Jay Williams has said it before: He played against Michael Jordan and watched him throughout his life growing up as a basketball player. He’s also seen enough of LeBron James, though, to declare that Jame is the better player, the best the NBA has ever seen.
Having watched Sunday’s episodes of “The Last Dance,” though, Williams found another layer for declaring his adherence to James’ superiority: his willingness to engage in social activism and speak on political and social issues.
Jordan, known for his willingness to pitch Nikes, famously said that when it comes to politics, he would not back a Democratic candidate in North Carolina because, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” He said in the documentary he meant that only as a joke. Still, Jordan rarely spoke out about issues in his time as the world’s most iconic player.
“I think that the lack of willingness of Michael Jordan to speak out brings me to the ultimate conclusion that LeBron James, putting his career in jeopardy to speak out on things he feels is personally relevant to him and where we are … ultimately, you feel like he’s on the path.
“I like the fact LeBron James stands up and speaks out on the injustices that are happening in the world. When we talk about the greatest of all-time, I think about Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and LeBron James. Did Michael Jordan have the greatest skill set we’ve ever seen? Yes. And championships? Yes. But ultimately when I talk about the greatest of all-time, are transcending your sport? Are you standing for something bigger than yourself, bigger than yourself and things happening in our world? LeBron James is the greatest of all-time in that regard. He is.”
Complex Williams-Jordan Relationship in Chicago
Williams, drafted by the Bulls with the No. 2 pick in 2002, had a complicated relationship with Jordan during his brief career, which was cut short by a motorcycle accident after his rookie year. When he arrived in Chicago, he was expected to bolster a franchise still reeling from Jordan’s departure.
He did something bold—he took the corner locker in the Bulls’ locker room, a spot that had been Jordan’s kingdom and had been left vacant since his retirement. Williams has said he meant no disrespect, he only wanted to signify that the franchise was moving on.
Williams played 75 games for the Bulls, averaging 9.7 points, 4.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds.
Michael Jordan Helped Williams’ Comeback Attempt
Williams also had a good relationship with Jordan going back to the accident that nearly killed him in 2003. Once Williams recovered and went through rehab, he began mounting a comeback attempt that would get him a couple of workouts with teams before he finally decided to shift his focus elsewhere.
But he did his rehab work at Hoops the Gym on Chicago’s West Side, working with Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover. Every day he would go for rehab, Williams would find Jordan there. Jordan would play Williams in one-on-one and push him in his comeback.
For my book, Facing Michael Jordan, Williams told me:
He would talk to me all the time, encourage me to keep coming back, to keep fighting, to keep pushing. Spending time with that guy was really eye-opening, getting a chance to know his personality and his work ethic—after his career was over. Because he worked really hard, and if he was that way after his career was over, how hard must he have worked when he was playing? I can’t imagine who he was in the midst of his prime.
The best part though? He would still show no mercy. We would play, I might be having trouble with my leg or my breathing. I was still rehabbing. But he would still attack me the same way. He did not go easy on me just because I had gotten hurt. He just loves to compete, and that is what I needed.