The “Greatest of All Time” discussion is one of the most interesting (and frustrating) in the world of sports.
The most difficult and heated comparison is that of LeBron vs. Jordan. No question has divided sports fans (and often generations) more than that of which player is truly greater.
And barring some sort of wild drop-off to end his career, I will argue for LeBron until I’m blue in the face.
Yes, MJ won all six of his Finals’ appearances. MJ was (probably) more clutch in the biggest moments. And yes, he was a better pure scorer. But that’s where his superior qualities end. LeBron is (by far) a more efficient scorer and a better passer, driver and finisher, rebounder, defender, and teammate.
Insert the typical Jordan fan, who would undoubtedly bring up the discrepancy in finals appearances/wins between the two.
My counterargument is that a) Jordan never faced a team in the Finals that was incredible (like LeBron has with the Spurs and Warriors), and b) Jordan had an all-time great coach in Phil Jackson, whereas LeBron’s best coach was Erik Spoelstra (who is a good coach, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t sure how to use Lebron for over a year after his acquisition).
The Jordan fan would likely debate me on the discrepancy of teams faced, and I would point out that Jordan was part of a 72 win team, whereas LeBron managed to beat a team that had 73 wins.
According to 538, a subsidiary of ESPN which deals with advanced statistics, the worst team LeBron has faced in a finals series was better than three of the six of the teams Jordan faced in his finals trips. Another way to look at this is that the worst team LeBron faced is about as good as the average team Jordan faced.
Perhaps here is where the Jordan fan would assert that LeBron has had to seek out so-called “super-teams” while Jordan remained loyal to the Bulls.
And while LeBron did abandon the Cavs, Jordan may have done the same thing if put in a similar situation. Jordan not only had a great coach, but got to play alongside Scottie Pippen (who is easily a top 50 player all time) for essentially his whole career.
When Jordan took his first retirement from basketball, the Bulls finished at 55-27, made the playoffs, and were one game away from making the Eastern Conference Finals.
In contrast, once LeBron left the Cavs, they finished dead last in the East, significantly missed the playoffs, and in fact finished only two games ahead of last place in the league. When he left the Heat in 2014, they missed the playoffs as well, even though they still had Spoelstra, Wade, and an albeit injured Bosh.
So, the argument that LeBron has done less with better teams is invalid. He has actually carried teams that had no business being in contention on deep playoff runs. He has an innate ability to make those around him significantly better.
The last argument I often hear is that LeBron is not clutch in the biggest moments. And while Jordan never lost in the Finals, LeBron has yet to lose in the first round of the playoffs (something Jordan’s teams did three times). LeBron may not be as good in the Finals, but he is certainly better at getting there.
Additionally, LeBron actually has more go-ahead shots in the last ten seconds of playoff games than Jordan did. So the notion that LeBron is not “clutch” is false.
To finish up, I do realize that 6>3 and in terms of the debate of “greatness” it seems that championships trump all.
But LeBron isn’t done yet (in fact, this season is becoming one of his best, and at age 33, he seems to somehow not be slowing down in any way). I would bet that when it’s all said and done, he gets at least a couple more rings.
Here’s the ultimate question that I think settled any debate in my mind forever: if you had to put together a starting five all in their primes to compete against someone else’s for a million dollars, and you got the first pick in the draft, who would you choose?
I would pick LeBron every single time. I’m sure my opponent would immediately pick MJ with a smile on their face.
But I wouldn’t flinch. Because in a five on five game of basketball, nobody is, has been, or will be a better (or greater) player than LeBron James.
Tyler Dean is a junior studying business administration.