Teacher: "There is no way LeBron will ever be Jordan."
Kid: "LeBron James is a better rebounder and passer."
Teacher: "Call me when LeBron has six championships."
Kid: "That's your only argument?"
Teacher: "That's the only argument I need, Shawn!"
Bad Teacher is not out yet, but I already love it. You've probably seen the above clip on commercials during the NBA playoffs—a teacher and a middle school student arguing about Michael Jordan and LeBron James. It is the truest sports scene I've seen in a long while. It's about me. I have become a grumpy old man, a bad teacher. I cannot even listen to the Jordan versus LeBron arguments.
I remember, growing up, when Jim Brown's greatness was declared to be indisputable. That's the word: indisputable. Nobody, my elders told me, could ever be as good as Jim Brown. When O.J. Simpson ran for 2,000 yards, well, that was nice. But he was no Jim Brown. When Earl Campbell was a singular force...he was no Jim Brown. Eric Dickerson? Nope. Franco Harris? Uh-uh. The elders might concede that Walter Payton was more versatile than Brown, with his hammerhead blocking and soft hands.
Even so, he was no Jim Brown.
I was too young to understand then. Nobody could be Jim Brown. Sure, Brown had numbers and highlights and testimony to back up the argument, but the crucial fact was that there was no argument. Jim Brown was the greatest because Jim Brown was the greatest. To argue was blasphemous.
There have been a handful of indisputables through the years: Ruth, Pelé, Ali, Orr—athletes who radiated such greatness that the fans of their time simply could not imagine anyone better, then or ever. During my era as a sports fan (1975 or so to the present), there have been two indisputables. One is Wayne Gretzky. The other is Michael Jordan. Everyone else sparked arguments. Gretzky's indisputable greatness came from sheer quantity: His numbers simply bludgeoned every other hockey player into submission. Jordan's greatness came from another place.