The endless debate: Nuggets coach Mike Malone compares Michael Jordan and LeBron James

Unprompted, Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone offered his opinion on the endless comparisons between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Malone sided with the player he grew up watching (Jordan) instead of the player he coached as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers (James).

"It's always an ongoing argument about who is the GOAT. Michael obviously is up there and is the greatest of all time," Malone said Tuesday in a Zoom call with reporters. "There are not many Michael Jordans out there. I coached LeBron James for five years and have a great relationship with him. LeBron did not have the same mindset or killer mentality that Michael Jordan is supposed to have had. But LeBron James is arguably the greatest of all time as well."

Malone did not base his evaluation on NBA championships — Jordan's six in six NBA Finals appearances to James' three in nine Finals. Malone did not cite statistics or roles, either. Malone admired Jordan's aggressive mentality even when he faced physical teams.

"Michael Jordan was not just a great player. He would reach into your chest and pull your heart out if he had to win a game," Malone said. "You don’t see that really often. He had that killer mindset and brought it every single night. That’s why all of these many years later, he’s the greatest of all time."

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That debate rarely has dissipated on sports talk shows. The subject has re-emerged with Sunday's airing of the first two episodes of "The Last Dance" documentary. The ten-part series features exclusive footage of the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season, as well as extended interviews with Jordan and various Bulls coaches and teammates, family members, notable rivals and admirers.

With the NBA suspending its season on March 11 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, "The Last Dance" has not just given ESPN original programming that set a record among its various documentaries for the most average viewers (6.1 million). The series has also given NBA teams some more teaching material. As Malone noted, "you can always learn from the best."

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