You know about Bruce Lee, yes? His movies, you’ve seen them? His best movie is The Chinese Connection (1971).
That’s the one where he comes home from vacation and finds out that his teacher is dead. Then he cries for approximately two seconds. Then he becomes a serial killer. Everyone gets the business (and the word business, in this sense, is a word that means “kicked and punched repeatedly about the face and torso until dead”).
Bruce murders a rickshaw passenger, a karate school, a Russian strongman, some anti-Chinese racists at a city park, and a countless number of faceless unfortunates who stumble within arm’s (or leg’s) length of his lunatic fury. At one point, Bruce kills a guy for wearing his pants too high.
Whenever Bruce Lee steps out into a movie, people are going to be badly beaten, often to death, always to submission. And it doesn’t matter if he’s in Rome or at an ice factory or on Kung-Fu Island or in a random tower filled with different Kung-Fu masters, he always makes people wish they’d never met him. That was his thing, Bruce. If you watch a Bruce Lee movie, you’re watching a movie where one man is going to absolutely destroy everyone else.
Bruce always had this look on his face, a look of anger mixed with disgust mixed with a confidence so deep that it made everyone in the immediate vicinity doubt their own abilities.
Bruce was personally offended that anyone would ever have the audacity to point a fist in his direction.
That’s why Michael Jordan is Bruce Lee.
Jordan, like Bruce, was a killer, a murderer, a crusher of hearts and a puncher of throats. He recorded every slight, remembered every insult (real or imagined), and he approached basketball the way Genghis Khan approached an opposing army. Everyone else was playing a game, Michael Jordan was waging war.
Bruce Lee and Michael Jordan were both suffocatingly aggressive, both were unapologetically uncouth; Bruce with his animal-sounding screams and Jordan with his tongue lolling out.
It’s hard to imagine what it would look like for Bruce Lee to lose a fight because he didn’t lose fights. There’s no image of someone standing over a defeated Bruce Lee, arms raised in victory. In like manner, it’s difficult to imagine what a defeated Jordan would look like. No one ever took any trophies from Jordan or partied and celebrated right in front of his face.
When Jordan reached The Finals he WON The Finals, and he took every trophy there was for himself.
That’s why Lebron James is Tony Jaa.
You know about Tony Jaa, no? You’ve seen his movies? His best movie is The Protector (2005).
In this movie, Tony Jaa is a guy who has a couple of pet elephants. Then someone steals his elephants and takes them to Australia. Then he goes to Australia and gives everyone in the country a knee in the face or an elbow in the head.
Tony Jaa beats up a bunch of diners in a restaurant, a gang of kids on roller blades and trick bicycles, several giants, and a countless number of idiot henchmen who keep running at him as if they are going to be the ones to put a stop to his bone-breaking barrage.
Whenever Tony Jaa steps out into a movie, people are going to be badly beaten…
…except when they aren’t. Because unlike Bruce Lee, Tony Jaa sometimes finds himself on the receiving end of a beatdown.
That’s the thing about Tony Jaa, when he’s at his best you start to think that maybe he’s the Michael Jordan of Kung-Fu movies. But then you have to think about that time In The Protector 2 (2013) when RZA gave him more than he could handle. And the time in Furious 7 (2015) when Paul Walker beat him up in the back of a bus and later threw him down an elevator shaft. Or how Chattapong embarrassed him in front of everyone in Ong Bak (2003).
Like Tony Jaa, Lebron James is a singular talent. Lebron is an extraordinarily uncommon combination of qualities not typically found in one basketball player. He can be both center and point guard, power forward and shooting guard. And when Lebron James steps out onto a basketball court, he might just end up winning. Sometimes everything falls into place and he walks away with a trophy. But sometimes Dirk or Tim want parades and Lebron has to get on the bus and go home.
Bruce always beat whoever stepped to him. Tony sometimes stumbles. Bruce snapped Chuck Norris’ neck, Tony was schooled by Paul Walker.
Jordan always won in The Finals. Lebron is often beaten in The Finals. Jordan took trophies from Magic and Drexler and Barkley and Kemp/Payton and Malone/Stockton. Lebron has given trophies to Duncan and Nowitzki and Manu and Curry and Durant.
Bruce was transcendent, Tony is human. Jordan is a legend, Lebron is a folk story.
Listen, I love Tony Jaa. You understand? LOVE. When he makes a new movie, I see it as soon as possible. When I first saw Ong Bak (2003), I was out of my mind. And ever since that day, I’ve been rooting for Tony Jaa. I want him to win. I want him to keep giving us what he gave us in Ong Bak and in The Protector. I was there with him through the weirdness of the Ong Bak sequels and the extreme disappointment of The Protector 2. I was there with him for the mediocrity of Skin Trade (2014) and the promise of Sha Po Lang 2 (2015). And I’ll continue to be there for him until he calls it quits.
Because I don’t watch a Tony Jaa movie and say, “This guy isn’t as good as Bruce.” I’m watching Tony Jaa. And I can appreciate Tony Jaa because no one is constantly trying to persuade me that he is something other than what he is.
And if this Jordan/Lebron blasphemy would stop shrieking out of the television every time I try to watch a Cavs game, maybe I could appreciate Lebron too.
Heck, maybe I could even love Lebron James. Crazier things have happened.