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Wanna know if your new boss will suck? Ask them about Jordan vs. Lebron
What the most common non-basketball responses say about who you'll be working for
Though it’s pointless filler for sports yappers, the Jordan v. Lebron GOAT debate fascinates me for what it reveals, not about the players, but about those doing the arguing, getting them heated in a way usually only politics can. While there’s plenty of thoughtful, basketball-based analysis out there tackling the issue, I’m not here for that today.
I’m here for the non-basketball, cultural arguments that pundits scream at each other and, more importantly, the unspoken work attitudes that bubble underneath. These are so obvious if you think about them, I’ll even submit that if you want to size up your prospective boss, you could do a lot worse than ask their take on the true GOAT.
This disarming interview question can get you laughed out of the room (use at your own risk), but it can also help you weed out awful work-humper supervisors. Join me as we break down the most common non-basketball responses you may get, and what they tell you about who you’d be working for.
“Jordan is the GOAT because he never lost in the finals”
What this is truly about: In essence, marketing. What makes for a neater success story: that Jordan never lost the finals (though he only made it six times) or that Lebron made it 11 times (though he lost more than he won)? Most fans understandably prefer perfection, which speaks volumes about how our society defines success.
What it says about your boss: This is someone with a rigid, binary attitude toward success and failure. Someone so risk-averse that they’d rather not try at all than try and fall short. Someone who won’t want innovation unless it’s pre-guaranteed that at the other end they’ll be holding their hand up like they just drained a jumper in Byron Russell’s grill.
This boss puts you in in dicey waters, but you can navigate them to your advantage. Let’s be real: this description applies to corporate culture generally and doesn’t mean your boss will be an aggravating work-humper. If anything, if you play their crippling anxiety right, you may be able to coast without ever doing anything proactive. It could be a lot worse.
“Jordan is the GOAT because he did it all for one team”
What this is truly about: Expectations of “loyalty” in a business that, like most businesses, doesn’t have much of it (sketchier when you remember that athletes don’t get a say over which team drafts them). You could argue that achieving with multiple teams shows greatness that withstands multiple sceneries, but for some reason people don’t like to give that kind of credit unless they’re fawning over Tom Brady.
What it says about your boss: They’re probably a Boomer who often parlays this argument into complaints about young people job-hopping. They expect you to always prioritize your “family” (this is how they want you to think of the company) over your own well-being and opportunity.
I hear all the time that normal people used to think this way, but God is it hard to wrap my mind around. It may be better entertainment for fans if stars stick with one team. But to see switching companies as a sign of lesser character is deranged.
Sooner or later, this boss will try to flex their ownership over you. Take the job but build up your savings quickly so that, when the time comes, you can send them to hell and take your talents to South Beach.
“Jordan is the GOAT because he never took the easy way by chasing super teams”
What this is truly about: Grimy, braindead workers daring to think they know better than management. At first, I thought that this was about devaluing collaboration in favor of individual achievement. But that doesn’t quite add up: Jordan did get a super-team (two, actually). But nobody knocks him for that because his GM built his super-teams for him.
What it says about your boss: They want you to stay in your place. Even if management is incapable of building a good team around you, it’s unacceptable to coordinate with your peers and build your own instead of staying a martyr.
At best, this is a person who wants you to work harder, not smarter. At worst, they’re a control freak who doesn’t believe workers know how to best complement their skills and shouldn’t make any decisions.
While this is obnoxious, it’s not like most bosses out there want to foster worker coops of shared responsibility. Take this job as a stopgap while you plot the revolution.
“Jordan is the GOAT because the leauge is softer now than it was during his time”
What this is truly about: Generational resentment. Like the claim that today’s NFL sucks because it’s slightly harder to concuss opponents.
This argument, by the way, makes no sense. It assumes that, because you could hand-check and hack people with impunity, it was harder to win during Jordan’s era. But you could as easily say that Jordan had it easier because he could stiff-arm someone instead of having to fully deal with their skills (he also didn’t have to face zone defenses, but that’s beside the point).
While it’s cool to win in both contexts, you can see why claiming that it’s greater to do so without what essentially amounts to worker safety protections would be very seductive to employers.
What it says about your boss: “Whimsical traditionalist” is a polite description. A less polite one suggests someone that will test the waters with you at a company party with jokes about the “good ole days.” Whether you want to snoop their calendar to see if they were out sick on 1/6/2021 is up to you, but either way we’re squarely in red flag territory here. At the very least, this boss doesn’t want to implement OSHA regulations, let alone a process to make work easier.
If you dream of enabling your manager’s lack of planning and competence by turning your suffering into a point of pride, this job is for you.
“Jordan is the GOAT because he had more intensity/edge/was a fiercer competitor”
What this is truly about: Affinity for abusive motivational tactics. This argument essentially punishes Lebron for being a pleasant guy to his teammates. Worse, middle managers all over America so admire Jordan’s mean streak that they emulate it, ignoring how that very approach has repeatedly blown up in his face since he’s had to manage people (see: Brown, Kwame).
There’s also some theatrics at play—people assume you’re not contributing unless you look pained, angry, or both. Conversely, if you play the part, they assume you’re killing it without checking your actual work. Lord knows I’ve made a fruitful career out of looking hassled on my way to pick up concert tickets from the office printer.
What it says about your boss: Gets into fights at recreational sports leagues. May physically attack you during the interview for asking about paid time off.
Excuse yourself from the room as quickly as possible and, once out of sight, run.
“Lebron was the GOAT because [any reason]”
There’s some chance this boss won’t be a work-humper. Not saying they’d be right about the GOAT debate. Just pointing out that all the red flag arguments come from Jordan Stans.
“You can’t compare Jordan and Lebron—both are great and that’s that”
This is a rare cool boss. This take, the only correct take, shows someone who’s level-headed and doesn’t waste their time (or yours). If you must have a job, this is a good one to have.
Unfortunately, they’re probably put off by the question and you’re no longer in the running. I told you to ask it at your own risk. Why are you getting job search advice from a site called Big Quit Energy, anyway? This is on you.
(Terrence O’Neill contributed to this essay)