Revisiting LeBron vs. Jordan


Kaden Boyer and Thijs Wynveen, Writers

The NBA is in a unique situation compared to most other leagues as there is no consensus on who the best to ever do it was. Such as the NFL has Tom Brady and the NHL has Wayne Gretzky, both largely viewed upon as the greatest in their sports. The NBA, in its history, has a record of 2 great, era-defining players in Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

The argument for LeBron James:

Although both have 2 historical legacies, LeBron has overtaken Jordan as the greatest of all time.
Columnist {Kaden Boyer}

Coming out as one of the most hyped prospects in NBA history in the 2003 draft, LeBron has exceeded the highest expectations ever set for a prospect. He did so right out of high school as well, as most players develop their game through college. In his rookie year at 19 years of age, he won Rookie of the Year and averaged 20 points per game. 

For context about his playoff accolades, LeBron has also won the Conference Finals 10 times in his career, the second most in NBA history, and appeared in 12 of them, tied third most in NBA history. He has won the Finals four times and has won an MVP in each of them. 

The NBA has exploded in popularity over the years, in part due to the rise of Michael Jordan. Ever since his era, most players in the NBA drafted within the modern era have grown up training for basketball with resources not even accessible in the 80’s and 90’s. Advancements in sports medicine, kinesiology and coaching have created more optimal conditions to train in for players making the NBA. And the media and growing popularity of basketball have made these resources accessible to many athletes. LeBron’s era of competition is more advanced than what Jordan’s was. While some people may say that Jordan’s era was more physical because of hand checking, which may be true, but that does not mean it is more difficult. The rise of the three-point, inclusion of zone-defense after the 2001 season and utilization of sports analytics have made the game more dimensional than ever before.  

In 2020, LeBron won his fourth NBA championship in the NBA Bubble during the COVID-19 lockdown. The league adapted by having teams conclude the postseason in a biosecure bubble in Disneyland near Orlando. No fans were in attendance and games were played in the same arena. This championship remains somewhat controversial given the unusual circumstances from ordinary NBA postseasons. Some fans might try to think of it as “lesser-than” because it is unique vs the traditional playoff scenario. But really it should validate it even more than not. This is the first time in NBA history where the playoffs truly had parity in its conditions. There were no home or away teams, there were no fans or playoff atmosphere. It was just basketball. The conditions were the same for everyone. File:Quentin Richardson defends vs LeBron James December 2011 Heat @ Magic 011.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

In his prime, there are no weaknesses to Lebron’s game. He is the greatest scorer of all time, holding the record for most points scored ever. Over 18 seasons, he averaged over 27 points per game. His game has adjusted to the rise in 3 point shots as in recent years he averages over 6 attempts per game and has a career average of 35.5 percent. He has won the MVP award 4 times, and has been an elite defender throughout his career. LeBron is also one of the greatest playmakers of all time, with a career average 36.3 assist percentage and is fourth all time in assists. For reference, Steve Nash, considered by many one of the greatest passers of all time, had a career assist percentage only 5 percent higher than LeBron, while Jordan has never recorded higher than Lebron’s career average in a single season. 

LeBron is currently wrapping up his 20th season at age 38. He has made 19 NBA All-Star teams, which is tied for the most of all time with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and at this rate playing next season he is likely to break it. LeBron’s longevity is unparalleled. He has remained consistently dominant  throughout his career.  

Early in LeBron’s career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he lacked a true supporting core. This is evident in his first NBA Finals appearance. Against the prime 2000’s dynasty Spurs in 2007, at only age 22, LeBron led Cleveland in playoff points, assists, steals and offensive rebounds. His per-game point average nearly doubled the second leading scorer on the Cavaliers. Cleveland would lose to the Spurs in 4 games. Yet Cleveland had no reason going that far in the postseason and only did because of LeBron, which was a common theme in each of LeBron’s seasons with Cleveland in his first tenure there before leaving for Miami. Basketball is a team sport, and it is near impossible to win without a proper team. LeBron nearly defied this logic by carrying Cleveland year after year. Once he did leave and played with elite talent like Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, he won multiple NBA championships. It’s possible that in his earlier career, in his prime with more talent around him, he could have more championships than 4. 

And while some might try to criticize LeBron for leaving Cleveland and heading to a more talented team, the blame is unreasonable. If anything, winning 3 championships with 3 different teams is even more impressive than just one. With each team LeBron has won with, he was always the first option, and had to adapt to different environments. The modern era especially has proven that it is not enough to assemble talent and expect championships, such as the recent Brooklyn Nets disbanding the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, or the Los Angeles Clippers struggling to find success with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. At the end of the day, players need to execute no matter the circumstances or teammates. LeBron has proven that he can do so with good and bad teams, with different teams and coaches. 

Jordan meanwhile has had the guarantee of being surrounded by Hall of Fame talent in Chicago. Scottie Pippen is an all-time great and played 11 seasons with Jordan. He is often overshadowed yet Jordan was not able to even win a conference championship until 6 seasons into his career with an established team including a developed Pippen. Dennis Rodman is one of the greatest rebounders of all time and Phil Jackson is a Hall of Fame coach. LeBron has had great teammates too, but especially his first tenure in Cleveland, LeBron was able to take a much worse team to the NBA Finals at 22. Jordan was not able to do that before Pippen, Rodman or Jackson, even at the same age as LeBron. 

Jordan is undoubtedly great, and there is a reason why this debate exists in the first place. While most people will argue about Jordan having a better finals record, given the conditions of the accolades and dominance displayed by LeBron throughout his career, LeBron has overtaken Jordan in the greatest of all time debate. 

Stats compiled from


The argument for Michael Jordan: 

Michael Jordan is a all-time great basketball player.
Columnist {Thijs Wynveen}

Michael Jordan is the all time greatest basketball player according to the NBA official website. He was a four-time gold medalist with USA Basketball, two being Olympic golds, named the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year twice, made 11 All-NBA teams, won 5 MVP titles, and has 6 NBA titles.

Jordan also has a very successful shoe brand called Air Jordan. In 1984, Jordan signed his first sneaker contract. It was a five year, $2.5 million deal signed with Nike. . His first contract with Nike redefined how brands sign individual athletes and even celebrities to shoe deals. Jordan reached billionaire status in 2014. Jordans shoes were specifically made to be eye-catching and low, so he could feel the court beneath his feet.

Jordan retired twice within his basketball career because he was falling away from the game, so he switched to playing baseball. He spent a year in the MLB with the Chicago White Sox, which shows that his athleticism can be used more places than just on the court.Michael Jordan – Store norske leksikon

Jordan is a less pass-oriented player than LeBron James, and his ability to beat virtually any player off the dribble is a huge reason why. He is more dominant of a player when in isolation than LeBron, and has the highest recorded vertical ever at 48 inches, which is how he was able to create separation when driving in the paint or shooting from mid-range. Jordan also has won a NBA Defensive Player of the Year award while James has not.  

There are at least 20 movies/ documentaries on Jordan, including Space Jam. Lebron James only has 13 movies/documentaries about him including the second Space Jam movie.

Both of these all-time-greats have amazing resumes, from MVPs, to all star appearances, to championship wins. With all accomplishments comes work and struggle to get to these. Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore, but rebounded and put in the work toward his passion, resulting in himself earning a scholarship to University of North Carolina. Further down the road, an unexpected retirement occurred after losing in the playoffs, as his dad was murdered by two men in a robbery attempt. When Jordan returned in the 1994-1995 season, he started off rusty, and the Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs. The next season Jordan returned with a fierce determination to prove that he had the ability to get back on top. In 1995–96 the Bulls finished the regular season 72–10, an NBA record for most wins in a season, and Jordan, with his shooting rhythm back, earned his eighth scoring title. He also became the tenth NBA player to score 25,000 career points and second fastest after Chamberlain to reach that mark. The Bulls went on to win their fourth NBA championship, overpowering the Seattle Supersonics in six games. This game was played on fathers day, three years after he lost his father.

Jordan retired a second time on January 13, 1999. He came back, yet again. But this time, behind the bench as he was the owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. Jordan’s responsibilities with the Wizards were comprehensive, as he controlled all aspects of the Wizards’ basketball operations, and had the final say in all personnel matters. Opinions of Jordan as a basketball executive were mixed.

Jordan was certain that he would not return to the NBA, but he ended up coming back to play once again in 2001, that year he led the team in scoring and was a MVP candidate. Jordan retired from basketball once and for all after the 2002-2003 season, and tributes were paid to him throughout the NBA. He had his final game in Chicago, which was at his old home court, he had a four minute standing ovation. The Miami Heat hung up Jordan’s number 23 in the rafters, even though he didn’t play for them. Many don’t understand why the Heat decided to do so, but . Riley explained it was made as a sign of respect of what Jordan has done for the game of basketball.

When all is said and done, time can be spent analyzing both Jordan and James’ resumes and make certain points as to who is the best basketball player of all time. Jordan will forever be known for his work ethic, how he handled diversity and how he has also proven how to clutch up when the team needed him most. James is still playing out his career, and has time to prove he is the best, but as of now, Michael Jeffery Jordan is the best to ever play the sport of basketball.