Once upon a time, Michael Jordan was almost universally regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. Armed with six NBA titles, a game-changing Nike endorsement deal and a jaw-dropping career highlight reel, his “Airness” surpassed legends such as Wilt, Kareem, Russell, and the Big O to claim the GOAT mantle.
Every now and then, a rising talent would attempt to break into Jordan’s stratosphere. Grant Hill showed promise. Kobe Bryant, for a while, came close. But all of them were more pretenders than contenders. (Let’s not even mention Harold Miner, aka “Baby Jordan.”)
But now there’s LeBron James.
If anyone can take Jordan’s throne, wouldn’t it be a “King”?
Comparing the two players is inevitable, especially since James is now in his fifteenth season – the same amount of years that Jordan played in the league. Both players have been the dominant force in basketball during their respective eras. Jordan won five league MVP honors while James has (so far) won four, but it could be argued that both players deserved to win several more. They’ve been that good.
So who’s better, Michael or LeBron?
Jordan fans point to MJ’s six championship rings, which doubles LeBron’s total of three. But is that truly the most accurate standard of greatness? If that were the case, Robert Horry would be one of the greatest players of all time.
LeBron fans point to this past season, when, at age 33, LBJ put up one of his best seasons: He averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.4 steals a game. Even more amazing is the fact that he played all 82 regular season games for the first time in his career.
By comparison, by the time Jordan finished his career with the Washington Wizards, he was a shell of his former self, posting averages of 20 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his final campaign. Of course, he was 39 then.
You could take that in one of two ways: LeBron will also fade by the time he’s 39 (if he plays that long). Or, LeBron has six more years to add to his still-expanding résumé.
Both sides have legitimate points…and counter-points.
Michael was mentally tougher.
LeBron is more versatile.
Michael was a better scorer.
LeBron is a better (and more willing) passer.
Michael missed nearly three full seasons of his prime due to injury or retirement. Who knows how many more championships he could have won?
LeBron is the only player in NBA history to record at least 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists. He is also the only player in history to have career averages of at least 27,000 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Let’s break it down statistically:
We asked our ESPN 1420 hosts and personalities for their take. Without further ado…
MATHIAS BERBEL: “I’m going with Michael. There’s only one player who’s scored the most points in the league and get “Defensive Player of the League” in the same year, and that’s Michael Jordan. He also led the NBA in steals for three years.”
BOBBY CURRAN: “This question comes up constantly on our show. My current opinion is that LeBron James has surpassed Michael Jordan as the best player of all time. What he’s doing in his fifteenth year is perhaps the most remarkable playoff performance we’ve ever seen. LeBron has the more complete game. He’s a floor general. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, foul line to foul line. He can guard four positions. He can beat people to the hole. And he’s become, finally, as he’s grown into his career, a very good shooter. So in my mind, as great as Michael Jordan was, I would take LeBron. However, I always add this: They’re in different eras. The game’s slightly different. And it’s really impossible for anyone to say that they know for sure.”
GARY DICKMAN: “I give this answer all the time now. Well, first, it’s impossible to say who had the better career. Michael had his career, but LeBron James isn’t done. LeBron might win six more championships, or he might just win one more. Who’s the better player overall? I think it’s LeBron for a couple of reasons. He can play multiple positions. He can guard every position on the floor. Michael Jordan, as great as he was, he couldn’t guard centers like LeBron can. He couldn’t guard point guards like LeBron can. So I think that separates them as far as overall talent. LeBron James is more versatile and can guard more positions. I think Jordan is the GOAT overall, but as far as breaking down overall talent, I think LeBron has better skills.”
DAVID KAWADA: “LeBron. He’s just the better all-around player. He can defend all five positions. He’s more of a hybrid athlete on the court, a combination of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Jordan was ‘just’ Jordan.” MJ could not defend the 5 or the 4, but LeBron can. LeBron can defend the point or the big.”
JOSH PACHECO: “I’m not sure how anyone can claim that LeBron James has overtaken Michael Jordan as the better of the two. Granted, this season might be the best example of how great LeBron is, but the only thing King James has that MJ doesn’t is height and a few extra pounds. Until LeBron can consistently win championships with a team that he hasn’t handpicked, Michael Jordan will never move from the top of this conversation.”
Michael or LeBron?
LeBron or Michael?
The debate continues.
# # #