Marshall is a Wisconsin realtor and mentor who coaches inner city youth who may not have the access to play otherwise.
Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan
We’ve all heard it before, whether it was at work or the dinner table. And although we try to be objective, we all have our own personal opinion about it. It’s the reason you don’t quite like that one coworker or the reason you haven’t been over to see your uncle in a few months. It’s the Great Debate. Who is the greatest basketball player of all time? Depending on your age or preference, you’d likely answer that question differently. If you grew up watching basketball in the 70’s you might cast your ballot for Kareem Abdul Jabar or maybe even Pete Maravich. If you grew up in the 80’s you have your pick between Magic and Bird. Of course in the 90’s you would say Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant ruled the 2000’s and LeBron James has dominated this decade. If you go even further back than that, you have to mention names like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor or Jerry West. It would be hard to argue with either choice. Each of these men were ridiculously talented basketball players who contributed to/changed the game in some way. At the end of the day however, the argument always comes back to just two names; LeBron James versus Michael Jordan. I have to admit, as a Bucks fan it bothers me that Kareem gets left out of this conversation so often. He was extremely successful and his career is severely underrated. That’s a topic for a different day however. Today, we try to put an end to this silly debate and silence all the LeBron haters once and for all.
Let’s start with the basics. A sort of tale of the tape if you will. Michael Jordan was a shooting guard/ point guard, listed at 6’6. 215 pounds was his average playing weight. He had a vertical jump recorded at 48 inches! Yes you read that correctly. “Your Airness” could jump a legit 4 feet into the air. He played 15 seasons and holds career averages of 30.1ppg, 6.2 rpg and 5.3 apg on 48.7% shooting and 32.7% from three. He also averaged 2.1 steals per game and 0.9 blocks. He’s a 6-time champion, 5-time league MVP, 1-time Defensive Player of the Year, 11-time All NBA and 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist. Although he was selected to 14 All Star games, he played in just 13 and won the All Star MVP 3 times. Jordan finished his career 5th all-time in points, 3rd all-time in steals and 1st all-time in Finals MVPs.
LeBron is a guard/ forward, standing 6’8 tall and weighing in at a whopping 250 pounds. Even at that size he was recorded jumping 44 inches! In year 18, he currently holds career averages of 27.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and 7.4 apg with 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks. Over his career so far he has shot 50.4% from the field and 34.4% from three point range. He has won a championship, league MVP and Finals MVP all 4 times each. He’s made All-NBA 16 times and counting as well as 2 Olympic Gold medals. LeBron is a 17-time All Star, and also the all-time leader in points scored, minutes played, and games started in the All Star game. Not to mention a 3-time All Star game MVP. LeBron is currently 2nd all- time in Finals MVPs, 3rd all-time in points, 8th all-time in assists, (which makes him the only player in NBA history to be top 10 in both) and 13th all-time in steals, with a chance to crack the top ten.
Now that that’s out of the way let’s get to the good stuff. The real reason you came here.
“Why would anyone think LeBron is better than Michael Jeffery Jordan?”
“ What does LeBron do so much better than Jordan??”
To that question, I challenge you with the same. What does Jordan do that makes him so much better than LeBron? According to the data, LeBron is the better rebounder, passer and more efficient shooter.
“Wait, what? LeBron a better shooter than Jordan? Ha! You’re crazy!”
Maybe, but just check the numbers.
“What about free throws? LeBron can’t make a free throw to save his life.”
LeBron is actually sitting at 5th all-time in both free throws made and attempted, the most by any guard or forward (Jordan is 11th in attempts, 6th in makes). That means that he gets to the basket more than any non-center in NBA history and that he is also one of the greatest free throw shooters of all-time volume-wise. With an increase in volume usually comes a decrease in efficiency. Thems the rules. Expect when it comes to LeBron’s three point shooting. You probably think MJ is the better three point shooter too. What if I told you LeBron has already made more 3s in the NBA than Jordan ever even attempted? And at a slightly higher percentage. No one would consider LeBron of all people a volume three point shooter. When comparing him to MJ however, you should. Jordan averaged 1.7 attempts per game from three. At 32% he was good for 0.5 threes per night. LeBron shoots 4.4 three’s a night, and makes 1.5 of them on average. And let’s not forget, the King shoots it from DEEP!
“Well Jordan was the better athlete. You said yourself that he could jump a whole 4” higher.”
Yes. I also pointed out that LeBron is 2” taller and weighs 35 more pounds.
“Who cares about numbers? I know what my eyes tell me. I don’t need stats to tell me how great Jordan was. He was the most prolific, unstoppable scorer the game has ever seen!”
Have you seen this guy they call Kevin Durant? Ever hear of James Harden? Never mind. LeBron himself is on track to finish his career #1 overall when it comes to total points scored and field goals made, which is quite impressive considering his ‘pass-first’ mentality. He’s already passed Jordan in both categories and at a much younger age. That’s what I call “gettin’ buckets!” When you bring up “the eye test” we begin to talk less about facts and more about preference. Just because you’d prefer to wear your most comfortable sweats, doesn’t make them a good choice to wear to your best friend’s wedding. I am asking you to take away any bias and look at this objectively.
“But Jordan was the better defender. What do you have to say to that?”
Michael Jordan was the better defender. Although LeBron is more versatile, being able to guard multiple different positions, he was not able to do it to the level that Jordan did at his position. He simply shut opposing players down. He was excellent at help side defense as well. Scottie Pippen would get a player to put his head down and try to drive past him, while Mike was waiting in the wings to start a fast break with an easy steal. He once led the league with 3.2 steals per game! However the ball handlers at the time were… not the best. During his 15 years in the league he and Magic Johnson were the only guards to win MVP. Either a center or power forward won the award year after year. No team in the league at the time boasted a guard as their best player. Even Magic played with Kareem. From the mid 80’s to late 90’s, there were only 3 guards to average 20 ppg or better over the course of their career; Clyde Drexler (20.4), Mitch Ritchmond (21), and World B. Free (20.3), who only played 4 years in the NBA against Jordan and as an older vet. That number only increases to 8 once you include all small forwards from this time as well. LeBron on the other hand has played against 17 non-bigs with career averages of 20 ppg or better. I cut this off at 5 years in the league minimum otherwise the number would be larger. During Jordan’s prime, there were only 2 players (Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone) to average 30 points or better for an entire season. Both were elite big men who Jordan did not have to guard against. It’s also worth noting that Bernard King did it in his rookie year and Allen Iverson, Tracy Mcgrady, and Kobe all did it during his time with the Wizards. Wilt is often excluded from being considered the best player in the league due to his lack of competition. Why does Jordan get a pass then? LeBron has had to deal with Kobe and Iverson averaging 30 or more, not to mention Dwayne Wade, KD, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Harden and Damian Lillard have all had seasons of 30 points or better. Most of them did it multiple times.
It’s not just the star players either. The entire league is much more skilled and athletic than it was during Jordan’s era. Less physical, sure, but all the better for it in my opinion. It’s less about who hits the hardest or who’s the toughest. It’s now more about who can create the most space or how many ways you can finish around the basket. Now you have to have an in-between game, and defend multiple positions. There is a premium on shooting and ball handling as opposed to height and athleticism. In times past the best teams always had a dominant, rim-protecting big, a deadly marksman, or a legit go-to scorer. The best teams today have multiple versions of each of those elements. Teams now are scoring more and with higher efficiency. The year Jordan won his first ring, NBA teams shot 7.1 3s per game on average and made 2.3 (32%). Today, teams are taking 34.9 3s per game and making 12.8 (37%) of them! I know what you’re thinking. They simply don’t play defense the way they used to. You’d be right but only slightly. The average Defensive Rating in the year 1989–90 was 108.1. That’s only slightly better than the league average of today at 110.6. The defense has basically stayed at the same level, but the players are light-years ahead offensively. The talent level in the NBA is pitched so high that it’s nearly impossible for teams to scheme against certain players. However, even with a major increase in talent, LeBron stands head and shoulders above the rest of his peers.
4. Arguments FOR Jordan/ Against LeBron
“What about all of Jordan’s accomplishments? He’s the single most decorated player in NBA history! 6–0 in the Finals, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 regular season MVPs, all-defensive teams, scoring titles, Olympic medals. He even had the greatest regular season of all-time going 72–10 and finishing it off with a title! He was the ultimate competitor, always there for his teammates, never choked in the playoffs. He never let anyone off the hook. He had that killer mentality.”
Relax. Jordan played 15 years the NBA and only made the finals 6 times. What happened during the other 9 years of his career? He was swept out the first round 3 times in a row, lost to the Pistons 3 times in a row, didn’t make the playoffs twice and lost to a young, up and coming Magic team led by Shaq and Penny Hardaway in the second round. Sounds like choking to me. Jordan retired 3 times, once in ’93 to go play Minor League Baseball, again in ’98 in response to the lockout and for the final time in ’03 once he realized he had nothing left to give to the game. I count 5 years of prime Michael Jordan that we’ve all missed out on. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel slightly cheated. The years he wasn’t in the league will forever remain one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ for me. I mean he won Finals MVP in both ’93 and ’98 before he retired. He was at the top of the game. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have won in all 5 of those years? What if he would have won 3 more Finals MVPs? What if he’d won just one more? He could have permanently shut the door on the G.O.A.T. conversation forever, but wasn’t able to. He was mentally checked out. He himself even admitted to not enjoying the game anymore. If there’s one thing we can’t question about LeBron, it’s his love for the game.
“LeBron is a crybaby. He’s 4–6 in the Finals. He doesn’t have any clutch gene or dog in him at all!”
That’s all ludicrous. LeBron has hit more ‘clutch shots’ in the playoffs than any other player in NBA history (5, Jordan has 3) and his Finals record should not be held against him. In just his fourth year, he led a team of nobodies all the way to the Finals, and lost to a much more complete team in the Spurs. I’ll pay you $100 if you can name that team’s starting five without looking it up. In 2011 he lost to Dirk, who had also defeated Kobe and the defending champion Lakers, KD, Westbrook and Harden’s Thunder and beat the heavily favored Spurs, featuring 4 future Hall of Fame players. He had one of the single greatest playoff runs in NBA history. In 2014, LeBron lost to those 4 Hall of Famers I just mentioned. He had beaten them the year before, but the 2014 Spurs had the greatest offensive rating in Finals history! Kawhi won Finals MVP for holding LeBron to 28ppg 8rpg and 4apg on 57% from the field and 52% from 3. All with Dwayne Wade struggling to return from a leg injury. In 2015 he lost to the Warriors in 6. Kyrie and Kevin Love were both injured and unavailable during the series. In the 2016 rematch, LeBron won the series, coming back from being down 3–1 and defeating the most winning team in NBA history. The next year that same team added Kevin Durant, making them the greatest team ever assembled in NBA history. LeBron obviously lost the next two to that squad after losing Kyrie, injuries, and the most infamous ‘slow moment’ of all time by J.R. Smith. It is hard to hold LeBron accountable for all of these or say that he should have done something different. It is equally hard to penalize him for making it as far as he does every year before he loses. In 17 NBA seasons, LeBron has made the Finals 10 times and has never been put out of the first round (let alone swept in the first round). He simply wins far more than he loses.
“From the shoes on his feet, to the shorts he wore, everyone wanted to be like Mike!”
There is no denying his cultural influence. He had everyone wearing a leg sleeve or sticking their tongues out and trying to fly. But have you ever thought about his impact? What will he be remembered for? Jordan is notorious for staying silent on social justice issues and causing controversy. He wasn’t the most liked by his teammates. He’s ruined more than a few relationships and even punched a teammate in the face. Poor Steve Kerr. The release of “The Last Dance” documentary only further alienated his teammates. His gambling addiction has been well documented. His post playing career has been marred by making poor decisions as a team executive and more silence on political issues. Until recently, Jordan’s charities had put next to nothing back into the communities that’s supported him the most. He’s said nothing in times of social unrest. In the 1998 lockout, Jordan, as the face of the league, retired, considering himself above the situation. He left all of his peers to negotiate without any real sense of leverage.
LeBron was not only involved in negotiations during the 2011 lockout, he actually played and won a ring that year. He has been the best ambassador the league has ever had and the best representative the players could ask for. LeBron has no real off the court controversies and is considered to be the ultimate teammate. His philanthropy and activism set him apart from any other athlete of his stature. He’s already given out millions of dollars, paid for thousands of kids to go to college, and even opened his own school. It seems he starts a new initiative every day. Instead of hiring strangers, he invested in those he trusted and built them up to be some of the biggest in their fields. With the rise of social media, LeBron has only benefited from the extra exposure. He is the most recognizable figure in North American sports with 121.9 million followers between Instagram and Twitter. Although Jordan isn’t active on social media, his official accounts total only 24.9 million followers by comparison. LeBron has sustained this level of excellence for an incredibly long time. He is probably the greatest high school player of all time and he has only shattered all of the massive expectations set for him at the start of his career. The NBA has never seen a run of dominance last this long before. He’s never been cut from his high school team, never quit on the game or his teammates and always gave us his all. He’s the only player to win Finals MVP with 3 different teams! Simply put. He is the King!
© 2021 Marshall Trudo IV