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Michael Jordan Versus LeBron James

Updated on July 5, 2017

Who Is the GOAT?

The History of the Comparison

Ever since LeBron James was deemed as The Chosen One, there has been a conversation about whether he could surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. He grew up idolizing MJ, dressing like him, wearing his shoes, and studying his play style. Once he joined the league, he even donned his number 23. LeBron has recently appeared in his seventh straight NBA Finals series. He has eight in total and now holds a record of 3-5. Jordan, as we all know, has six rings in six appearances. Often times, the rings argument is what puts MJ ahead of LeBron in debates on who is the GOAT. However, rings shouldn't carry that much weight. If they did, the greatest player ever would be Bill Russell, who won 11 championships in his 13 year career. In order to end this debate of who's the greatest, I am going to review some of the things I believe are key factors in determining the Greatest of All Time. I'll begin with accolades.

Career Accolades

LeBron James
Michael Jordan
Advantage
Future Hall of Famer
Hall of Famer
Equal
3x NBA Champion (3-5 Finals Record)
6x NBA Champion (6-0 Finals Record
Jordan
3x NBA Final MVP
6x NBA Finals MVP
Jordan
4x MVP
5x MVP
Jordan
13x All Star
14x All Star
Jordan
13x All NBA Team
11x All NBA Team
James
6x All Defensive Player
9x All Defensive Player (87-88 Defensive Player of the Year)
Jordan
03-04 Rookie of the Year
84-85 Rookie of the Year
Equal

Argument for MJ

Currently, Jordan holds a lead in all accolades minus Rookie of the Year, All NBA Team, and Hall of Fame. He has a better Finals record as well as three more rings than LeBron. He also has one more All Star appearance, three more All Defense wins, and one more MVP award. He was also a Defensive Player of the Yea award, an accomplishment that has eluded James. While LeBron will probably surpass MJ in All Star appearances, and possibly All Defense selections, it is hard to believe that he will be able to win four rings to best Jordan's six. The next comparison is something that is necessary for all of these accolades to happen. We will look at statistics.

Career Stats

Player
Points Per Game
Rebounds Per Game
Assists Per Game
Field Goal Percentage
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage
Free Throw Percentage
Player Efficiency Rating
LeBron James
27.1
7.3
7.0
50.1
34.2
74
27.6
Michael Jordan
30.1
6.2
5.3
49.7
32.7
83.5
27.9

LeBron James' Finals Stats

Argument for King James

LeBron James' statistics indicate that he is a much better overall basketball player. While Jordan is better at scoring overall, LeBron is a more efficient scorer. He has a better shooting percentage overall; he also shoots better at the three-point line. LeBron is also a much better passer and rebounder than Jordan ever was. MJ has a much better free throw percentage, which helps to bolster that points per game statistic. The two are almost even in efficiency ratings, with a slight edge to Michael. What these career stats show is that King James is capable of excelling in all aspects of the game, not just in scoring.

Did Jordan Play in a Weak League?

Michael Jordan won his six rings in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998. He has two three-peat performances that were separated by a short stint in baseball. While many believe this solidifies him as the greatest, they often fail to look at the league surrounding him at the time. Between the years of 1988 and 1995, the NBA expanded. Six teams were added; Hornets (88), Heat (88), Magic (89), Timberwolves (89), Raptors (95), and Grizzlies (95). The following stats cover the time between their creation and their first playoff appearance as a team. They will include their overall game record, the number of games played against Michael, the overall record of Jordan vs that team in those years, and their playoff record against each other if applicable.

Charlotte Hornets: First playoff appearance in 1993

  • 1988-1993 (Combined record of 140-270)
  • 88-89: 5 Games, 4-1
  • 89-90: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 90-91:5 Games, 5-0
  • 91-92: 4 Games, 4-0
  • 92-93: 5 Games, 3-2
  • Playoffs: N/A

Miami Heat: First playoff appearance in 1992

  • 1988-1992 (Combined record of 95-233)
  • 88-89: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 89-90: 4 Games, 4-0
  • 90-91: 4 Games, 4-0
  • 91-92: 4 Games, 4-0
  • Playoffs: 3 games, 3-0

Magic: First playoff appearance in 1994

  • 1989-1994 (Combined record of 106-249)
  • 89-90: 5 Games, 3-2
  • 90-91: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 91-92: 4 Games, 3-1
  • 92-93: 4 Games, 3-1
  • 93-94: 1 Game, 1-0
  • Playoffs: N/A

Timberwolves: First playoff appearance in 1997

  • 1989-1997 (Combined record of 192-464)
  • 89-90: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 90-91: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 91-92: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 92-93: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 93-94: 0 Games
  • 94-95: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 95-96: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 96-97: 2 Games, 1-1
  • Playoffs: N/A

Raptors: First playoff appearance in 2000

  • 1995-2000 (Combined record of 135-243)
  • 95-96: 4 Games, 3-1
  • 96-97: 4 Games, 3-1
  • 97-98: 4 Games, 4-0
  • 98-99: Retired
  • 99-00: Retired

Grizzlies: First playoff appearance in 2004

  • 1995-2002 (Jordan retired for good in 2002) (Combined record of 101-418)
  • 95-96: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 96-97: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 97-98: 2 Games, 2-0
  • 00-01: 1 Game, 1-0
  • 01-02: 1 Game, 0-1

Michael played in a league that was watered down throughout his career. As the new expansion teams finally got to the playoffs (any many didn't stay long), new teams continued to flood the league. At any given time in his career after 1988, there were at least three teams that had five or less years of experience. However, LeBron also has his fair share of criticism for playing against weak talent.

Did Jordan Play in a Weak League?

Do you think Jordan played in a weak league?

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Does LeBron Play in a Weak Conference?

While Jordan could be said to have played in an overall weak league, many believe LeBron has played in a weak conference for his whole career. The East has been behind the West in nearly every single one of LeBron's seasons in the league. Here is the total number of wins in head-to-head match ups between the two conferences. The East has only won more games in one of James' 14 seasons.

  • 03-04: West with +112 wins.
  • 04-05: West with +62 wins.
  • 05-06: West with +54 wins.
  • 06-07: West with +64 wins.
  • 07-08: West with +66 wins.
  • 08-09: East with +12 wins.
  • 09-10: West with +42 wins.
  • 10-11: West with +72 wins.
  • 11-12: West with +42 wins.
  • 12-13: West with +74 wins.
  • 13-14: West with +118 wins.
  • 14-15: West with +76 wins.
  • 15-16: West with +14 wins.
  • 16-17: West with +42 wins.

Although the West have won more games consistently, the East have won seven championships since LeBron has entered the league. Some make the argument that his dominance is what leads other players to leave for, or stay in, the Western Conference. While this is probably a coincidence, it's still an issue to think of.

Is the East Weaker than the West?

Do you think LeBron plays in the weaker conference on purpose?

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Comparison in Playoffs and Finals

Chris Broussard made a claim before the 2017 Finals that Michael Jordan only faced 9 Hall of Famers during his championship games. LeBron has faced 26 so far. Below are the Hall of Fame opponents listed, including potential future ones that LeBron has played.

Jordan:

  • Magic Johnson
  • James Worthy
  • Clyde Drexler
  • Charles Barkley
  • Gary Payton
  • John Stockton x2
  • Karl Malone x2

Total: 9

LeBron:

  • Tim Duncan x3
  • Tony Parker x3
  • Manu Ginobili x3
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Jason Kidd
  • Kevin Durant x2
  • Russell Westbrook
  • James Harden
  • Kawhi Leonard x2
  • Steph Curry x3
  • Klay Thompson x3
  • Draymond Green x3

Total: 26

So it appears Broussard knew what he was talking about. Of course, not all of these players were in their prime. But overall, both played against pretty good competition. And while this doesn't cover their playoff roads to get to the Finals, it shows the top talents each player faced on the biggest stage. LeBron has faced two dynasties on three separate occasions each in the Spurs and the Warriors. As far as opponents in the Finals go, the advantage goes to James.

LeBron vs Jordan Postseason

Who had the tougher post season road?

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Comparison of Teammates

The next topic I'll touch on is the help these two received. Many people credit LeBron with the development of the modern age super teams. They say he had to find help in order to win, starting when he left for Miami with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. He continued when he returned to Cleveland to join Kyrie Irving and recruited Kevin Love. So who really played with better supporting players throughout their careers? Below I will list the All Star teammates (while Jordan and LeBron played with them) and Hall of Fame (or future inductees) teammates for each player.

Jordan's All Star Squad:

  • Scottie Pippen (6x)

LeBron's All Star Squad:

  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas
  • Mo Williams
  • Kyrie Irving (2x)
  • Kevin Love
  • Chris Bosh (4x)
  • Dwayne Wade (4x)

Jordan's Hall of Fame Teammates:

  • Scottie Pippen
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Horace Grant

LeBron's Hall of Fame Teammates:

  • Shaquille O'Neil
  • Dwayne Wade
  • Chris Bosh
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Kevin Love

Advantage will go to MJ who played with a less impressive lineup.

But What About the Rings?!

Michael Jordan has six rings in six attempts. That's clearly better than LeBron's three rings in eight attempts, right? Not necessarily. While Jordan does have a better Finals record and more rings, it doesn't make him automatically better in the post season. Based on the number of teams admitted to the playoffs, if you are knocked out in the first round, you could be ranked at 16th at worst and ninth at best. That ranking goes up to eighth and fifth during the second round. If eliminated during the Conference Finals, you could be ranked fourth at worst or third at best. Losing in the Finals obviously means you are the second best team in the league. Below is a listing of the rounds LeBron and Jordan were eliminated in during the playoffs.

  • 1st Round: Jordan 3, LeBron 0
  • 2nd Round: Jordan 2, LeBron 3
  • Conference Finals: Jordan 2, LeBron 1
  • Finals: Jordan 0, LeBron 5
  • Wins: Jordan 6, LeBron 3

James has either been the best or second best in eight of his 14 seasons. This means that 57% of the time, he would make the Finals and finish the season at first or second. 7% of the time, he would rank between third or fourth. He would rank between fifth and eighth 21% of the time. He has never ranked at ninth or lower.

Jordan was first or second in six of his 15 seasons. He was the best in the league 40% of the time. He was third or fourth 13% of the time; that same number applies to how often he ranked between fifth and eighth. He ranked ninth and lower 20% of the time.

So while Jordan has a higher percentage of being the absolute best, he also had a higher percentage of being one of the worst teams in the playoffs. LeBron has a much more consistent stream of winning throughout his career, even if it wasn't winning the championship.

Advantage has to go to James...kinda.

Finishing Thoughts

So in conclusion, LeBron James is statistically a better player when it comes to all around basketball. However, Michael Jordan was a much better scorer. He won more on the biggest stage, but failed much more often in the playoffs overall. James played with more better teammates than Jordan ever did. MJ also played in a much weaker league. So what do you think? Who truly is the GOAT?

Who's the GOAT of the NBA?

Who is the Greatest of All Time?

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    • JesseUnk profile image
      Author

      Jesse Unk 3 months ago from Ohio

      I wouldn't say this is LeBron biased at all. In fact most of the stats favor him. The only pro LeBron arguments are the 2nd level wins, overall stats, and competition. Everything else points to Jordan or a stalemate.

    • profile image

      Nice article, but Lebron biased 3 months ago

      Are you kidding me. MJ played with 1 all star and won 6 titles. Lebron keeps complaining he needs more help and that his team is top heavy as bleep. MJ never did any recruiting or complaining, imagine if he did what Lebron does, they would have won every year getting all the best players and forcing management to cater to his every thought or desire.

    • JesseUnk profile image
      Author

      Jesse Unk 3 months ago from Ohio

      You're correct in that Horace Grant isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, but he most likely will be at some point similar to many of the players LeBron played with. Absolutely not a first ballot, but will probably join at some point in his career. I'd also disagree with your statement that LeBron lacks a killer instinct. His first Finals appearance he was triple teamed by a Spurs team that knew he had no help. He absolutely choked twice in Miami, but since he carried a depleted Cavs team to 6 his first year back in Cleveland, brought them back from a 3-1 deficit for a ring, and averaged a triple double last season. Kobe was known for Killer instinct, and even he lost twice. I think winning matters at all levels of the game. Like I stated above, if only rings mattered the greatest ever would be Bill Russell.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 months ago from Texas

      While this is a pretty good analysis and growing up in Chicago and being a Bulls fan since before MJ, When Artis Gilmore and Orlando Woolridge were the Alphas, my opinion might be a little biased. I agree that Lebron is an all around better player, makes the players around him better, however since when do moral victories count? winning more in the playoffs versus winning in the Finals, when it counts the most. I think MJ is the Goat simply because of his heart, his will to win, that "Killer intinct", something Lebron does not have/never had. Their were rules made up to stop MJ, hand checking, manhandling was perfectly legal and he was mugged on the court pretty much every night. Lebron has had much more talent around him in Miami and this second stint with Cleveland and I'm pretty sure Horace Grant is not in the Hall of Fame.

    • profile image

      Ron Unk 3 months ago

      Good analysis