MJ vs LeBron poll results demonstrate what America wants from its athletes

Michael Jordan #23

Michael Jordan #23

ESPN recently polled 600 people to find out the answer to the most elusive question in sports: Who's better, LeBron or MJ? On the heels of "The Last Dance," Michael Jordan won in a landslide.

Jordan won all 17 questions asked, and was favored by a 4-to-1 margin by the 35+ age group, and 2-to-1 by the 18-34 age group.

Wait, that can't be right, can it?

76% of people favor MJ to hit the game-winning shot? LeBron has more in his career.

73% believe MJ is the better overall player? LeBron averages two more rebounds and five more assists than MJ in his career.

65% believe MJ would be better to have a drink with? The guy who punched Steve Kerr in the face, bullied Scottie Burrell, and was known for spitting on his food so he wouldn't have to share it with anyone?

59% believe MJ was a better passer? Is that a joke?

These answers aren't based on logic. I'd never expect them to be. Like any election result, they're based on rhetoric, storytelling and brand. MJ was, of course, just hyped up in a masterful 5-week, 10-part series that helped us work through a dearth of live sports. But, "The Last Dance" reminded me of something other than Jordan's god-like commitment and performance: His brand-discipline.

Think about what Jordan didn't do when LeBron forced his name into GOAT conversation. He didn't donate to a charitable cause, he didn't do a round of media appearances, he didn't back a social cause, and he didn't talk about how he likes to vote. Those are 2020's quick shots in the arm for public perception, and relevance. LeBron leans on many of them.

When LeBron came back from down 3-1 in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan went back to Ol' Reliable: His six rings, compared to LeBron's three. His focus, compared to LeBron's distraction. His obsession, compared to LeBron's obsession to be "more than an athlete." MJ approved ESPN's making of "The Last Dance" the same day LeBron was celebrating his 2016 championship, surely because the obsession to be on top still drives him.

And for that, America has rewarded Jordan with the crown. In total, 73% of NBA fans prefer His Airness, according to ESPN. We don't really think he's a better passer, teammate or friend than LeBron. We just have no reason not to love Jordan. He's too disciplined for that. Does Jordan vote? Maybe, but we'll never know who for. Does Jordan donate? Surely, but to who? What's Jordan's family life like? Not sure. Does he even "like" anything on social media? Nope. That isn't by accident. That's brand-discipline. Remember, "republicans buy sneakers too."

Maybe LeBron's causes and side projects mean more to him than being remembered as the greatest. I wouldn't doubt that. He seems like he truly cares. Maybe basketball's just not stimulating enough for LeBron. He has the world at his fingertips, and a knack for being unsatisfied. Maybe he enjoys the instant gratification and acceptance that comes - from one side at least - with sharing political leanings.

That's all fine and well, but Americans have a knack for being offended - by, like, anything. Left, right, or center, every word a public figure speaks is another chance for me to be outraged!

LeBron's willing to be told to "shut up and dribble." Jordan's not. Most of us make a similar choice, between office-politics and honesty. Willing to shut up and kiss a little ass? You'll go a long way in this world. I'm still not sure who gets the last laugh in the end. For now, Jordan can rest on the throne, on the heels of "The Last Dance."

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