With LeBron James leading the way, the Cleveland Cavaliers recently became the first team in NBA history to win an NBA Finals series while trailing 3-1. In doing so, LeBron James earned his 3rd NBA Title in 7 attempts, which has re-opened the door to the ongoing debate of whether James is at the level, or has even surpassed Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player ever. So let’s dig in…
Michael Jordan 6’6″, 216 lbs, Shooting Guard
Michael Jordan played in the NBA from 1984 until 2003 (15 seasons). During that span, he led the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA Titles and never lost. He was elected to 14 All Star Games, was the Season MVP 5 times, Finals MVP 6 times, was the Scoring Leader 10 times, and was Defensive Player of the Year 1 time.
Beyond statistics, Michael Jordan was known for his will to win. His competitive nature is what drove the Chicago Bulls to their success in the 1990’s. Faced against some of the toughest competition the NBA has ever seen, Jordan’s competitive drive allowed him to be successful, his team to be successful, and his teammates to be successful. Ultimately, Michael Jordan defined the word clutch. Already with amazing regular season statistics, Jordan’s level of play rose in the playoffs. If a game was on the line, fans could count on Michael Jordan to take control of a game like no one before him or after him.
LeBron James 6’8″, 250 lbs, Small Forward
LeBron James began his career straight out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. As of today, James has played 13 NBA seasons. During that span, he has led the Miami Heat to 2 NBA Titles and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their very first NBA Title in franchise history. In the 7 NBA Finals James has played in, his record in the NBA Finals currently stands at 3-4. James has been to 12 All Star Games, has been the Season MVP 4 times, NBA Finals MVP 3 times, and has been the Scoring Leader 1 time.
As one of the most gifted athletes on the planet, LeBron James is a game changer for teams. If he is on a team, they usually have the best chance at getting to the NBA Finals.
For an in-depth look at statistics, landofbasketball.com has provided an amazingly detailed breakdown for you to see. (See Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James statistics)
Beyond the Statistics:
Statistics alone can’t sum up a comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. For one, LeBron James has played 13 seasons and is still playing, which means he has time to add to his totals and even surpass Michael Jordan in many categories. Let’s break this down a bit…
Argument 1: LeBron has already surpassed Michael Jordan in playoff games played, but take into account that the first round of the playoffs was only 5 games for Jordan compared to every series being 7 for James. Thus, James automatically gets more possible games.
Argument 2: LeBron entered the NBA straight out of college, Michael entered after college. LeBron entered the NBA at an age 3 years younger than that of Michael Jordan, which gives LeBron more time to build statistics.
Argument 3: Michael Jordan left basketball in the midst of his prime and missed nearly 2 entire seasons. This takes away from not only statistical accomplishments that could have been, but also a good chance that the Bulls would have won 2 additional titles and may have won 8 championships in a row!
Argument 4: Positions: LeBron James is a Small Forward while Michael Jordan was a Shooting Guard. These are two very different positions, which have very different roles.
A Final Word:
While LeBron James is extremely close to Michael Jordan, statistically speaking, and will eventually pass him in most major categories, statistically speaking, Michael Jordan is far superior to LeBron James. The fact is, LeBron James while LeBron James rebounds slightly better than Michael Jordan, and has more assists per game, LeBron James has never been defined as being a clutch player. Other than for 3 games in the 2016 NBA Finals, James has shown, time and time again, that he lacks the leadership of being a clutch player. In his first stint with the Cavaliers, James, for whatever reason, had mental meltdowns during his games and would let his team down quite drastically. What statistics alone won’t show you is that there was no, and is no competitor quite like Michael Jordan. Jordan never let his team down; he always showed up, even when ill, to rise to the challenge. Jordan enjoyed the challenges and even played better under the pressure. He always wanted the ball, but learned, through the likes of Phil Jackson, how to become a team player and share the ball, which ultimately led to the Bulls’ success. All in all, however, Jordan was able to take control of games and the Bulls were never out of a game because of his competitive nature. Additionally, Jordan make the players around him better. He could take an average player and make them good. The same, however, cannot be said for LeBron James. While it’s true that the teams James play for do get better with him on them, the players around him do not. There is ultimately something to be said about leadership. Frankly, it’s something you either have or you don’t have. What LeBron James has is an immense amount of talent. He has more talent than any basketball player I have ever seen, but it’s when he chooses to showcase that talent, as well as how he chooses to showcase that talent that makes him less of a player than Jordan. For example, Jordan never “flicked a switch on and off”, Jordan always showed up no matter the odds, no matter the opponent, no matter the challenge he was up against. Having seen both players play extensively, LeBron James seems to choose when to turn “it” on. He seems to lack hustle sometimes, he argues with refs while the game is going on rather than hustling down the court. Now, it is true, LeBron James makes outrageously amazing plays, but the heart and hustle isn’t always there as it should be with any true leader or someone whom can be dubbed “the greatest of all time”. Michael Jordan never “chose” when to show up…he just did. Michael Jordan also never flopped. While it may be the style of today’s NBA, LeBron James flops in order to get calls. The “greatest player ever” wouldn’t flop. The “greatest player ever” would set the example, as Michael Jordan did, day in and day out. One could also argue that Michael Jordan’s competition was far more fierce than that of LeBron James. I firmly believe that if you put LeBron James in Michael Jordan’s era, while he would have been a talented player, his stats wouldn’t come close to what they are today. The fact remains, LeBron James, as dominant a player as he currently is, lacks the competitive spirit to drive the lane. If he drove the lane, he would be the most dominant player whom ever lived. But, something stops him from driving. Thus, he must rely on an outside game. Against a more watered-down defensive league, he is able to dominate, but if you put him in Jordan’s era, the defense was much, much tougher, which means James would have struggled without a doubt. It seems to me that LeBron James would be better compared to the likes of Larry Bird while Michael Jordan’s closest opponent would most likely be Kobe Bryant.
For as talented and gifted as LeBron James truly is, he doesn’t produce the effort, leadership, or competitive nature Michael Jordan did. Anyone can play more years and create better statistics, but in order to make those around you better, in order to make yourself better every day, you have to have heart and lead by example. Michael Jordan still is the “greatest player in NBA history”.