impossible to count all of them. On one side, you can hear Ice Cube or Biggie Smalls rap about Jordan. On the other, you have Jay-Z, Drake and others talking about James. Regardless of which side you choose, it’s fair to say that you can’t go wrong with either.
Pop Culture References: Movies/Shows
Regarding movies and TV shows, James has used his immense popularity to branch out to other forms of media. James has over 30 credits when it comes to movies and TV shows as either a producer or playing himself, according to IMDB. On the other hand, Jordan only has six credits, with “Space Jam” being the most popular.
Strictly in terms of credits, James soundly beats Jordan. But in terms of pop culture relevance, Jordan has the edge because “Space Jam” is still one of the most popular sports movies of all time. Additionally, the relevance of “Space Jam” some 25 years later ushered in a new wave of fans, mainly because of the popularity of the Air Jordan XI “Space Jam” and “Toon Squad” jersey.
Although James is producing and starring in a new iteration of “Space Jam,” it may not have the same cultural impact as the original.
Social Media Presence
There is no doubt who is the G.O.A.T. when it comes to social media presence. Even though Jordan has over 20 million combined followers on Instagram and Twitter, James has 45.9 million followers on Twitter alone. On Instagram, James has 64.2 million followers, totaling to over 100 million on his two main platforms.
Not only that, but James frequently uses his incredible reach to speak about social issues concerning minorities and people of color. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to see James at the forefront of any movement. He’s not afraid to alienate those who may not agree with him and knows that his influence is his most powerful weapon.
It’s pretty clear who the G.O.A.T. is concerning social media presence.
Jordan vs. LeBron: Who is the NBA’s cultural impact G.O.A.T.?
Taking everything into account, it’s clear that the NBA’s G.O.A.T. when it comes to cultural impact is Jordan.
The fact that everything he did and everything that Jordan Brand continues to do is at the forefront of pop culture is a testament to his impact on the cultural landscape.
At the same time, Jordan could learn a thing or two from James when it comes to athlete activism; the former is infamously tight-lipped while the latter is very outspoken. Jordan saying “Republicans buy sneakers, too” justifying his apolitical stance was egregious then and remains to be today.
Jordan has become more open about his political views but he’s still way behind James on that front. Nevertheless, Jordan can take pride in the fact that he’s the NBA’s cultural impact G.O.A.T.