Is Michael Jordan still the best ever?
A few years ago, LeBron James and the Miami Heat were absolutely by the San Antonio Spurs. It looked like basically the end of The King’s run of chasing the GOAT. At that point it looked like he would finish as a top 5 player of all time, with a decent argument for top 3. Fast forward to today and suddenly it’s a completely different story.
Now, LeBron is still dominating the league as he has for years, still a year-in year-out candidate for MVP. Now LeBron has accomplished overcoming a 3–1 deficit in the Finals, the first to do so in NBA history. At the age of 32, LeBron is still the face of the league. Now the argument is whether or not LeBron is the best player of all time.
To do this correctly, you have to compare numbers after a certain number of seasons, as doing it by age gives James a huge advantage, as he came out of high school while MJ spent 3 years in college. For the first part, we’re going to look at LeBron vs MJ after 10 seasons.
Before we get too in-depth, we’re just going to look at pure numbers. Numbers that are bolded mean that player leads in that category
Jordan: 32.2 PPG, 5.9 APG, 6.3 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 1 BPG, 51.4 FG%, 30.7 3P%, 84.5 FT%
James: 27.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 49.0 FG%, 33.7 3P%, 74.7 FT%
Based on pure regular season averages, Jordan has a significant advantage. Easily a more complete player after 10 years, the numbers so far lean towards Jordan.
Now let’s look at awards through the first ten seasons. Bold means that the player leads in that category.
Jordan: 3 MVPs (2nd twice and 3rd twice), 3 championships (3 appearances), 3 Finals MVPs, 7 scoring titles, 3 steal titles, ROTY, 1 DPOY
James: 4 MVPs (2nd once, 3rd once), 2 championships (4 appearances), 2 Finals MVPs, 1 scoring title, ROTY
Based on pure accolades, Jordan again beats out LeBron, this time LeBron not even able to make it a contest.
Now lets to compare their whole careers.
Jordan (15 Seasons): 30.1 PPG (NBA record), 5.3 APG, 6.2 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 2.3 SPG, 49.7 FG%, 32.7 3P%, 83.5 FT%
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 6 championships (6 appearances), 5 MVPs, 6 Finals MVPs, 1 DPOY, 10 scoring titles, 3 steal titles, 14x All-Star, 10x All-NBA first team, 1x All-NBA second team, 9x All-Defensive first team, ROTY
James (14 seasons): 27.1 PPG, 7.0 APG, 7.3 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 1.7 SPG, 50.1 FG%, 34.2 3P%, 74.0 FT%
Accolades: (Future) Hall of Fame, 3 championships (7 appearances), 4 MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, 1 scoring title, 13x All-Star, 10x All-NBA first team, 2x All-NBA second team, 5x All-Defensive first team, 1x All-Defensive second team, ROTY
Now that all the stats are out of the way, now we start to decide who really is the GOAT. To decide this I am going to create 5 different categories, Offense, Defense, Postseason Success, Team Value, and Overall Legacy.
Offense: Is this one really even a question? Sure LeBron’s offense may be a little more well-rounded, but we are comparing him to literally the best scorer of the NBA’s modern area. Plus, it isn’t like Jordan is necessarily lacking in the assists department, averaging 5.3 assists per game. Overall, James has never really quite been the offensive force that Jordan always was.
Defense: Both players have established themselves as defensive forces of their time. There is definitely a reason why both have appeared on multiple All-Defensive 1st team. LeBron is probably the best chase down blocker of all time. He can also defend basically every position effectively. But, I have to go with Jordan once again due to the fact that he was an absolute lockdown defender. Sure James could defend all positions, but he isn’t a game-in game-out terror on defense. His Airness, however, was an absolute nightmare to face. He was a crazy active on ball defender, averaging a whopping 3.2 steals per game in his best season. Overall it is definitely a close call, but MJ’s stats and presence give him the edge.
Postseason Success: This is another category where there isn’t great competition. A lot of people like to point out Jordan’s early postseason woes, but he more than makes up for it for going six for six in all his career in the Finals. People also forget just how good the teams he faced were. He had to take down a dynamic duo of prime Stockton and prime Karl Malone. He also took down a severely underrated SuperSonics team in ’96. Sure LeBron had the best Finals of all time when came back from down 3–1, but his losing record in the Finals really hurts him when compared to MJ’s perfect record. MJ also never went to a game seven in the Finals, so yeah.
Team Value: Now we got a category that you LeBron fans will enjoy. As much as MJ mattered to the Bulls, The King matters even more to his teams, especially the Cavs. LeBron carried his teams multiple times to the Finals, part of the reason he isn’t perfect in the Finals. I’m not saying that MJ didn’t matter to the Bulls, but some of those teams could’ve found some decent success without him. Besides the Heat, Lebron’s teams would never have found much success at all.
Legacy: This is another one that isn’t that close for now, but can definitely change over time. Jordan’s six rings on six trips with no game sevens is an amazing feat. Throw in the five (should be more) MVPs and all the records, Jordan has left the biggest mark on the game we have seen yet. LeBron has impressed during his years, but it hasn’t been enough to catch the GOAT.
Conclusion: Yes, MJ is still the GOAT, he has accomplished fantastic feats despite having a shortened career and he still inspires players to this day. But keep in mind that just because he’s still the GOAT right now, it won’t last forever. LeBron could quite possibly pass him if he has another amazing Finals this year or is just really good for the rest of his career. Even if James falls short of MJ’s legacy, eventually somebody will come around and catch him. But for now, Michael Jeffery Jordan is still the single greatest player of all time.