Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan

On June 20, 2013, Lebron James almost surely solidified himself as a top 5 player in the NBA in most people’s eyes with winning his second NBA championship. The discussion that keeps being brought up year after year is the Lebron James and Michael Jordan debate. Who is better? Does Lebron have a chance to be the greatest player ever? While this is a rather premature debate as Lebron is only half way into his career, it is a fun issue to speculate. Say what you want about Lebron James being more of an all around player than Jordan, as of now Jordan still has the leg up. This is not to say, however, that Lebron cannot one day pass Jordan, but he still has a long way to go.
Titles, titles, titles. Whether fair or not, much of a player’s legacy (especially an NBA player) is not only measured on statistics, but how many titles he has won over the course of his career. Lebron now has won two championships with two finals MVPs. This is a good start as Lebron is still only 28 years old. What plays against him though is not only did Michael Jordan win 6 championships, but he has 6 NBA Finals MVPs in an astounding 6 tries. Jordan never lost a finals and never even let it go to a game 7. Lebron does have time to get 4 more championships, but he cannot take away the two finals he has already lost especially the 2011 NBA Finals of which he averaged a mind-boggling 3 points in the 4th quarter. To his credit however, Lebron was very mentally tough the last two years and “coincidentally” won the championship the last two years.
Having the ability to close games and being mentally tough during a close game in last possession situations also displays greatness. Michael Jordan is the ultimate closer. In playoff games in the last 25 seconds of a game tying or go ahead situation Jordan shot 57%, a leg up from everyone including Lebron who shoots an impressive 43%. Lebron so far has not had many iconic moments in late game situations in his career, other than his game winning shot against the Orlando Magic in 2009, who went on to win the series 4-1 eliminating Lebron and the Cavaliers. Michael Jordan had many iconic moments, most notably “the shot” in 1989 against Cleveland and the unbelievable game winning shot against Utah that resulted in a storybook ending for his career in Chicago.
Lastly, stats are obviously another important measurement in determining a players greatness. Lebron James is a walking triple double. At 6’8 250 pounds he is without a doubt the most athletic player the NBA has ever seen. He can pass. He can shoot and look to drive. He can rebound. He can play defense against anyone on the court from a point guard to a center. Lebron is a flat-out freak of nature. Michael Jordan had many triple doubles, but was not as much of a passer as Lebron. But, instead, Jordan had more of a killer instinct to score at will against the opponent. That being said, although Lebron is a great scorer, Jordan was in a league of his own in this category. During his career Jordan was able to get 10 scoring titles. Lebron so far has one scoring title. Probably the most important stats are efficiency stats. These players played in two different eras so per game stats may be a little skewed which will be covered next. These 5 efficiency ratings measure a player’s overall impact in the game: Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Rating, Overall Rating, Win Shares, and PER. Jordan has Lebron beat in PER, Offensive Rating, and Win Shares. Lebron has a very thin edge over Jordan in Defensive Rating and Defensive Win Shares, but if you factor Lebron aging it is almost certain he will dip below Jordan in both of these categories.
One more thing people need to take into account is that back in Jordans time the NBA was a lot more physical and tougher to score and be great. Fouls were harder and there were many more great centers in the league during the 80s and 90s making it tougher to drive in the lane which would have given Lebron more problems to deal with. Not to say Lebron would not have been great, but we would not be debating if he is better than Jordan if he played in the late 20th Century. The fact that hand checking was allowed during Jordan’s time and not in Lebron’s really makes one think how easier it would have been for Jordan to put up better numbers in today’s game. For those who do not know hand checking is putting an arm on a guy on offense who is running up the floor or putting both hands on a player dribbling the ball and facing the basket. The rule against this was not in effect during Jordan’s era so guys on defense could jeep their hands on you all day.
In the end both players are special and have had a great impact on the NBA and sports. Lebron can go back to Cleveland if he wants in 2014, but it would not look to good ditching two contending teams in one career. Those are things that Jordan just does not have on his resume and what Lebron will have to live with. When all is said done it will be Michael Jordan at number one and Lebron James in a close second if he can stay consistent for another six years or so.


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