A great way to get hoops fans mad at one another is to ask them to name the greatest basketball player of all time. An even better way to get them mad at one another is to give them two options in the GOAT debate: Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Even the most cordial of discussions while comparing the two players leads to folks getting riled up, because even though they are two of the best to ever do it by any objective analysis, everyone defines the word “greatest” differently while looking through the lens of sport.
But still, camps have formed on both sides, with smaller camps existing for players like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. As it turns out, one such person on Team LeBron is Vermont senator and candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election Bernie Sanders. During an interview with YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, Sanders was asked about Bron v. MJ and sided with the Lakers star.
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) September 13, 2019
“I think LeBron has been willing to do what a lot of athletes are not and get involved in the political process, put money into education, and I respect that,” Sanders argues. This praise from Sanders, who has commended James’ commitment to education in the past, comes after he hopped on board with James’ efforts to get behind a bill in California that would give college athletes the opportunity to make money while in school. It has since been voted on by the state’s Senate and Assembly — both chambers passed it with zero Nay votes — and now sits on the desk of governor Gavin Newsom.
Now, for those who believe every statement made by a politician is merely an effort to garner support from a group of people, let’s take a quick look at state-by-state Democratic primary polling in the places that could react strongly Sanders picking James over Jordan. As a quick note, none of these states have seen a new poll that FiveThirtyEight recognizes in more than a month, so it is likely these numbers have moved in that time.
Sanders is currently sitting in third in California’s hotly-contested primary, so perhaps this is merely pandering to Lakers fans. In James’ home state of Ohio, he’s tied for second by quite a margin, and in Florida, Sanders could use all the help he can get from Heat fans, as he’s tied for third by a whole lot. As for places he could be more negatively impacted, Sanders is in second in both Illinois and North Carolina, so he’ll need to hope this answer doesn’t poll poorly with Bulls and Tar Heels fans. Then again, there are a handful of primaries and caucuses prior to folks in these states heading to the ballot box, and it stands to reason the results in those will be way more important than anything else.
It is unclear where other Democratic candidates stand on this debate — we searched the Twitter accounts of every candidate still in the race for “LeBron,” “Jordan,” and “MJ,” and we did receive something of an answer from entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who appears to believe James had a shot to surpass Jordan by leading a comeback and winning the 2018 NBA Finals. He did, however, say that “LeBron may be the GOAT” prior to the Cavaliers’ Game 7 win over the Celtics in Boston during the Eastern Conference Finals that year. Miramar, Fla. mayor Wayne Messam tweeted James “is not Jordan” back in 2013, but it is unclear if his opinion has changed in the last six years.
New Jersey senator Cory Booker, meanwhile, opted to not pick a side in a LeBron vs. Kobe debate back in 2013. Former Maryland representative John Delaney said he discussed LeBron vs. Jordan with staffers back in February but did not appear to say the direction in which he leaned.
As for whether this support will reciprocated by James in the form of a formal endorsement, well, that’s unclear. James has been meticulous about when to hop into the political arena in recent years, and during the 2016 election, he waited until well after the Democratic primary to throw his support behind the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton.
With his feelings towards Donald Trump pretty well-documented at this point, perhaps James will support the Democratic nominee once more in 2020, so we’ll see in a year or so if Sanders or one of the 10,000 other people seeking the party’s nomination can get the coveted LeBron endorsement.