LeBron James and Michael Jordan approach basketball and life in starkly different ways. Jordan had to be convinced into consistently sharing the ball with his teammates, while James has been criticized for involving his teammates in the offense too frequently. James is a significantly larger man and one of the most unique physical specimens in the history of sports, while Jordan played basketball with the grace of a dazzling performance of Swan Lake.
Jordan hit .202 in AA baseball as a 30-year-old, and James was an All-State football player in high school. James has tried to hold onto his hairline for dear life, Jordan abandoned his in the late 1980s and turned the bald head into a style that many people in the 1990s should never have copied. A 21-year-old Jordan happened to meet an ambitious Phil Knight when Nike was finding its footing as a company, while James — born two months into Jordan’s rookie season — had his sights on becoming a billionaire before his 21st birthday.
People always compare the two, knowing that they play basketball in entirely different ways, and their lives are even more so. Jordan was born five months before the March on Washington and raised in the south in a two-parent home with four other siblings. James was born at the tail end of 1984 in Akron, Ohio, and it was just him and his mother in a Midwest, once bustling with industry, turned desolate and desperate.
Outside of being tall Black males who are two of the best basketball players to ever walk the Earth, and 21st-century billionaires, there doesn’t appear to be much in common between the two. However, when James tweeted the day before the Fourth of July “I *prayer hands emoji* for my city today,” it was a reminder of the commonality that they share with millions of other people on this planet. They are indeed Black and being Black and at the wrong place at the wrong time can be dangerous, and sometimes deadly.
What’s more, both James and Jordan grew up in cities steeped in racism.
On June 27, 2022, Jayland Walker’s life ended in Akron. A car chase with law enforcement led to a foot pursuit that was quickly ended with gunfire. Walker was allegedly shot 60 times while being pursued by eight officers. Law enforcement said that they intended to pull Walker over for a routine traffic stop. The officers claim that Walker did not stop and also fired a shot out of the driver’s side window, and they recovered a gun from his vehicle. They said that they shot a ski-masked Walker because he allegedly reached for his waistband.
He was cut down by bullets seconds after sprinting from the vehicle. One officer allegedly reloaded and continued shooting before they attempted to revive him. Akron was on curfew from Sunday-Tuesday once the public was able to view portions of the bodycam footage of Walker’s shooting. Protests continued Wednesday night. Jacob Blake Sr. — father of Jacob Blake who was paralyzed after being shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., — was arrested as well as Bianca Austin — the aunt of Breonna Taylor who was killed by police in Louisville.
The Walker killing is not the first questionable action taken by the Akron Police Department. In March 2022, Jamon Pruiett and Latrent Redrick received a $900,000 settlement from the city after being shot and wounded by police in October 2017. A fight broke out near a downtown Akron club, Redrick owned a gun with a conceal and carry permit, and when an officer charged into the fight and fired into it Redrick was hit. His brother, Pruiett, grabbed the gun and fired back not knowing it was an officer who fired at them and was also struck. The officer — John Turnure — was not charged but did eventually resign in 2021 after body camera footage showed him forcing snow into the mouth of a man accused of domestic violence who said that he couldn’t breathe.
Jordan’s hometown had a Mark Fuhrman moment in 2020. Three officers, James Gilmore, Jesse Moore II, and Kevin Piner were fired after they were recorded using violent and bigoted language. According to the report, Gilmore criticized the department for its response to the George Floyd protests and talked about white people “bowing down on their knees” and “worshiping Blacks.”
Piner and Moore were recorded on a phone call discussing murdering Black people. Moore talked about a Black woman that he arrested. He referred to her as the n-word and said, “she needed a bullet in her head right then and move on. Let’s move the body out of the way and keep going.” Piner said that a civil war was coming and he was going to buy a new assault rifle and, “we are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them fucking n-words. I can’t wait.” Moore didn’t want to go that far — I guess he only wants to kill Black people he arrests — but Piner went on to say that civil war would “wipe them off the fucking map.” As appalling and disturbing as that language is, it’s especially terrible coming from police in Wilmington, N.C.
The Jan. 6 Committee hearings currently taking place are about an attempted coup-d’etat. Wilmington is the site of the only successful one in American history. In 1898 Wilmington had the highest share of Black residents of any town in the south. The results of a recent election dissatisfied many of the white people in town, who saw it coming. While researching a story about Jordan, Wright Thompson found out that a group called the Red Shirts bought so many weapons that the stores had to send word out to other states so they could replenish their supply. At minimum 60 Black people were killed. The mayor, chief of police, and all the city aldermen were forced to resign, and Wilmington’s Black newspaper completely burnt down. Today, a town that was 60 percent Black is now 18 percent Black, even as the overall population is at its highest ever, 110,000-plus.
Akron’s racist past is part of what severely damaged many Black communities in America, interstate construction. Just like Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and more, the construction of highways — designed to help mostly white suburbanites get in and out of the city faster — displaced residents, destroyed property values and ruined businesses. In Akron, however, there’s another twist to the story. Construction of the highway, the Innerbelt, was never completed. It lasted until 1987 and turned out to be $300 million wasted in a city that was in the middle of its No. 1 source of industry, rubber production, dying. The Innerbelt, along with three other urban renewal projects near downtown, displaced 3,197 households and forced 100 businesses to close, per the Akron Beacon-Journal.
This might have something to do with James, in the fourth grade, missing around 100 days of school, and moving possibly six times. And for those who think segregation was a lifetime ago, Brown vs. Board of Education passed in 1954, but Wilmington schools didn’t desegregate until 1968. According to Roland Lazenby’s biography about Jordan, the elementary schools didn’t desegregate until 1971, which means one of the most famous people to ever walk the earth, and is not yet 60 years old, has attended segregated schools.
Today, both men appear to have won at life with Jordan owning an NBA franchise and worth more money than the owner of the team he played for, the Chicago Bulls, and James’ production company, named after the apartment complex he lived in during high school, is worth over $700 million. But for those two astronomical success stories, a Black man allegedly fires one shot out of a car during a police chase, not directed at any of the officers, and is met with a hail of gunfire from eight uniforms a mere seconds after fleeing from his vehicle. A white man allegedly kills six people at a suburban parade, or 10 Black people at a grocery store, and will get to have their days in court.
James and Jordan are billionaires and the two best basketball players to ever lace up Nikes or any other shoe. Much of the similarities stop there. They didn’t play at the same time and their games are completely different. They come from different parts of America and their personalities are apples and oranges. What they mostly have in common, however, is the journey they were forced to take in hostile territory simply because of the color of their skin.