I am sure most of you know this already, but for those of you who do not I’ll explain. It is widely accepted that no other figure has had a bigger impact on sports than Michael Jordan. He led the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA Finals wins ( 2 three-peats), 6 Finals MVP’s, he’s a 14-time All Star, and 5-time MVP. Outside of basketball, he’s built one of the most successful brands in sports in Jordan Brand, and is known as the wealthiest athlete (current or former) on the planet. His on-c0urt play has given him the title of “Greatest Of All Time, and rightfully so, as his competitiveness, skill, and leadership have been pretty much unmatched since his time.
Now there is also a player that came into the league in the early 2000’s that you might have heard of, a guy by the name of LeBron James perhaps? Since being drafted in 2003, LeBron has essentially been the best player on the court at all times. He is a 12-time All Star, 3-time Finals Champion and Finals MVP, and 4-time MVP. “The King”, like “Air” Jordan, has affected the league in ways not thought possible. In addition to being one of the most recognizable figures in the sports world, he also recently signed a lifetime endorsement with Nike that is estimated to be worth over $1 billion.
Now we know that both Jordan and James are incredible players both on and off the court, but there is one debate that that has many people picking sides: is LeBron James closing in on Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time?
Many people would say that question is blasphemous and outrageous, that Michael has won more finals, and was the more clutch player throughout his career. These statements are all very true, and quite valid. Jordan by the end of his career had accomplished much more than LeBron has. However, the argument in LeBron’s favor has some merit as well.
Yes, it is true that Jordan won the NBA Finals 6 times, however, keep in mind he only made it to the finals 6 times. While a 100% success rate is absolutely incredible, LeBron might have something to say about that. While LeBron has only won it 3 times, he has been to the finals 7 times. And the more incredible statistic is that he’s done this by age 30. When Jordan was 30, he had only 3 finals appearances (albeit all 3 ended up in wins).Nick Wright of Fox Sports stated several weeks ago that “we are penalizing LeBron for making the finals a bunch of times”, adding that people believe that at the same age Michael was better because he went undefeated. It should not be a knock on LeBron that he lost the finals 4 times, especially considering that for his first time in Cleveland, he went at it with a much weaker team than LeBron ever had.
Another point to be made is the statistical advantages of LeBron. He has the benefit of leading Jordan in every statistical category, excluding steals. Now, they both played in very different leagues, with very different atmospheres, so I tend to steer away from that comparison. It is important to remember that a player’s contributions go far beyond the stat sheet. LeBron influences games in ways that many players dream of. His presence alone on defense sees him take on a linebacker type role, and there is no stopping him penetrating to the basket, which can always result in hockey assists as well as normal ones. But it should be noted that James has, at this point, better on paper numbers.
Lastly, LeBron has a chance to do something Michael never did, and that is beat the superteam. With Kevin Durant leaving for the Warriors, they have become the odds favorite to win the finals this year. They have become a force to be reckoned with. Which is why a finals victory would make the argument of Jordan or LeBron as the GOAT worth taking seriously. Michael faced some incredible teams in the finals (Stockton and Malone, etc.), however he never faced a team with this much firepower before. LeBron has a chance to show why he might just be the greatest player to step on hardwood.