The topic is brought up all of the time when talking basketball and quite frankly the topic is become common. What is more fun than debating who is the greatest NBA player of all-time? When that debate comes up in today’s game, generally three names are mentioned. Michael Jordan and LeBron James are the two names that are brought up most often–some people may not agree, but it is true.
What most people get confused with in the LeBron-Jordan argument is confusing “better player” with “better career”. There is no debate whatsoever that Jordan’s career and resume absolutely crushes LeBron’s. But we aren’t talking “best career” here. we are talking “best player”.
The first comparison, is athleticism. James is the size of an old school NBA center (such as Bill Russell), with skills similar to those of Magic Johnson. While Jordan was an athletic marvel himself, he had nowhere near the package of size, strength, athleticism, speed and quickness that James possesses.
Defensively, Michael Jordan was one of the game’s all-time great defenders, but it can be argued that LeBron is a more versatile one. Jordan could have been considered more of a backcourt defender, while LeBron is capable of guarding anybody on the court. Rebounding the ball, neither guys lack that ability. They both can rebound the ball fairly well, but once again obviously with LeBron’s combination of size/athleticism he wins that battle as well. LeBron’s 12.6 Total Rebound % this season (estimated percentage of total rebounds he grabbed while on the court) tops Jordan’s best rate of 11.6 (in 1988/89). No doubt Jordan’s 11.6% is more impressive as a guard than James’s 12.6% as a forward is, but we aren’t comparing the two based on position.
Many basketball minds may say that Jordan is the better passer/playmaker. Again you can’t go wrong either way, but let’s face it LeBron James is one of the best passers/playmakers in the game’s history. In fact, some would say he is too eager to pass the ball and that he needs to be taking the last shot instead of passing which if he wants to be considered one of the greatest is true. Jordan’s best average in a season for assists per game was in the 1988-89 season where he averaged 8.0 assists per game.
Although, Jordan obviously dominates James in a bunch of categories, too – scoring ability,”clutch” shot-making,intangibles, intensity, competitiveness, free throw shooting, steals, etc. Scoring is not even close since Jordan once averaged 37.1 ppg in the 1986-87 season, and LeBron’s highest average for points per game (thus far in his career) has been 30.0 ppg that he averaged in the 2007-08 season. When you compare the two players, it is hard to determine who is the better player, LeBron or Michael. When it comes down to it can you go wrong either way? Maybe we will have to see how LeBron’s career progresses and see if he gets any better or if he has already reached his full potential. That will become the deciding factor.