by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a debate that will never be settled by the masses.
Michael Jordan or LeBron James. His Airness or the Chosen One. MJ or LBJ. Money Mike or King James. Most Coddled Star Ever or Second-Most Coddled Star Ever.
Which one is the greatest of all time?
As the 2016 NBA Finals now move onto Game 4 with James having breathed life into Cleveland with a Herculean and possibly series-changing effort in Wednesday night’s third installment of this best-of-seven, arguments are sure to start up again.
Especially if James somehow carries the Cavaliers to the title after being in a 0-2 hole.
For me, though, the answer never has been in doubt. It’s LeBron, and it’s not even close.
Relax, Jordan worshippers. You got your stats, your championships and all other sorts of documented information as evidence to back your case, and no one, not even me, right here on my own site, can claim you are wrong … and you have every right to feel as you do.
Thing is, same here.
Frankly, didn’t believe the LeBron hype at first. The kid was coming to the area as a high schooler, the headliner in some scholastic hoops showcase event at Trenton, N.J., that he had put on the map just a year prior. Then a senior, and ballyhooed as the best youngster in the country, capable of not only holding his own at the professional level, but starring at it, he certainly was worthy of a look, a scrutinous one.
It proved an eye-opener.
James dropped 50 points on some overmatched squad from L.A. that included fellow current pro Trevor Ariza, and did so in such easy-as-can-be dominating fashion that you had to wonder if the hype hadn’t actually undersold him.
Put it this way, several months later James was the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft … and, in that instant, immediately became the most talented player in the league.
Kinda comical to hear people emphasize the guy’s growth in recent years. How he’s become a better player now that he’s aged and matured. That, you know, in the last five years he is the best player in the game. As if he were just some sort of sideshow, carnival act of outrageous athleticism and ridiculous numbers before and nothing more.
Uh, hello. James has been the best player in the game since his second season, when his all-around brilliance was on full display with him averaging 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game during 2004-05 following a rookie campaign in which he “only” posted 20.9, 5.5 and 5.9 marks while getting acclimated to the NBA.
Yo, no apologies to Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal necessary, either.
Or, really, to Michael.
Irony is, the career arcs of the two most debated in the “greatest ever” arguments are almost identical. By the time people started grasping just how tremendous each were, both were on the decline. Slight, mind you, but, still, a decline.
You actually think this version of LeBron is better than the one Cleveland enjoyed his first time around playing for his “hometown” team? The Akron native, like Jordan, peaked at age 25, when he posted 29.7, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game in 2009-10, the season before he left for Miami and suddenly became a more efficient performer – gee, imagine that, being paired with fellow future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade and fellow all-star Chris Bosh – and two seasons before he’d win his first crown.
Jordan, at the same point, averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists (the latter two far and away career highs) in 1988-89 … a full two seasons before he started his six titles in eight years run.
Neither had all their pistons firing any better, all at once, than they did at their own quarter-century mark.
For me, though, LeBron was better then, and overall.
A major reason why is that it is strictly based on what is witnessed, not what is liked in a preferential fashion. In short, he’s not my favorite player. Never has been. Heck, he’s not even my favorite player on the Cavs. Wasn’t on the Heat, either.
Another is that my opinion of him and where he stacks up historically wasn’t developed over those sports-fan formative years of 10 through 30.
Gotta say, all of MJ’s most hardcore supporters fall into either, or both, of these categories:
For me, it’s about the physical, powerful presence that he offers in a way Michael didn’t while still possessing the same kind of cat-quick, gazelle-like explosiveness. It’s his ability to take dregs of basketball talent around him and carry it into championship rounds. It’s his gift for having all the skills in the world yet the wherewithal to still play in a way that would have all coaches nod in “you’re correct” X’s-and-O’s, all-about-team fashion.
That alley-oop dunk he pulled off in Game 3 was more spectacular and physics-defying than anything Jordan ever pulled off in his illustrious career, yet has been brushed off in pretty nonchalant fashion because it almost seems common for him. Or easy. Or expected.
Hey, you can fudge the numbers all you want, making Michael or LeBron look better, and it doesn’t matter.
You can point to titles won … and it matters even less when it comes to an individual in team sports, especially a team sport in which you can rattle off five members of the Boston Celtics who earned Hall of Fame honors and whose title-winning totals top Jordan’s six – headed by Bill Russell’s 11 in 13 years. Hell, even journeyman Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry won seven.
Once and for all, using championships won in a team sport is a stupid, MORONIC stat to judge individual greatness. They are not forever intertwined, and most often are not.
OK, mini rant over …
Anyway, got LeBron as greatest ever here.
BY THE NUMBERS
Taking a look-see at how LeBron James and Michael Jordan stack up against one another, and history:
NBA Finals appearances for James, which is one more than Jordan
NBA championships won by Jordan, which is four more than James
Boston Celtics who have won more titles than Jordan: Bill Russell (11), Sam Jones (10), K.C. Jones (8), Tom Heinsohn (8) and Frank Ramsey (7)
Career scoring average for Jordan, best in NBA history. James averages 27.2
Top single-season scoring average for Jordan. Best for James is 31.4
Career rebounding average for James. Jordan finished at 6.2
Top single-season rebounding average for both James and Jordan
Career assists average for James. Jordan finished at 5.3
Top single-season assists average for James. Best for Jordan is 8.0
Career FG shooting percentage for James. Jordan finished at .497
Career 3-point shooting percentage for James. Jordan finished at .327
Career FG attempts per game for Jordan. James averages 19.7
Career FT shooting percentage for Jordan. James averages .744
Career FT attempts per game for James. Jordan finished at 8.2