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Lebron v. Jordan: Who is the GOAT?

Caleb Parnell

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Jordan, naturally.

By Caleb Parnell

Lebron, of course.

By Evan Jones
The Greatest of All Time (or GOAT for short) is a title given to the best player in a given sport. This debate has always been controversial in basketball, with the main candidates being Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Michael Jordan, former Chicago Bulls star. However, while Lebron may be the best player of our generation, he cannot compete with the legendary Michael Jordan as the GOAT.

Michael Jordan was a cultural icon, and revolutionized the game of basketball. Not only did his skills allow him to dominate the sport, but his flashiness and competitiveness brought popularity to the league.

Michael Jordan had perhaps the greatest package of shooting, dribbling, and dunking that the game of basketball has ever seen. Not only could the man leave a defender stumbling with his crossovers, but he could also hit a fade-away shot from nearly anywhere on the court, and could even dunk from the free throw line. While Lebron may be a much stronger player, he certainly does not have the finesse that Jordan had.

(For all stats, it is important to note that as of February 8th, Lebron has played 1,114 games. Michael Jordan played a total of 1,072 in his career)

Perhaps the most obvious point, Michael Jordan was a much more dominant scorer than Lebron.

For one, MJ places higher on the all-time points list. MJ scored 32,292 points during his career, placing him at 5th, whereas Lebron has scored a total of 30,190, placing him at 7th.

This 2,102 point difference is much more substantial when you consider that Lebron has had more games to attempt to overcome Jordan.

Jordan has also won a total of 10 scoring titles; Lebron only one.

Another telling statistic is PPG, or points per game. Over his career, Jordan averaged 30.1 ppg. This puts MJ at the top of the list for career points per game average, a category in which Lebron is placed at 5th with 27.1 ppg. This three point difference may not seem like much, but keep in mind that three more points per game adds up to a lot more points being contributed to the team over a season.

In his highest scoring season (1986-1987), Michael Jordan averaged an outstanding 37.1 ppg, which is by far the best ppg average in a season of the modern NBA. Lebron, on the other hand, has only reached a peak of 31.1 points per game in his highest scoring season (2005-2006), which is only 1 point higher than Jordan’s career average – therefore proving that Jordan was by far a better scorer than Lebron.

One argument frequently made for Lebron is the fact that he is a facilitator, and can dish out assists better than Jordan could. While Lebron may have more assists and a higher APG (assists per game) average, this is mostly due to his role on the teams he’s played with. Lebron has been the primary ball handler of most of the teams he’s played for, meaning he has had more chances to pass the ball. Jordan on the other hand was a scorer, and was expected to shoot the ball, not pass it. Therefore, you cannot fault Jordan for having less assists, as he didn’t frequently play the role of a passer for his team.

However, this isn’t to say that Jordan was a bad passer by any means. For example, in the 1988-89 season, the Bulls played Jordan at point guard instead of his regular shooting guard for 11 games. In these 11 games, Jordan had 10 triple doubles, and averaged 33.6 ppg, 11.4 apg, and 10.8 rpg (rebounds per game). This shows that when given the opportunity to be a facilitator, MJ didn’t disappoint.

Basketball isn’t just a game of offense, so let’s compare the two defensively.

Jordan was known throughout the league as a lockdown defender and as a nightmare to opposing players. Jordan averaged 2.3 steals per game and notched 2,514 during his career, placing him at third for both career steals and career steals per game. Lebron on the other hand has averaged only 1.6 steals per game and has only managed 1,834 steals. Jordan also lead the league in steals three times, a feat that Lebron has never achieved. Jordan also had more career blocks in less seasons, swatting a total of 893 shots compared to Lebron’s 872. Finally, Jordan was on the NBA all-defensive team 9 times, proving his defensive excellence.

One of the most heated arguments in the Jordan vs. Lebron debate is playoff success. Those who support Lebron tend to point to the fact that Lebron has been to eight Finals compared to Jordan’s six.

However, Lebron has only won a championship three times, whereas Jordan has gone undefeated in the Finals, going a perfect 6/6.

Furthermore, Lebron was swept in his first finals in 2007 when he faced the Spurs. Although the Spurs were a good team, and I will not argue that he should have beat them in the series, getting swept on the biggest stage of the sport is an embarrassment, and definitely puts a blemish on Lebron’s career.

Some Lebron fans will argue that Jordan had better teammates in the Finals he played in. However, this is not true.

Lebron has also always had at least two all star teammates playing with him in each of his finals appearances, excluding his first finals appearance. While playing with the Heat, Lebron had teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and still lost two of four finals.

This included a 2011 finals loss to the Mavericks, a team with only one all-star – Dirk Nowitzki. In this finals, Lebron played horribly, averaging only 17.8 ppg over 6 games. This included a historically bad game four in which Lebron only scored eight points.

This shows that Lebron has struggled to successfully lead his teams to championships, and his 3 for 8 record in the finals confirms this. Jordan’s playoff greatness far exceeds Lebron’s, as an undefeated 6 for 6 surely beats Lebron’s losing record.

Michael Jordan’s stats show how his offensive dominance, defensive prowess, and competitive spirit allowed him to become an icon and cultural phenomenon. Although Lebron has played well, his stats do not give him enough of an advantage over MJ to make up for his subpar finals record. Because of this, Michael Jordan remains the GOAT.

On January 23, 2018, with a deep jumpshot at the end of the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs, Lebron James scored his 30,000th point in the NBA, a feat only achieved by six other players. One of these six players is Michael Jordan, the consensus best player of all-time. However, with Lebron surpassing this milestone, it once agains open the  discussion about who is the GOAT, or greatest of all time. As hard as it may be for some to admit, Lebron James is better than Michael Jordan.

Lebron James is one of the most physically gifted basketball players of all time. At six feet eight inches tall, the 250 pound freak of nature combines speed, strength, and hops for an almost supernatural level of athleticism. While Jordan was definitely athletic, Lebron is simply bigger and stronger.

It is a fact that Jordan is a better scorer than Lebron. Jordan holds a career average of over 30 points per game, while Lebron is currently hanging around 27 points per game. That being said, the difference is often exaggerated; Jordan is not a significantly better scorer.

Lebron has a better career field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage. And their PERs, or player efficiency ratings, which provides a comprehensive per-minute rating of a player’s performance, are hard to differentiate. It is important to remember that Jordan and Lebron have played different roles for their team. Lebron acts as more of a catalyst for his teammates, averaging more assists, while Jordan was more of a scorer. It is only natural that, when considering what they do for their teams, Jordan averages more points.

Lebron has a career average of 7.1 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game, while Jordan tallied 5.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game. He has a better career assist percentage, an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals that a player assisted, of 35.4 percent to Jordan’s 24.9 percent. In addition to just the numbers, Lebron has also functioned as the head ball handler of his team. This doesn’t take away from Jordan’s assists, but it does reveal the added pressure that Lebron has had to facilitate and create opportunities.

An offensive side with Jordan required that Jordan score, while Lebron’s offenses have relied on both his ability to score and pass.

Defensively, many point to Jordan’s steal numbers as evidence that Jordan was a better defender. I cannot honestly say that Lebron is a better defender, but I think the difference is almost indistinguishable. As previously mentioned, Lebron is more physically gifted. This allows him to defend all five positions, on the perimeter and in the paint.

Most people use Jordan’s six championships, which he got in six Finals appearances, to prove Jordan was greater than Lebron James. This is not a foolproof way to determine the GOAT. Bill Russell won 11 championships, does that make him the best player of all time? Lebron’s 3 wins and 5 losses in the finals appears unimpressive, but you need to consider the opponents he has faced in the finals.

In 2007, in his first chance at a ring, Lebron was far and away the only star player on the team. Players such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes headline the Cleveland Cavaliers roster after LBJ. It is only natural that this team would lose to the veterans of the San Antonio Spurs, a team that has won two Finals in the last four years. His two most recent losses have been against the Golden State Warriors. This superteam is arguably the best team of all time, and provide some of the toughest competition a team could face.

The same people who say that Jordan’s many losses in the first and second round are understandable considering the strength of Jordan’s conference refuse to acknowledge the challenges Lebron has faced in the Finals.

Jordan is often described as the most clutch athlete of all-time, but it is important to recognize Lebron’s ability to succeed in clutch moments. Lebron is different. Jordan mastered the art of taking over and scoring, while Lebron continues to play team basketball in the clutch. This may lead to him taking the last shot in an intense situation, or passing to a teammate, whatever comes naturally in the flow of the game.

While the influence Jordan has had on basketball and pop culture may be bigger than Lebron, the GOAT should be decided by basketball skill alone. When looking at this, Lebron is a better all-around player, and has the ability to affect basketball games in more ways than Michael Jordan. Jordan has become such the dominant theory that many people refuse to even consider the possibility that anyone else has been a better basketball player, but these people are caught up in Jordan as an icon, because statistically, Lebron is the best player of all time.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Lebron v. Jordan: Who is the GOAT?”

  1. William on February 26th, 2018 9:44 am

    Jordan>LeBron, obviously. Don’t even @ me 😀

  2. William Ward on February 26th, 2018 9:45 am

    I love Michael Jordan. He is most definitely superior to LeBron James! 😀

  3. Cole on April 27th, 2018 2:03 pm

    Although the argument for Lebron is compelling, Jordan is better. Hands down. No questions asked.

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Lebron v. Jordan: Who is the GOAT?