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The barbershop is the African American equivalent of the Areopagus. It’s where the philosophers philosphize on everything from politics, community affairs, relationships, religion, and sports. It was a university education for the price of a cut.  Even Jimmy Kimmel gets his head lined at the barbershop.

It was loud, too. At least where I hung out, the louder the better. You judged the quality of the conversation by the number of voices, the variety of opinion, and the decibel reading on laughter and jokes. And there always seemed to be one or two guys that sparked discussion (read, arguments) every time they entered the shop. They had the spiritual gift of controversy (some of those guys got saved and now use that gift in the church!).

Yesterday, I feel like I had my first real visit to the barbershop since moving to Cayman. Don’t get me wrong; I have been getting my hair cut (sometimes) over the five years we’ve been in Cayman. But by and larger, the barbershops have been quiet and civilized. Or, whenever things did get loud, I was either behind the curve on the issue itself, or I knew what they were topic about but couldn’t keep up with the Jamaican patois. You kinda don’t want to rush in when you’re picking up every 17th word.

The conversation began with further debate about who had the best cross-over in NBA history, moved to a brief generational discussion of the best player ever–spurred by Scottie Pippen’s recent remarks.  All of a sudden I found myself in a bona fide barbershop discussion!  It was sweet!

And just for the record, I think Scottie should put down the pipe.  LeBron James won’t be better than Jordan because he doesn’t have Jordan’s work ethic and maniacal competitive drive.  Moreover, James left Cleveland in the most inappropriate way when Jordan remained in Chicago to help build the franchise and get it over the hump.  Jordan wanted the ball to close the game; it seems James is happy to set a pick while Wade closes.  Should Miami win a ring this year, it will be James’ first and he will no doubt have that dark Kobe-Shaq like cloud hanging over his head.  People will say “he had to go to Miami with a superstar team to win the ring; he couldn’t do it on his own.”

Personally, James lost a lot of points with me when he left Cleveland in the way that he did.  He left the team hanging for weeks.  And it wasn’t just the team he left, but also for all intents and purposes his home and family.  It was ugly.

Driving home, it occurred to me that some Christians leave their churches much the way James left Cleveland.  They leave the spiritual family hanging for weeks or months.  Rather than step up and play the man or woman, helping to build the team to get over the hump, they look to join the “all-star team” across town, where the preaching is stellar, the worship heavenly, the children’s program Disney, and the youth group cool.  Meanwhile, those who loved them feel the loss and a spiritual hole in their lives.

You see?  You can learn about everything in the barbershop.  Even church membership.  Just don’t approach membership in your church the way LeBron approached his decision in Cleveland.  The people of Cleveland deserved better.  God’s people definitely deserve better.

By the way, who is the greatest NBA player of all time?


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28 thoughts on “The Barbershop, Jordan v. LeBron James, and Church Membership”

  1. Louis says:

    Earvin Magic Johnson, hands down

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Ooohhh… an interesting choice… said with authority :-). Let the barbershop talk begin!
      T-

      1. Louis says:

        I think you sealed in your statement about James at the close of the game. He’s conflicted because he does not know if he wants to be a passer or a shooter, Magic was both and no one knew what he was going to do, thus you have the threat of all time, no player in the NBA posed such a threat, again I say “hands down”.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Good food for thought. No question he was fun to watch and… well… “magic.” He was great for the game in ways that many “stars” are not today. And no doubt magic was an offensive threat in every way. I can’t say the same for defense though. I’m noodling the Showtime nomination, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give him the crown just yet. After all, some younger Laker fans would say that Kobe gets it done on offense and defense. Any response to that???

          1. Louis says:

            Old school comment: Kobe is standing on the shoulders of giants. Magic (and the 80’s Lakers) changed the game to keep you interested even in watching. Don’t be for Magic, you would have fallen asleep on the NBA years ago.

            Now that’s barbershop talk.

    2. Chad says:

      Magic clearly was the most talented and versatile player ever to play the game. That’s coming from a confirmed Laker Hater.

  2. Hayden says:

    I go with Jordan. Especially after watching ESPN’s “Jordan Rides the Bus” which was about his baseball career. A must see for any sports fan.

    Ps all the ESPN’S 30 for 30’s are great, and no I do not work for the network.

  3. christopher says:

    i don’t have much hair to speak of, and so i’ve been shaving my own head for years, which means i miss out on the barbershop experience. But God willing, one day i’ll have a son, so that i can enjoy this cultural experience once again.

    i’ve been a Lakers fan for 25 years, so Magic Johnson is my favorite player of all time. So, it took me years to finally admit that Jordan is the G.O.A.T. Even now i only admit it grudgingly. But there is no way that LeBron is even in the top 5. Admittedly, LeBron’s athleticism arguably equals or exceeds Jordan’s. But it takes more than athleticism to be the G.O.A.T. Jordan was a winner. And so were Magic and Bird. And by “winner” i don’t just mean championship rings. Their desire to “win” was contagious. (They didn’t need free agency to become “winners.” They turned their teammates into all-stars.) And these guys always demanded the ball in the most crucial moments of the game and consistently willed their respective teams to victory. Something that neither LeBron nor Dirk Nowitzki were willing and/or able to do last night. There is no doubt that Jordan, Magic or Bird would not have put the burden of winning on Dwayne Wade or missed the shot that Dirk missed last night.

  4. Arthur Sido says:

    James is one of the greatest athletes of all time and especially one of a handful of greats in this generation. Jordan on the other hand was on an entirely different level, a level that LeBron is likely to never reach. No one owned the game like Jordan did and he did so in a era when he was clearly the best player in an era when so many other all time greats were also playing. Pippen clearly has some issues he needs to work through because James (and no one else as far as I can see) will ever rise to the level of Jordan.

  5. Nick Vance says:

    I gotta go with MJ as well. Watching old tape of those Bulls Championship teams it was just incredible seeing Jordan close out games which is something Lebron just doesn’t do quite as much. Don’t get me wrong he put the fork in my Bulls at the end of most of the games in that series but he’s not the guy I want taking the last shot of games. I would go as far as to say that he isn’t the best player on his team. When Wade has the ball at the end of games I get that same feel that I got from MJ that he isn’t going to let his team lose the game where I just feel like Lebron might pull out a win for them. Also Wade’s got a ring and a Finals MVP and looking like he might get one more of each of those this year. My question is who’s better Lebron or Wade?

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Nick,
      Thanks for joining the barbershop chat! In answer to your question: Wade. All day long.
      T-

      1. Louis says:

        Wow, T, I know you trippin!

        1. Thabiti says:

          “Trippin!” What you mean? On what planet would LeBron be better than Wade?!
          T-

          1. Louis says:

            On planet USA, you Caymanian. I think all that sunshine done affected your basketball sense. You need a good ole fashion winter so you can regroup. There is something wrong with watching the bulk of basketball season in above 75 degree weather anyway.

            1. Thabiti says:

              See, now you gettin’ silly. Can I point out that the man you think was the greatest ever played basketball in LA. I’m thinking that’s above 75 degree weather year round. Those Chicago winters got your brain on freeze. You need to come get some of this Caribbean breeze, my man. :-)
              T-

            2. Nick says:

              I’d like to thank Lebron James for proving me right last night. D Wade is still the alpha dog and best player on the Heat… oh and MJ is still the man.

  6. chicagoan says:

    mj hands down. when mj played, defense was much more prevalent than it is now. also, many rule changes help the offensive player as well. plus, mike did it without any low-post force. magic had kareem. larry had mchale and parish. kobe had shaq. spurs had duncan. if you look at every championship team except the bulls, they had a force down low. now that says something about mj.

  7. Louis says:

    Yeah, you right, except Magic “played”, you just “watching”. Maybe if you got up off that couch and ran around a couple times during the commercials,(and I don’t mean to the fridge), you know and got the old blood flowing, get some oxygen to the brain, you’d be sliding into the Magic camp, and you would certainly diss the Wade over James idea.

    But I must admit, this last winter when the snow was 10 feet, that’s right 10 feet in my front yard, I longed to be with you, my Brother in the 75 degree sunshine so my body and my brain could thaw out.

    Now for the chicagoan, its amazing how you guys just diss all the great players that surrounded MJ. I watched some highlights last night and nobody could guard MJ true enough, but teams could not afford to double down on him either because of his supporting cast, who if left open would nail the right shot at the right time all night long, even lanky Cartwright could be depended upon for that, leave him open and he would hit nothing but nets with the ugliest shot in basketball history.

    Take that to the Barbershop :-)

  8. Scotty says:

    I’m old enough to remember the real greatest – not so great a human, but the best ball player. Wilt Chamberlain.

  9. Kenny Taylor says:

    As a native North Carolinian and lifelong N.C.State fan (and grad), I have every reason to despise Jordan, but the truth is the truth like it or not – he’s on a level all his own. Will to win – the best. Team leader – the best. (With all due respect to Magic). Clutch shots – come on. How many times did he sink the game winner with Championships on the line?? Defense – the best. Trash talker – they say Bird’s the man on this, but Jordan wasn’t afraid to let you hear it when he busted you, that’s for sure.

    Magic, Wilt, Bird, Kobe, Oscar Robertson – all these guys were/are iconic – but they all look up to His Airness.

    (By the way, I love the comparison of James and church-hopping, Thabiti. Sad, but true)

  10. John says:

    I loved to watch MJ, but you would have a hard time arguing against Wilt…if you want to talk Championships you would have to say Russell

  11. Q. Hood says:

    Last night proved that LJ is no MJ!…and never will be!!

  12. Doug says:

    Best NBA player ever? I never like to respond to questions like this when a team sport is involved. I would respond better to “Who was the best shooting guard ever in the NBA?” or “Who was the best power forward?”. It’s difficult to say Michael Jordan when there are men like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar staring you down from their lofty historical perches.

    Now if you were to ask who would be my first pick if I were choosing a fantasy team from all players who ever played in the NBA, all players being in their prime. That’s a different question entirely. I would have to take Magic (Earvin Johnson Jr.). Basketball is first and foremost a team sport and Magic, despite playing his position at it’s very apex (consistently) he made everyone else on the team better too. His knowledge of the game and the way he led his teams … there is no one better I would want to put my team under the leadership of than him.

    But to compare a point guard with a forward or a center. I mean what would happen if you were to make one play the other position? Say you were to take Kareem out of a game and make Magic play that position, how would he fare? Huh? That happened? When? During a playoff game?? Really? Game 6 vs. 76ers in 1980? Magic played every position during that game? Really? How did it turn out? They won? Magic had 42 pts, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals?? Really? And he was a rookie???

    Okay, give it to Magic.

    1. Louis says:

      Now that’s makes a lot of sense to me Doug. Your reasoning is superb, and on point too, I might add.

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Doug you been hangin’ out in the barbershop, I see! You score some points for rhetorical flair… and Magic is a worthy nominee. The only thing you left out was the game when Magic basically came back with a broken knee or something ridiculous like that.

      But then I remember that game when Jordan was drug off the court with the bubonic plague or something. 1997 finals. Game 5 with the Utah Jazz. Series tied at 2-2. Jordan… with no water in his body and spaghetti noodles for legs… dropped 38 and added 7 rebounds. Two days later the Bulls win their 5th title in 6 years.

      T-

  13. Bob says:

    Greatest basketball player ever was “the goat” (Earl Manigault)

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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