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The Argument Against The Arguments Against LeBron Versus Jordan In The G.O.A.T. Conversation

Posted by : JaimeReborn Date added : 2020-10-15 01:36:37


The Argument Against The Arguments Against LeBron Versus Jordan In The G.O.A.T. Conversation

There’s been so much talk over the last few years about who’s the “greater” or “better” player, Michael Jordan or LeBron James.  In fact, the Jordan/LeBron debate has become a part of our national sports identity.  Like most people, I have my own opinion on the debate.  However, I differentiate between “greater/greatest” and “better/best”.  For me, “better/best” refers to individual effective basketball talent level while “greater/greatest” refers to overall NBA resume.  Many in the contemporary media will say that Michael Jordan is the best AND greatest player to ever play in the NBA.  However, the arguments that most make to come to that conclusion do not seem to be balanced at all.  The gap in the talent level and effectiveness of Jordan and LeBron is not nearly as far off as LeBron’s critics profess that it is and a lot of the arguments against LeBron being a better or a greater player than Jordan often simply boils down to biased dismissals of LeBron in favor of Jordan.   I’ll get to that.

First of all, I'm not sure why so many people dwarf the conversation about "greatest of all-time" or the "G.O.A.T." conversation down to just Jordan and LeBron.  For a myriad of reasons, I would think that players like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, and a few others would also be in that conversation.  A team comprised of a prime Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Magic, and Duncan could probably rend asunder any team ever assembled.  ...but this article IS about the Jordan/LeBron conversation/comparison.

Jordan may have been a better player than LeBron, from a fundamental, talent-wise perspective, and I have been blessed to have watched their entire professional basketball careers.  LeBron may have (or may have had) more “potential” talent than Jordan but the way the two men utilized their talents on the court showed that Jordan may have been more effective with his talent.  I feel that their talent levels are a lot closer than many people think.  Both were efficient scorers.  Jordan was a better free throw shooter and was less prone to turnovers.  LeBron was a better passer and rebounder and it wasn’t just because of his height because LeBron played on the wing much of his career just like Jordan did.  LeBron was simply a better natural facilitator than Jordan was.  LeBron fans seem to ignore his sometimes "eye test" tendency to commit turnovers especially at critical junctures in the game.  Some of the criticism of LeBron’s late game disappearance acts and poor decision-making are contrived narratives, while some of the stories are very, very, real.   Many of LeBron’s fans and critics, alike, talk about LeBron’s basketball I.Q. being higher than any other basketball player that ever played.  That’s a bit farfetched considering Jordan is in the conversation.  I’m kind of stunned that someone would say that another basketball player made better on-court decisions than Jordan.  Jordan is arguably the best finisher in NBA history.  In Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals, LeBron had the ball for the entire shot clock (minus a fraction of a second) to take the final shot. He holds the ball for 23 seconds so he can take a 3 pointer?!  I can't imagine Jordan not giving his team a better chance to win in a situation like that. ...settling for an unnecessary 3 with the entire 24 second clock to set up a play?!  I just can’t imagine Jordan doing that.

Now that LeBron has won his fourth NBA Championship, to me, the issue is the comparison of the two men’s NBA resume.  Jordan has won 6 NBA Championships in 6 NBA Finals appearances, and 6 NBA Finals MVP awards.  He has 5 MVP Awards, 1 DPOY, 14 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA teams, 9 All-Defensive teams, 10 scoring titles, and 3 steals titles.  However, LeBron has an extremely compelling NBA resume in his own right with 4 NBA Championships in 10 NBA Finals appearances, and 4 NBA Finals MVP awards.  LeBron has 4 MVP awards, 16 All-Star selections, 16 All-NBA teams, 6 All-Defensive teams, 1 scoring title, and 1 assists title. 

Regardless of whether one thinks that Jordan is/was a “better” player than LeBron and I think that Jordan is currently a “greater” player than LeBron, the issue here, however, is that LeBron is still playing and can add to his on-court NBA resume while this would be very improbable for Jordan to do.   LeBron may become a “greater” player than Jordan in terms of overall resume but his window of opportunity is closing very fast as he’ll be 36 early next season.  LeBron’s critics don’t seem to want to acknowledge that LeBron is on pace to put up one of the most venerable NBA resumes for a player in the history of the league, and this is where the arguments from LeBron's critics tend to become utterly nonsensical.   

01.) Michael Jordan is 6-0 in NBA Finals

College coaches decide the Michael Jordan-LeBron James debate

While this factually true it, essentially, attempts to blatantly mask all of Jordan’s playoff shortcomings.  …and there were many.  Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA and walked off the court an NBA Champion in 6 of those seasons.  In each of the other 9 seasons, he lost.  While his record is unblemished in the NBA Finals, to try to make the argument that losing in the playoffs before reaching NBA Finals is better than reaching the NBA Finals is beyond illogical and pushing into ridiculousness.  What kind of nerd bingo is this?  Consider that John Havlicek is 8-0 in NBA Finals and, like Jordan, was one of the best two-way players the NBA has ever known.  Robert Horry was on 7-0 in NBA Finals.  Bill Russell was 11-1 in NBA Finals (with several Celtics of that era having won more than 6 NBA Championships).  Kareem has won 6 NBA Championships, equal to Jordan, as well as winning a record 6 NBA MVPs.  How can Jordan be “better” or “greater” than Kareem if Cap has the same number of NBA Championships and more MVPs?  All of these men have more NBA Championships than Jordan so if Jordan is “better” or “greater” than these players it is on a basis of something OTHER than the number of Championships won.  If this standard can apply to Jordan then it can also apply to other players like LeBron.  Simply put, the issue of Jordan being 6-0 in the NBA Finals should not be used as the “end-all” to the comparison between Jordan and LeBron if that same argument can’t be used against Jordan with other players.  Again, it is absolute lunacy to criticize LeBron for losing in the NBA Finals while praising Jordan for NOT making the NBA Finals as if it's a GOOD thing that he lost BEFORE he reached the NBA Finals.  That rationale of praising Jordan for missing the NBA Finals is the epitome of cultish gaslighting on the part of LeBron's critics. 

02.) Jordan played against better competition and in a tougher era of the NBA.

While this can be argued from many metrical standpoints, many of Jordan’s fans and/or LeBron’s critics are simply discounting facts as they choose and are cherrypicking the parts of the arguments that make Jordan’s case and dismissing if not outright ignoring LeBron’s compelling argument for having played against better talent.  Jordan played against 8 HOFers in his 6 NBA Finals appearances while LeBron has played against about (a projected) 14 HOFers in his 10 NBA Finals appearances.  NOW, all of a sudden, Jordan's advocates and LeBron’s critics say it’s about MORE than just the NBA Finals but rather the ENTIRE playoff run, which flies in the face of their argument about Jordan being 6-0 in the NBA Finals.  Jordan, in his 6 NBA Finals, played against Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Vlade Divac (asterisk-rookie), Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, Karl Malone (2x), and John Stockton (2x).  That’s an effective total of 10 HOFers in Jordan’s 6 NBA Finals appearances.  To be fair to Jordan, fringe HOFers like Danny Ainge, Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Detlef Schrempf, will likely all join their brethren in Springfield one day.  LeBron’s NBA Finals’ competition has been significantly tougher than Jordan’s NBA Finals competition, and it’s not even close.  Consider that in LeBron’s 10 NBA Finals that he played against Tim Duncan (3x), Manu Ginobli (3x), Tony Parker (3x), Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Kevin Durant (3x), Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard (2x), Tracy McGrady (asterisk-age), Steph Curry (4x), Klay Thompson (4x), Draymond Green (4x), and Andre Iguodala (4x).  That’s an effective total of 35 HOFers in 10 NBA Finals.  That’s not including fringe HOF talent that LeBron has faced in the NBA Finals such as Bruce Bowen, Peja Stojackovic, Shawn Marion, David West, and Jimmy Butler.  This is still not a compelling argument for LeBron’s critics that LeBron played against greater NBA Finals competition than Jordan, but how LeBron’s critics can argue that with a straight face is beyond me.   

In his 10 NBA Finals appearances, LeBron played against 6 former/current/future MVPs and 3 former/future DPOYs.  In 6 NBA Finals appearances, Jordan played against 3 former/current/future MVPs and 1 DPOY. 

Such facts don’t completely make up for LeBron being 4-6 in NBA Finals versus Jordan’s 6-0 in the NBA Finals, as Jordan could only play who was in front of him. However, it does put their NBA Finals records into better perspective. 

I keep hearing that in the 1990’s Jordan played against so many “great” teams in the Eastern Conference.  …really?  …what “great” Eastern Conference teams?  …the 1990 and 1991 Pistons?  …ok, I’ll buy that.  …the New York Knicks, with lone HOFer Patrick Ewing?  …the Pacers with Reggie Miller being the only HOFer in his prime and an aging Chris Mullin (although Rik Smits and Mark Jackson will likely get in, and deservedly so, at some point)  …the Orlando Magic, with only Shaq in the HOF (although Penny Hardaway had HOF talent).  …the Heat, with only Alonzo Mourning in the HOF (although Tim Hardaway should get the nod at some point).  …or what about the Cavaliers with no HOFers (though Brad Daugherty had HOF talent)?   Where are all of these so-called “great” Eastern Conference teams that Jordan played against in the 1990’s?

Jordan’s teams were favored in EACH of his six NBA Finals appearances, and rightfully so.  LeBron has only been favored in 3 of his 10 NBA Finals appearances.  If LeBron played against inferior competition he certainly would have been favored in more than 3 of his 10 NBA Finals appearances. 

03.) Jordan kept other great NBA players from winning NBA Championships

LeBron James: I would've worked perfectly with Michael Jordan

This is probably one of the most ridiculous narratives of them all, regarding Jordan’s career.  This false narrative would have you believe that ALL of Jordan’s NBA Finals opponents from 1991 to 1993 and 1996 to 1998 only played in THOSE seasons.  Many of Jordan’s proponents bring up the fact that Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton, Jordan’s NBA Finals opponents, never won NBA Championships in their careers, as well as long-time Eastern Conference rival players Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller, because of Jordan.  Malone and Stockton played the better part of 20 years in the NBA but it was supposedly Jordan who kept them from winning an NBA Championship?  …each season?  …really?  Malone and Stockton didn’t have an opportunity to win the NBA Championship in the 1980s?  …or how about 1994 and 1995?  …or about how about in 1999?  Barkley didn’t have a chance to win an NBA Championship with four other HOFers in Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, and Maurice Cheeks in the mid-1980’s (not to mention All-Star Andrew Toney)?  Did Jordan stop Barkley in the 1985  Eastern Conference Finals?  …how about 1994, 1995, or 1999?  Was Jordan stopping Ewing from winning an NBA Championship in 1994, 1995, or 1999?  Did Jordan keep Miller from winning an NBA Championship in 1994, 1995, 1999, or 2000?  So, we’re talking five great players that people keep bringing up in Ewing, Barkley, Malone, Stockton, and Miller.  The fact is MOST great players from ANY era are not going to win an NBA Championship because so few teams actually win NBA Championships.   

Jordan certainly didn’t stop anyone from winning a Championship in 2002 and 2003, but I digress.  My point is, if Barkley, Ewing, Malone, Stockton, and Miller etc., didn’t win an NBA Championship with or without Jordan in the NBA, then why is their absence of a NBA Championship attributed to Jordan?  What NBA Championship contender with three or four HOFer players on it, in their prime, did Jordan stop from winning an NBA Championship during his career?  In fairness to Jordan, the 1993 Suns team will likely, eventually have four HOFers on it and the 1998 Pacers team will probably eventually have four HOFers on it as well.  Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Danny Ainge should join Charles Barkley from the 1993 Suns team one day and Rik Smits and Mark Jackson should join Miller and Chris Mullin in the HOF at some point, from the 1998 Pacers.  However, LeBron has faced significantly more bona fide first ballot HOFers than Jordan has in their NBA Finals competition. 

With the exception of the 1991 Los Angeles Lakers, who had three HOFers on it in Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and rookie Vlade Divac, Jordan’s Bulls had an advantage in HOF players in each of his other five NBA Finals appearances.  In 1992 it was Jordan and Pippen against the Portland Trailblazers’ Clyde Drexler.  In 1993 it was Jordan and Pippen against the Phoenix Suns’ Charles Barkley.  In 1996 it was Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman against the Seattle Supersonics’ (Oklahoma City Thunder) Gary Payton.  In 1997 and 1998 it was Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman (and Robert Parish for 1997, if we're being technical) against the Utah Jazz’s Karl Malone and John Stockton. 

LeBron’s dominance doesn’t have be the EXACT same as Jordan’s dominance.  Just because Jordan’s team’s won the NBA Finals in each full season that he participated in from 1991 to 1998 doesn’t mean that LeBron isn’t just as dominate if not more dominate for the ways in which LeBron built his NBA resume.  Being able to continuously get to the NBA Finals after the better part of two decades is also dominance.  Being able to stay healthy long enough to do so is also a very compelling component of that dominance.  Larry Bird took a moribund Boston Celtics team that finished 29-53 in 1979 to an NBA best 61-21 record and made them Championship contenders the very next season in 1980.  Why does Jordan not have to match or exceed Bird’s instant success and transitioning his team into Championship contenders in a single season?  Jordan didn’t win 11 NBA Championships in 13 years.  How many players did Bill Russell keep from winning NBA Championships?  Why does Jordan not have to match or exceed Russell’s Championship metrics to be the G.O.A.T., but LeBron has to match or exceed Jordan’s Championship metrics to be the G.O.A.T.? 

04.) Jordan never melted down in the NBA Finals like LeBron did in 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks.

While this statement actually does hold some merit, the statement is very unbalanced and Jordan's advocates and LeBron's critics seek to take a snapshot of LeBron’s career and superimpose that snapshot as a definitive definition of LeBron’s entire career.  It’s true that LeBron did not put up the numbers that he had been recording throughout the regular season and leading up to the 2011 NBA Finals.  There’s no argument there.  The issue is that LeBron’s detractors seem to act as if Jordan never had poor games in the NBA Finals or playoffs and use his 6-0 record out of context, ignoring that Jordan clearly had the better talent in at least 5 of his 6 NBA Finals appearances.  …but, I’ll get to Jordan’s poor games in a moment.  First, I want to discuss how LeBron’s detractors also downplay and/or outright ignore just how good that 2011 Dallas Mavericks team was.    

While I agree that the Miami Heat should have defeated the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, the 2011 Mavericks are an extremely underrated team in NBA history.  The 2011 Mavericks were 57-25 that season, only one game behind the Miami Heat.  That Mavericks team had won 50+ games for the eleventh straight season, when only three other NBA teams in history had ever managed to do for at least a decade (10 seasons), still as of this writing.  That’s not just good.  That’s historically great.  The Mavericks swept a still-in-his-prime Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers who were also the three-time defending Western Conference Champions.  The Mavericks then gentlemen-swept an Oklahoma Thunder team that had three future HOFers and three future MVPs on it and that Thunder team would ultimately make the Conference Finals three more times in the next five seasons, including an NBA Finals appearance the next season.  The Mavericks had two first-ballot HOFers on that team in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. It's possible that Peja Stojacovic may make the HOF as well and he was a three time All-Star in his career.  Nowitzki had won the MVP in 2007 and was still playing at near-MVP level in 2011. He is one of the best offensive players in NBA history.  Tyson Chandler was a formidable defensive presence in the middle and would win the DPOY the very next season in 2012.  Shawn Marion was a four time All-Star.  Caron Butler was a two time All-Star in his career.  The Heat’s core players, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, as talented as they were, had only been together for one season.  The fact that the trio had jokingly bragged about winning several Championships doesn’t change the fact that they had only been together one season.  Conversely, with the Mavericks, Kidd had been with the team for three and a half seasons. Many NBA pundits point out that Kidd was aging, which is true, but he had been an All-Star the prior season in 2010.  Of the Mavericks’ six starters in the 2011 NBA Finals, only Tyson Chandler was a new addition to the team that season.  Of the Heat’s six starters in the 2011 NBA Finals, only Dwyane Wade and Joel Anthony had been with the team the prior season.  This doesn’t excuse LeBron not playing up to his potential in the series and the Heat may have been a better team on paper but, all things considered, I don't believe it's the upset that the media and many in the NBA community have made it out to be.  

I delved into the 2011 NBA Finals because it is perennially being used against LeBron, even though, as of this writing, he’s been to eight more NBA Finals since then.  However, Jordan’s 6-0 record in the NBA Finals is used to somehow obscure some of his poor statistical outings in the NBA Finals and the playoffs.  The reality is that while Jordan did have some poor games in the playoffs, including the NBA Finals, Jordan was a volume shooter and thus his scoring statistics look a bit different than LeBron’s scoring statistics, but they don’t tell the entire story.  Jordan’s poor playoff games, including those that occurred in the NBA Finals, are largely obscured because Jordan’s teams often won those games and Jordan’s teams actually DID win the each of his NBA Finals series.  …but, nonetheless, those poor games still happened.  In Game 3 of the 1991 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan shot 11 of 28 from the field, for 39% but the Bulls were able to win the game in overtime.  Jordan shot 11 of 26 in an NBA Finals Game 3 loss to the Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals.  He was 19 of 43 in an NBA Finals Game 3 loss to the Suns in 1993.  In the 1996 NBA Finals, in Game 2, Jordan was 9 of 22 in a win against the Sonics.  In Game 4 of that same series, he was 6 of 19 in a loss.  In Game 6 of that series, he was 5 of 19 but the Bulls were able to close out Sonics in six games.   In Game 2 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Jazz, Jordan was 4 of 15 in a win.  Jordan was 9 of 35 in a loss in to the Jazz in Game 5 and 11 of 31 in a win in Game 6.  In the 1998 NBA Finals against the Jazz, Jordan went 13 of 29 in a Game 1 loss, 14 of 33 in a Game 2 win, 12 of 27 in a Game 4 win, 9 of 26 in a Game 5 loss, and 15 of 35 in the Game 6 closer.  Jordan shot 42% in the 1996 NBA Finals.  He shot 43% in the 1998 NBA Finals.  Jordan had numerous poor shooting exhibitions in his playoff career, including the NBA Finals, but Jordan’s teams usually had the talent advantage and were able to win the series, which has obscured those poor performances. 

Jordan also had several playoff games outside of the NBA Finals in which he struggled and wasn’t very efficient.  In Jordan’s 179 career playoff games, Jordan shot under 40% in 38 of those games.  That’s just over 21% of his games.  There was a 3 of 18 game against the Knicks in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals.  There was a 4 of 15 game and 9 of 35 games against the Heat in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals.  In 1989, with Jordan’s Bulls holding a 2-1 lead over the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan went 5 of 15 in a Game 4 loss and then 4 of 8 in a Game 5 loss, before losing the series in six games.   If Jordan had not been afforded so many calls to shoot foul shots, his poor performances in such playoff games would be more transparent.

The bottom line is that Jordan won those NBA Finals series.  I wholeheartedly agree with that.  However, if the proverbial “bottom line” of Championships won is the standard in the Jordan versus LeBron conversation, then let that be the same “bottom line” standard in the Jordan versus Russell conversation, or the Jordan versus Kareem conversation, or even the Jordan versus Havlicek conversation.  Again, Havlicek was 8-0 in NBA Finals and was a perennial All-NBA and All-Defensive Team player.  

05.) Jordan never needed to build a “Super Team” to win like, LeBron did.

This is another ridiculous argument.  First of all, there have been very few NBA Championship teams in the modern era (3-point era) and even before that were not a “Super Team’.  Yes, LeBron teamed up with All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, however the Heat were only 47-35 in 2010 as the fifth seed in the East and were beaten 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.  Let’s go back to Jordan, the talent around him in his Championship runs, and this false nostalgia from many in the media and NBA community about the lack of “Super Teams” in previous eras of the NBA.  Jordan played with Scottie Pippen for each of his six NBA Championships.  Pippen was an NBA All-Time Top 50 player.  Pippen was All-Defense from 1991 to 2000 and was All-NBA and an All-Star seven times.  In the year of Jordan’s first retirement, the Bulls went 55-27, a drop-off of only two games from the previous season, and Pippen made the All-Star team joined by his teammates, point guard B. J. Armstrong and power forward Horace Grant.  Armstrong picked up the third most votes for the All-Star game behind Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.  Grant was also a very good defender earning All-Defensive team honors.  The 1991-93 Bulls were a great team and they were very talented. 

However, one of the primary issues surrounding the “Super Team” argument is that today’s modern era of players are artificially creating them with free agency and demanding trades rather than the team being built through the NBA draft.  However, that’s nonsense on a number of levels.  In the modern era, there are almost no NBA Championship teams whose core players were all acquired through the draft.  Each of the NBA Championship teams of the 1980’s, the Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, and Pistons had significant HOF/All-NBA/All-Star/All-Defensive talent on their team that were acquired outside of the NBA draft.  This pattern has been repeated in every decade since.  Somehow, many people feel that building a "Super Team" is still somewhat of a natural or organic process as long as it is the General Manager of an NBA basketball team that is making the decisions.  It’s stunning and surreal that a player wanting to dictate his own career is to be shunned in favor of a General Manager or team owner dictating the player’s career when it is the player who gets blamed for his legacy rather than team management. 

…now, back to Jordan.  In the 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Jordan’s Bulls lost to the Shaquille O’Neal led Orlando Magic, 4-2.  Prior to the 1995-96 NBA season, the Bulls signed former Pistons great and longtime Bulls nemesis, Dennis Rodman.  Going into the 1995-96 season, Rodman was a two time NBA Champion with three appearances in the NBA Finals, was a two-time All-NBA player, a two-time All-Star, the then-current four-time rebounding Champion, and had made the All-Defensive team for the past seven seasons.  It was this caliber of a player that was added to a Chicago Bulls team with Jordan and Pippen.  …but that was NOT a “Super Team”?  …really?!   Would Rodman have been on that Bulls team if Jordan had not agreed to it?  …of course not.  Not only did Rodman join the team but the Bulls acquired two other former Pistons in John Salley and James Edwards as well.  …yes, those SAME Pistons that Jordan and the Bulls hated for their STYLE of play.  The 1996 Bulls won a then-NBA record 72 games with a “non-Super Team” of Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman?  …really?!  …three First Team All-Defensive team players, with two of those players also being First Team All-NBA, and one of those players being the MVP of the NBA.  That’s NOT a “Super Team”?  …ok.

…but LeBron leaving the Heat to go back to the Cavaliers WAS a “Super Team”?  Those same Cavaliers that had been 33-49 in 2014 even with the two of the number one overall NBA picks in the previous three seasons?  …a “Super Team” with All-Star Kyrie Irving who had never made it to the playoffs before LeBron arrived?   …with a newly acquired All-Star Kevin Love who had never made it to the playoffs before he played with LeBron and has never made it to the playoffs, as of this writing, since LeBron left the Cavaliers?  THAT was a “Super Team”?  Again, remember, when Jordan first retired in 1993, the Bulls only won two fewer games the next season in 1994.  It wasn’t until 1999 that the Bulls really dropped off of a cliff with Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman all left following the 1998 season.  When Kyrie left the Cavaliers after the 2017 season, LeBron took the Cavaliers right back to the NBA Finals in 2018 with the Cavs winning only one game fewer game in the regular season without Kyrie.  When LeBron left the Cavs after the 2018 season, they imploded the same way they did after LeBron left them after the 2010 season and also how the Heat imploded after LeBron left them following the 2014 season (although, there were some injuries involved).

When LeBron went to the Lakers in the 2018-19 season, it was a team devoid of All-Stars.  All-Star big man Anthony Davis was acquired by the Lakers, via trade, in 2019, but Davis had only been to the playoffs twice in his seven seasons prior to teaming with LeBron.

06.) Jordan was a better defensive player.

This might be true but this seems to be based primarily on the number of All-Defensive team nods that Jordan and LeBron have received, respectively.  Jordan was First Team All-Defense nine times while LeBron was First Team All-Defense five times and Second Team All-Defense once.  This topic is still a bit unbalanced as it doesn’t tell the entire story of the defensive range of each man.  Jordan was a lockdown defender, no doubt about that.  Personally, I believe that Jordan could have probably made the HOF, primarily, as a defensive specialist because he was that talented.  However, there are some things that LeBron’s critics seem to leave out when assessing LeBron’s defensive ability.  For instance, Jordan may have been a better on-ball defender than LeBron and a better lockdown defender, but LeBron was certainly a more versatile defender than Jordan.  LeBron guarded all five positions on the floor, regularly, and that’s something Jordan did not do, could not do, and it wasn’t asked of Jordan.  Here’s something else that LeBron’s critics ignore when assessing LeBron’s defense.  As of this writing, LeBron has only had two teammates to make the All-Defensive team during the season in which they played with LeBron. Anderson Varejão made the All-Defensive Second Team in 2010 with the Cavaliers and Anthony Davis made the All-Defensive First Team in 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.  Contrast that with Jordan who had Scottie Pippen on the All-Defensive Team with him in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998.  Horace Grant was also on the 1993 All-Defensive Team with Jordan and Pippen in 1993.  Rodman was on the All-Defensive Team with Jordan and Pippen in 1996.  So, Jordan had at least one All-Defensive teammate with him for EACH of his NBA Championship runs and two All-Defensive Team teammates for two of those NBA Championships (1993 and 1996).  Just imagine, for a moment, how better a defensive player that LeBron would have been, had he played with an all-time defender like Scottie Pippen, much less Pippen AND Dennis Rodman.  Jordan may have been a better defender than LeBron, but Jordan most assuredly had better defensive help than LeBron did as well.

Remember, until LeBron teamed up with Davis, Lebron had led his team in points, rebounds, and assists for virtually his entire career.  Being the top scorer, rebounder, and passer on your team takes enough of a toll on a player but also having to be the top defender as well takes superhuman ability and stamina.  LeBron most certainly would have been a better defender if he would have had more defensive help.  How much would Jordan have been able to accomplish as a defender over the course of his career without Pippen, Rodman, and Grant assisting him on the defensive end?  …certainly not as much as he was able to do with them. 

07.) Jordan had no weaknesses.

I certainly agree that Jordan evolved into as complete an NBA player that I ever saw in terms of fundamentals and an all-around game.  However, the only thing that I clearly see that Jordan does better than LeBron is make free throws.  Jordan’s career free throw percentage for his career is 84% while LeBron’s career free throw percentage is 73% as of this writing.  Jordan was a very good free throw shooter while LeBron is a just-below average free throw shooter.  However, let me take a quick tangent to put this into perspective.  Hakeem Olajuwon’s career free throw percentage is 71%, which is much higher than Wilt Chamberlain at 54%, much higher than Bill Russell at 56%, and much higher than Shaquille O’Neal at 58%.  How many people feel that Olajuwon was “better” or “greater” than Chamberlain, Russell, or Shaq, based off of free throw percentage?  How many “all-time” NBA lists place Olajuwon ahead of Chamberlain, Russell, and O’Neal, even though Olajuwon was probably more of a fundamental, all-around player, than each of them. 

LeBron’s ability to score, assist, rebound, and defend is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the modern era of basketball.  The fact that he doesn’t do certain things better than some other players doesn’t encroach on the fact that LeBron arguably has the most balanced skillset of any player ever to play in the NBA.  I have rarely, if ever, seen the “free throw” argument used with any player comparisons other than Jordan versus LeBron.  Anthony Davis plays power forward and is a career 80% free throw shooter.  Tim Duncan is widely considered to be the best power forward ever and he is a career 70% free throw shooter.  Does that automatically make AD a BETTER player than Duncan, based on free throws?  …of course not. 

In this contemporary era, many say that Jordan had no weaknesses.  However, many of them  are waxing revisionist history.  Again, during his prime, I will admit that Jordan was about as complete an NBA player as I’ve ever seen.  However, when Jordan wasn’t winning Championships, there was more than enough criticism to go around regarding Jordan’s game.  Jordan was called out for being a ball hog and not making his teammates better.  Remember, B. J. Armstrong and Horace Grant made their lone career All-Star team selctions, while on the Bulls, the season after Jordan first retired.  Other critics pointed out that Jordan did not have a reliable perimeter shot.  Still other critics opined about Jordan not being tough enough to win a Championship.  There were many in the 1980's and early 1990's who said that Jordan would never win an NBA Championship with his style of play.  Jordan’s then-critics said he’d never reach the stature of Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.  Many of the critics in the NBA community during Jordan's early career stated that Jordan’s Bulls would never get past Isiah Thomas' "Bad Boy" Pistons.  …but he evenutally did, and those criticisms of Jordan’s game and early career struggles went away as if they never existed.

LeBron may not be as good a free throw shooter as Jordan but that doesn’t make it a weakness that encroaches on his ability to win games.  Would it help LeBron if he was a better free throw shooter?  …certainly.  …but there is NO effective opposing coaching strategy on LeBron that is focusing on stopping him based on his free throw shooting.  LeBron more than makes up for his free throw shooting with his overall game.

08.) LeBron has lost too many times in the NBA Finals.

…really, though?  …really?  If this is a valid argument for why Jordan is a better/greater player than LeBron, then why is this argument only used in the Jordan/LeBron conversation?  Bill Russell played 13 years in the NBA while going to the NBA Finals 12 times and losing in the NBA Finals only once.  So, Russell won 11 Championships in 13 years, meaning that he finished the season without the NBA Championship only twice.  Jordan, played 15 seasons in the NBA and “only” won 6 NBA Championships so he finished the season without a Championship 9 times.  By that accounting, hasn’t Jordan lost “too many times” in comparison to Bill Russell to be considered the best/greatest of all-time?  It’s blatantly clear to Jordan acolytes and LeBron critics that Jordan’s pristine 6-0 NBA Finals record is unassailable in comparison to LeBron’s 4-6 NBA Finals record but then, somehow, magically, Russell’s 11 NBA Championships in 13 seasons is somehow dwarfed by Jordan’s 6 NBA Championships in 15 seasons.  …nevermind John Havlicek’s 8-0 record in the NBA Finals. 

The reality is, to Jordan’s supporters and LeBron’s detractors, the only standards that matter in the best/greatest conversation are Jordan’s metrics.  Whatever advantages that Jordan holds in the best/greatest conversation, those are the only ones that matter.  Whatever advantages LeBron or ANY other player has in the best/greatest conversation don’t matter at all.  Proponents of Jordan regale his six NBA Championships as, somehow, the most important six Championships in NBA history.

09.) Jordan is more “clutch” than LeBron.

Statistically, this has been proven to be untrue.  As of 2020, LeBron has more game winning shots than any player in playoff history AND at a higher percentage.   …but how is “clutch” being defined?  I agree that statistics don’t always tell the entire story.  I also agree that Jordan’s game seemed to exhibit more aggressiveness to the basket and I can certainly understand the “eye test” that may favor Jordan.  However, can you really go to nine NBA Finals in ten seasons with three different teams if you’re not “clutch”?  Let’s say that Jordan is more “clutch” than LeBron.  …fine.  …but, again, wouldn’t that same argument make Bill Russell (and John Havlicek) more “clutch” than Jordan?

Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA, however he seems to get an asterisk, mulligan, or excuse for each season that he didn’t win the NBA Championship and Jordan is the ONLY great player that gets as many excuses.  Jordan went 1-9 in his first 10 NBA playoff games, including two sweeps.  The playoffs have been four rounds since 1984.  How does LeBron get criticized for being swept twice in the NBA Finals but somehow Jordan gets a pass for getting swept twice in the first round of the playoffs?  In 15 seasons, Jordan reached 41 of 60 playoff rounds played during that time.  That’s 64% of them.  In 17 seasons, LeBron has reached in 50 of 68 playoff rounds played during that time.  That’s 74% of them.  LeBron has reached the NBA Finals in 10 of his 17 seasons in the league.  That’s 59%.  So, LeBron’s percentage of participation in NBA Finals over his career is almost the same as Jordan’s participation in the NBA playoffs over his career.

Jordan will always be considered as the most “clutch” to his fans that continue to reimagine that the years in which he won the NBA Finals are the only years that exist in his career.  NO ONE gets as many excuses as Jordan’s fans give him for not winning the NBA Championship.  From 1985 to 1990, Jordan gets an excuse because his teams were supposedly not good enough.  In 1995, Jordan gets an excuse because he was returning from playing baseball.  In 2002 and 2003 Jordan gets an excuse because he was 38 and 39 years old. 

Again, NO ONE gets as many excuses as Jordan for not winning.  A healthy Jordan gets a pass for missing the playoffs with the Wizards at age 38.  An injured LeBron gets criticized for getting injured and missing the playoffs with the Lakers at age 34.

From 1980 to 1991, Magic Johnson went to 9 NBA Finals and 10 Conference Finals.  In the 1983 NBA Finals, Magic and the Lakers were swept by an otherworldly Sixers team.  However, 1982 number one overall pick, James Worthy was injured before the series and didn’t play.  …no excuses.  In 1989, Magic and the Lakers were 11-0 in the first three rounds of the playoffs.  Magic was injured in Game 2 of the 1989 Finals and Byron Scott (19.6 ppg) missed the entire 1989 NBA Finals with an injury.  …no excuses.  In 1996, Gary Payton played against a Bulls team with Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman, three HOFers.  …but Payton lost.  …no excuses.   Drexler and the Blazers in 1992 was/were playing against Jordan and Pippen.  …but Drexler lost.  …no excuses. 

Jordan is praised for scoring 63 points in a first round double-overtime loss against the Celtics in 1986.  That Celtics team had Larry Bird (1984, 1985, and 1986 NBA MVP), Robert Parish (HOFer), Kevin Mchale (HOFer), Dennis Johnson (HOFer), and Bill Walton (HOFer and 1986 SMOY).  That’s five HOFers.   What Jordan did is beyond impressive.  However, LeBron is criticized for scoring 51 points in an NBA Finals overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors in 2018.  That 2018 Warriors team had Kevin Durant (2014 NBA MVP),   Steph Curry (2015 & 2016 NBA MVP), Draymond Green (2018 NBA DPOY), Klay Thompson (2018 All-Star), and Andre Iguodala (2015 NBA Finals MVP).  So, in the 2018 NBA Finals LeBron was playing against five future HOFers, including four CURRENT 2018 All-Stars, the 2014, 2015, and 2016 MVPs, the reigning DPOY, but he’s STILL criticized for his performance in the series.  Mind you, this is the NBA Finals.  …but Jordan is revered for a game he lost en route to his team being swept in the first round of the playoffs.

Jordan is considered “clutch”.  Jordan was MOST DEFINITELY a “clutch” player.  Make no mistake about it.  However, Jordan won five of his six NBA Championships on teams where he inarguably had the team with the most talent on it.  LeBron is often derided as not being considered “clutch”, even though he only played in 3 of 10 NBA Finals where he clearly had the most talent on it.  It’s fair to say that Jordan is “clutch” but I think it may be a bit unbalanced to say that LeBron is not “clutch”, considering the evidence and the circumstances.

...and if Bryon Russell had done an obvious pushoff on Michael Jordan in the 1998 NBA Finals (or any other NBA game), Russell would have been called for an offensive foul.  Yes, Jordan was clutch but he had some help from the refs on that one. 

10.) Jordan was better at his peak than LeBron and LeBron is just collecting longevity stats.

LaVar Ball Declares Only Way LeBron James Will Be Able to Surpass Michael  Jordan | Cavaliers Nation

Again, this might be a fair assessment but it’s also an attempt to contrive the narrative.  Greatness is not simply about “peak” performance.  Greatness is ALSO about longevity and overall career.  To act as if longevity is not a part of “greatness” is to act as if most athletes wouldn’t continue playing in their respective careers and continue playing at their “peak” levels of performance if they could.   LeBron James was the runner-up for the NBA MVP Award in 2006.  That was only LeBron’s third season in the league.  In 2020, LeBron was runner-up for the NBA MVP Award.  That was his seventeenth season in the league.  That’s a historic and unparalleled time period for an NBA player’s prime level of effective talent performance.  Does this make LeBron better than Jordan?  That’s debatable.  However, to downplay LeBron’s longevity as if he’s a journeyman, role player, of benchwarmer is beyond disingenuous. 

LeBron is already among the all-time greats in scoring and assists and on his current trajectory will become the all-time scoring leader in NBA history.  However, in the Jordan/LeBron conversation/comparison, many state that Jordan’s per game scoring average is more venerable than LeBron’s cumulative scoring totals (or anyone else that has more points than Jordan, mind you).  For instance, the fact that Jordan shot the ball more than LeBron, on average, seems to have NO impact on the fact that he averaged more points than LeBron as far as LeBron’s critics are concerned.  LeBron’s field goal percentage is slightly higher than Jordan’s so, mathematically, LeBron would actually score MORE points than Jordan if he took the same number of shots that Jordan took.

People keep talking about Jordan’s ten career scoring titles.  Wilt Chamberlain not only had seven career scoring titles, but he also owns the top four single-season scoring averages in NBA history.  In addition to the seven scoring titles, Chamberlain also has eleven rebounding titles, AS WELL as an assist title (based on then rules at that time).  …AND Chamberlain ALSO averaged 30.07 points a game to go with Jordan’s 30.12 points a game but Wilt aslo averaged 22.9 rebounds per game AND 4.4 assists per game.  Would not Chamberlain’s overall statistics make HIM a better/greater player than Jordan based on many of the same metrics in which Jordan’s fans say Jordan is better/greater than LeBron?  Jordan averaged 6.2 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game.  In what universe is a stat line of 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, better than a stat line of 30.1 ppg, 22.9 rpg, and 4.4 apg?!  Chamberlain averaged less than one assists per game than Jordan and Chamberlain was a center.  …yes, Chamberlain “only” won two Championships in six NBA Finals but he was playing against loaded Celtics teams for most of his career and Chamberlain did lead the team that stopped Russell from getting to the NBA Finals for the only time in Russell’s career in the 1967 season. 

Let me take a moment to touch upon the Jordan/Kareem best/greatest conversation/comparison.  If Jordan has six NBA Championships and five league MVPs, how is Jordan greater than Kareem with six NBA Championships, six MVPs, and FOUR ADDITIONAL TRIPS TO THE NBA FINALS?!  Having six NBA Championships with four additional appearances in the NBA Finals doesn’t make you greater than having only six NBA Championships with no additional trips to the NBA Finals?  What laws of the NBA G.O.A.T common sense rules are bent to say that getting to the NBA Finals and losing SHOULD BE HELD AGAINST YOU, but losing BEFORE you get to the NBA Finals is HONORABLE?  Again, I  ask you, what kind of nerd bingo is this?! 

Longevity DEFINITELY counts as part of the best/greatest conversation.  If the situation was reversed and Jordan had LeBron’s stats/metrics, LeBron's critics would STILL argue that Jordan was the better/greater player.  …and they KNOW it.  Can you imagine if Jordan had come straight out of high school to play in the NBA?  There is not a doubt in my mind that LeBron’s critics would use this in the G.O.A.T. conversation.  However, since LeBron holds that advantage/criteria over Jordan, then it’s an irrelevant non-event.  Can you imagine what LeBron’s “haters” would say if Jordan was top 10 all-time in scoring AND assists? 

LeBron was considered as an underachiever and not knowing how to win from 2004 to 2010.  However, when he went to the NBA Finals from 2011 to 2018, eight straight seasons, it was purportedly due to a weak Eastern Conference.  Statistically, the Western Conference did hold a slight edge in winning percentage over the Eastern Conference during that time period.  That’s a fact.  The problem with this argument, however, is that LeBron did this on two DIFFERENT teams during this time.  There is also the issue of LeBron being the ONLY all-time great who has had his competition challenged.  What other all-time great NBA Champion in NBA history is constantly assailed because of supposedly playing against inferior competition in his career?

Consider this.  Jordan averaged 30.1points per game for his career and 5.2 assists per game.  That’s about 40 points per game that Jordan is responsible for.  …and that’s over 15 years.  LeBron is averaging 27.1 points per game for his career and 7.4 assists per game.  That’s about 42 points that LeBron is responsible per game.  ...and that's over 17 years.  

IN CONCLUSION:

I think that Jordan might be a better player than LeBron from a talent perspective.  I think that, as of this writing, Jordan might even be a greater player than LeBron from a resume perspective.  However, LeBron’s critics have constantly moved the proverbial "goalposts" in the conversation and started moving the goalposts again even before LeBron had won his fourth NBA Championship.  There were some that were saying that LeBron would have to win the NBA Championship AND win the NBA Finals MVP.  …really?  There are some that are saying that even if LeBron wins six NBA Championships that the fact that he has six NBA Finals losses could/would/should count against him.  …really?! 

There’s even the talk that LeBron needs to win at least three NBA Championships in a row, like Jordan did.  Jordan won two “threepeats” with the Bulls from 1991 to 1993 and from 1996 to 1998.  So, that makes him better than LeBron right?  LeBron has only repeated once.  …case closed, right?  …but, by that argument, since Bill Russell won eight straight Championships with the Celtics wouldn’t he be the greatest of all time?  So, if the argument doesn’t work with Russell over Jordan then how does it make sense with Jordan over LeBron?  Russell’s career stats were 15.1 points per game, and 22.5 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists per game and is widely regarded as the best defensive player of his era, if not all time.  But Jordan’s six NBA Championships in 15 years exalts him over Russell in the G.O.A.T. conversation for some reason.

I’m not saying that Jordan isn’t the best ever.  I’m not saying that Jordan isn’t the greatest ever.  That said, LeBron’s career is beyond reproach.  Jordan has been anointed by many as the best/greatest of all time, ignoring the metrics, standards, and resumes established by other great players.  Jordan’s proponents have floating standards or descriptions of what constitutes “best” and “greatest” and they all seem to align with whatever standard or description that makes the argument for Jordan.  Jordan didn’t have to win 11 NBA Championships in 13 seasons like Russell.  Jordan didn’t have to go 8-0 in the NBA Finals like Havlicek.  Jordan didn’t have to average 50+ points a game in a season, like Chamberlain.  Jordan didn’t have to average a triple-double for a full season like, the Oscar Robertson.   Jordan didn’t have to win six NBA MVPs or have four additional NBA Finals appearances, like Kareem.  Jordan didn’t have to turn his team into a contender in his first season, or win three straight NBA MVPs, like Bird.  Jordan didn’t have to win an NBA Championship in his rookie year, like Magic.  Jordan didn’t have to make an All-NBA and All-Defensive team for the first thirteen seasons of his career or win 50+ games for eighteen seasons, like Duncan.  To partisan “Jordan-hypes”, the accolades, statistics, or metrics of the other great players don’t really matter.  …just those accolades, statistics, and metrics of Jordan.  …and that goes for LeBron's accolades, statistics, and metrics as well. 

That said, Jordan's impact on the game is very much still with us.  He is a beloved figure because of his talent and what he gave to the game.  For those of us that were fortunate to watch Jordan play in real time, a big part of us wishes that he were still playing.  Jordan can be the best and greatest player of all time with LeBron having an absolutely sterling resume.  The death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in the 2020 season gave us yet another example of how tomorrow is not promised to us.  Jordan is no longer playing and we don't know how much longer we'll have LeBron on the court.  Pehaps we should admire what LeBron has given to and done for the league and the sport.  How long will it be before the next NBA player leads his teams to the NBA Finals ten times and still be considered the best player in the league going into their eighteenth season?  Some of us are underrappreciating LeBron because we can't see the proverbial forest for the trees.  The style of play of Jordan and LeBron are different and THAT is one of the things what makes the NBA so great.  One of the biggest criticisms of LeBron is seems to be that, stylistically, he doesn't play like Jordan.  The paths to greatness for Jordan and LeBron are also different, and that's fine.  Celebrating and appreciating Jordan does not have to be mutually exclusive to celebrating and appreciating LeBron.  ...or vice versa.  ...and that goes for any other NBA all-time great.


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