Who is the greatest basketball player of all time: Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
That is the single biggest debate in basketball today.
People my age — in their mid 30s — grew up watching MJ in his prime. Younger kids grew up watching Lebron and don’t remember Jordan very well other than what they find on YouTube or in the recent 30 for 30 documentary.
So instead of giving my personal opinion on the debate, which I really don’t know exactly where I stand, I will just compare the two players statistically. The information I pulled for this column I found in an article written by Jordan Greer of Sporting News.
The statistics provided are up to date after Lebron capped off his fourth NBA championship on Sunday night.
Speaking of championships, MJ won a total of six NBA titles, and Lebron just won his fourth, so MJ holds the edge there.
When comparing statistics and even when putting the two side by side, one has to realize that Lebron has been in the league for 17 seasons compared to MJ with a total of 15. After winning another championship this season, it doesn’t appear Lebron is slowing down even at the age of 35. He is playing great basketball and carried his team for most of the playoffs.
MJ holds the advantage in points per game with 30.1 compared to Lebron’s 27.1. Lebron leads in assists and rebounds per game with 7.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists compared to Jordan’s 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Jordan leads in steals with 2.3 compared to 1.6 for Lebron. They are dead even with 0.8 blocks per game each.
In terms of games played, Lebron has played in 1,265 games and counting while Jordan ended his career with 1,072. Lebron will pass Jordan in points scored next season. Jordan has 32,292 career points and Lebron sits at 32,241. In terms of career rebounds, assists and blocks, Lebron holds sizable leads in those categories. Lebron is 500 steals behind Jordan.
Lebron has played in quite a few more playoff games as Jordan already. Lebron is at 260 and counting and MJ finished with 179 career playoff games. Jordan averaged 33.4 points per game in the playoffs while Lebron has 28.8. Lebron once again leads Jordan in rebounds and assists in the playoffs with 9.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists per playoff game while Jordan had 6.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Jordan leads in steals and Lebron in blocks. In terms of total playoff points, Lebron has 7,491 compared to Jordan’s 5,987, but Jordan played in 81 less playoff games as Lebron. Lebron has more than 1,000 more rebounds and 800 more assists than Jordan in the playoffs.
For career accolades, Jordan has two more championships than Lebron. MJ has five MVP awards compared to Lebron’s four. Jordan also has six finals MVPs compared to Lebron’s four. Lebron leads in All-NBA, being named 16 times to MJ’s 11. MJ has nine all defense nods compared to Lebron’s six. Lebron has been named to 16 all-star teams and Jordan 14. In a stat that blew my mind when I saw it, Jordan has 10 scoring titles and Lebron has only one.
So if you aren’t bogged down in numbers yet, the point of this comparison is to show that both players have a legitimate claim to being the greatest basketball player of all time.
A lot of people claim Jordan had more legitimate competition during his time in the league, but it is hard to make a comparison to those players and today’s players. They all brought different styles to the game that may not translate over. But at the same time, it is hard to argue when you look at for instance the 1992 Dream Team that today’s stars couldn’t hold a flame to.
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone and others are some of the greatest basketball players to ever walk this earth and Jordan dominated all of them.
That isn’t taking anything away from Lebron because he may have been able to do the same thing. Either way, I will let you all decide which one is the greatest of all time.
Until next time.