Jesse is a lifelong sports fan with a passion for finding the facts. His writing has been recognized and published by Sports Illustrated.
LeBron James vs Michael Jordan
If you're a follower of my work, you'll know I have already written a pretty controversial article in terms of comparing LeBron James and Michael Jordan. As one of the earliest articles I ever wrote, I have to admit there are some biases within it, and thus I have researched for over a year in an attempt to make my argument for LeBron is a more academic approach with fewer assumptions or explanations to his greatness. I truly wanted to let the numbers and similar situational stats speak for themselves to truly see which of the two players was greater.
I've read the responses to my original article, taken note of good counterpoints that have been brought to my attention, and attempted to dive deeper into the argument than any other article written before. This article will attempt to end the argument of LeBron vs Jordan and who is the GOAT by looking at the statistics of each player, the teams surrounding them, their opponents, and their leagues as a whole. If at any point you have questions or situations that you believe should be included or investigated further, feel free to comment below and I'll attempt to find the answer and include it in the article at a later time.
LeBron James vs Michael Jordan Stats
When looking at statistics, it's important to look at the situations surrounding them. At first glance, it could appear that LeBron is better because his numbers cumulatively are all much higher, but he's played many years longer than Jordan did. If you look at per-game averages it may appear that Jordan was better because his points per game are much higher than LeBron's, but he also took far more shots. These types of discrepancies and counter-arguments plague the debate for the GOAT status and make choosing a side very difficult. In order to combat this, I comprised a list of various stats and will hope to identify the validity and issues with each set underneath each one.
LeBron James and Michael Jordan Career Stats
|Name||Points Per Game||Field Goal Attempts Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Offensive Rebounds Per Game||Assists Per Game||FG Percentage||3-Point FG Percentage||Free Throw Percentage||Player Efficiency Rating||Steals Per Game||Blocks Per Game||Turnovers Per Game||Usage Percentage|
LeBron Playoff Stats
Jordan Playoff Stats
Did LeBron or Jordan Have Better Teams?
There are various accolades and stats that can be attributed to players. Jordan played with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman for a large stretch of his career and LeBron has boasted future Hall of Fame talent like Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love on his teams. Neither player was successful in winning a championship without a future Hall of Famer on their team.
Often times, people argue over whether or not LeBron or Jordan had their success due to the players around them. Michael Jordan never won without Scottie Pippen and LeBron failed to win a ring until the infamous "Decision" to join Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.
When we look at the table below, keep in mind that LeBron's career isn't over and neither are many of his opponents'. The numbers used to find his stats were based off of some assumption, for instance, it's very likely Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will be Hall of Famers despite not being inducted yet, but it also has some questionable players like Derrick Rose counted as opponents who had an MVP award but is likely on the fringe right now as to whether he will be an inductee or not (If not, Rose would be the first MVP to not be inducted).
With that being said it's clear that both players' teams had far better talent than their opponents. Jordan's teams were nearly identical in All-Star talent as his opponents but averaged nearly one whole Hall of Fame talent more than his opposition. Similarly, LeBron's teams were nearly identical in All-Star talent but had almost one and a half more Hall of Famers than his opposition.
Jordan vs LeBron Postseason Help
|All-Star Help||Avg All-Star Help||All-Star Opponents||Avg All-Star Opponents||Hall of Fame Help||Avg Hall of Fame Help||Hall of Fame Opponents||Avg Hall of Fame Opponents|
LeBron vs Jordan Finals
Michael Jordan's greatest argument for his GOAT status comes from his six rings in six Finals appearances. His six victories come via two three-peat championship runs. LeBron's Finals record isn't nearly as perfect, winning three of nine appearances. However, LeBron did make it to eight straight NBA Finals in his career, which is also an astounding feat. We've seen that both players had exemplary teams around them, each averaging more Hall of Fame level talent than their opponents in the postseason, but what about in the Finals?
Michael Jordan vs LeBron James Finals Teammates
Michael Jordan played with Hall of Fame teammates in every single NBA Finals. He also faced Hall of Fame talent in each of those Finals. However, Jordan was only outnumbered in terms of Hall of Fame talent once, when he faced the Los Angeles Lakers who had three Hall of Famers against the Bulls' two. He had one more Hall of Fame teammate than the Blazers, Suns, and Jazz. He had two more Hall of Fame teammates than the Supersonics and Jazz. When it came to All-Star level talent, Jordan almost never had a difference in All-Stars, being dead even in every series except for the Lakers, who had one more All-Star than the Bulls.
LeBron James played in the Finals in 2007 with no other Hall of Fame talent on his team besides himself. In that Finals he faced the San Antonio Spurs who had Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, and future Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. In his other eight Finals appearances, LeBron only had an advantage in terms of Hall of Fame talent once, when the Heat faced the Mavericks in 2011. LeBron had the same amount of Hall of Fame talent in the Finals against the Thunder, Spurs in 2012–2013, and Warriors in 2016. LeBron faced more Hall of Fame opponents than he had teammates in the Finals in 2007, 2015, 2017, and 2018. In both 2007 and 2015, he had two less Hall of Famers than his opponent.
This shows that despite both teams having similar talent advantages throughout the postseason overall in their careers, that when it came time to win it all in the Finals the competition became exponentially more difficult for LeBron, while the talent remained less than challenging for Jordan. In fact, Jordan only faced three Hall of Fame opponents in the Finals once against the Lakers and never faced four. LeBron has faced three Hall of Fame opponents in the Finals four times and has faced four Hall of Fame opponents four times!
The only time Jordan has ever faced four or more Hall of Famers at once in his postseason career was against the Boston Celtics in 1986–1987 and the Pistons in 1988–1989. He was swept twice and never won a single series. LeBron won against four Hall of Famers once in 2013.
LeBron vs Jordan Finals Opponents
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 30 so far. Below is the Hall of Fame opponents listed, including potential future ones that LeBron has played.
- Magic Johnson
- James Worthy
- Clyde Drexler
- Charles Barkley
- Gary Payton
- John Stockton x2
- Karl Malone x2
- Tim Duncan x3
- Tony Parker x3
- Manu Ginobili x3
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Jason Kidd
- Kevin Durant x3
- Russell Westbrook
- James Harden
- Kawhi Leonard x2
- Steph Curry x4
- Klay Thompson x4
- Draymond Green x4
Jordan faced three of his nine Hall of Fame opponents in his first Finals appearance, meaning he faced the other six over five separate appearances. LeBron has faced four Hall of Fame opponents at once on three separate occasions! With over three times the amount of Hall of Fame opponents faced during his career, it's hard to argue that Jordan had nearly as difficult of a road to championships as LeBron did.
LeBron vs Jordan Finals Comparison
|Finals Appearances||Finals Wins||# HOF Talent Advantage||# HOF Talent Disadvantage||Even HOF Talent Spread||# Times Facing 3 HOF Finals Opp||# Times Facing 4 HOF Finals Opp|
LeBron vs Jordan Statistical Impact
When we look at the talent stretches between the teams above, we can clearly see Jordan had an advantage in terms of facing easier talent, but what about each player's impact on the game? LeBron notoriously disappeared in the fourth quarter in Game 5 against the Mavericks. Couldn't his play have been the determining factor behind his losses despite the talent gaps we've seen? Could it be possible the Bulls would have won without Jordan in the Finals? I accumulated each total statistic for the Finals for each player and found the exact percentage of impact Jordan and LeBron had on every area of the game. The following stats are what I found:
Jordan vs LeBron Finals Impact Percentages
|Finals Appearances||Points||Field Goals||Field Goal Attempts||Field Goal %||3-Point Made||3-Point Attempts||3-Point %||2-Point Made||2-Point Attempts||2-Point %||Free Throw Made||Free Throw Attempts||Free Throw %||Offensive Rebounds||Defensive Rebounds||Total Rebounds||Assists||Steals||Blocks||Turnovers||Personal Fouls|
1.93% over team avg
1.57% under team avg
0.52% over team avg
8.92% over team avg
3.55% over team avg
3.18% under team avg
4.05% over team avg
1.07% under team avg
The statistics show just how much more involved in the game LeBron was versus Jordan. While Jordan excelled in areas that pertained to scoring, LeBron led his team in far more areas and at much higher rates. In fact, the only stats that Jordan was better at, outside of scoring, was his turnover margin, which makes sense because LeBron runs the offense for his teams from the point guard position frequently. What's more impressive is Jordan is known for his defensive ability and offensive rebounds, which I mentioned earlier, yet LeBron is far more useful in both areas for his team than Jordan was.
Let's be honest, would you rather have the player who provides your team with better shooting percentages and an average of 5% more of your points, or a player who scores 5% less on fewer shot attempts but also provides you with 5% more offensive rebounds, 8.5% more total rebounds, 16.5% more assists, and 8.6% more blocks, all while committing fewer fouls and getting steals at a higher rate as well?
LeBron did way more for his teams in the Finals than Jordan did. Jordan had a slight edge in scoring, but he also shot way more. LeBron literally had to do everything for his team, accounting for at least 20% in almost every major statistical category.
LeBron vs Jordan Career Statistical Impact
With as much focus that goes into championships, you would think the postseason is all that matters, but there are 82 games that occur before a single playoff performance. It's clear that LeBron and Jordan had comparable teams and faced comparable competition skillsets in the postseason, minus the Finals where LeBron played better against better competition. I amassed the entire team averages against both Jordan and LeBron during their careers. LeBron's will be updated yearly until he retires. Below are the statistics in the same format as the Finals stats above.
LeBron vs Jordan Career Statistical Impact
|Points||Field Goals||Field Goal Attempts||Field Goal %||3-Pointer Made||3-Point Attempt||3-Point %||2-Point Made||2-Point Attempts||2-Point %||Free Throw Made||Free Throw Attempt||Free Throw %||Offensive Rebound||Defensive Rebound||Total Rebound||Assists||Steals||Blocks||Turnovers||Personal Fouls|
1.98% over team avg
0.45% over team avg
2.20% over team avg
8.04% over team avg
3.34% over team avg
1.59% under team avg
3.74% over team avg
0.74% under team avg
During their regular-season careers, LeBron and Jordan were surprisingly very comparable in many areas. They accounted for nearly the same amount of shots and points for their teams. They also were within only a few percentage points of each other in areas like offensive rebounds, blocks, and personal fouls. Jordan held key advantages in turnovers, steals, and free throw percentage, while LeBron had an incredible advantage in the area of assists. While it's clear that LeBron held a strong advantage in terms of his postseason play, Jordan has an edge on LeBron in their regular season play.
LeBron and Jordan's Teams After Leaving
There's no question that LeBron impacted his teams more strongly than Jordan did. When LeBron left the Cavaliers in 2010, they went from a 61-win team to winning only 97 games in the following three years. When he left the Miami Heat, the team had gone to four straight Finals appearances. After LeBron's departure, the team won 37 games, despite maintaining Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, and had only two playoff appearances in six years. When LeBron returned to Cleveland they instantly went to four straight Finals, winning a championship against the record-setting 73-win Golden State Warriors. Upon LeBron's move to Los Angeles, the Cavaliers won 19 games two seasons in a row, despite keeping Kevin Love on the roster and adding Andre Drummond later.
When Michael Jordan left the Bulls in 1993 the team didn't miss a beat. They went from a 57-win team and winning the title to a 55-win team and losing in the conference semis. The team suffered greatly after his second retirement, going from winning a championship to only winning 16 games but the team also lost Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Even when Jordan joined the Wizards he was only able to carry them to 37 wins, and after his departure, the team was in the playoffs four straight years only two years after he left.
What Makes a Player Clutch?
Who's More Clutch, LeBron or Jordan?
One of the most important parts of basketball is being able to hit the big shots when your team needs it. If you're going to be an alpha male, lead your team, and be considered the greatest ever, then you have to be able to step up with cold blood and win a game. Jordan is revered for being one of the most clutch players ever. LeBron, on the other hand, has been criticized his entire career for his lack of "clutchness" compared to MJ or even Kobe. I compiled all of LeBron and Michael's playoff statistics and compared their career numbers to games in which they faced elimination, as well as games in which they could eliminate their opponents. The results are as follows:
LeBron vs Jordan Clutch Stats
|Points||Field Goal %||Free Throw %||Assists||Rebounds||Steals||Blocks||Turnovers||Record|
Jordan Career Stats
LeBron Career Stats
Jordan Eliminating Opponents
LeBron Eliminating Opponents
Jordan Facing Elimination
LeBron Facing Elimination
LeBron Is More Clutch Than Jordan
While the typical trends we've seen in the other statistical comparisons seem to continue here, the two players' level of improvement in clutch situations is incredibly different. Not only does LeBron win more than Jordan in areas of eliminating opponents and facing elimination, he also performs better. When LeBron has a chance to eliminate an opponent, he improves in points, blocks, steals, and rebounds. When he's facing elimination he improves in every major statistical category except for shooting percentages and turnovers. In fact, he averages over six more points and three more rebounds in those situations.
By comparison, when Jordan has an opportunity to eliminate an opponent he improves in assists, blocks, and points. When facing elimination he improves in assists, rebounds, blocks, and points but none of the areas are significantly higher than his normal averages. He also loses more often than he wins in elimination games, only saving himself 41.6% of the time. LeBron James wins more in elimination circumstances by boasting a 58.3% win percentage. Wouldn't the more clutch player be significantly better in high-pressure situations and win more often in those situations?
LeBron vs Jordan Clutch Shots
Perhaps you don't feel the entire game is a matter of clutch. After all there are 48 minutes in a basketball game, so even in an elimination setting it's much less stressful than a game-on-the-line-situation. Jordan is known for "The Shot" to put the Cavs away, while LeBron has his buzzer-beater against the Magic and Raptors in the postseason. In a situation where you have to make the shot in order to win the game, who do you want to have the ball in their hands? The stats below break down both players' go-ahead shots with five seconds left to go in the fourth quarter or overtime.
LeBron vs Jordan Buzzer Beaters
|Buzzer-Beaters||Field Goals||Field Goal %|
LeBron vs Jordan Stats
The statistics above are still ongoing, as LeBron still has years left to play in the NBA. However, with as long as he's been in the league there is a trend that can be seen between the two players and situations that influence both players. Michael Jordan has more points per game, but also took more shots and was used nearly 2% more often on plays during his time playing. LeBron runs his offense as a point guard very often, explaining why his assists are higher. Jordan's steals may be higher due to him guarding the guards and ball handlers more often than LeBron would positionally.
Two stats that stood out to me that can't be argued positionally or situationally, in my opinion, are LeBron's shooting percentages and Jordan's offensive rebounds. Both stats are strong for each player's argument of dominance, being that Jordan is known for scoring and shoots lower percentages overall and from the three-point line and LeBron, who is far larger than Jordan, has fewer offensive rebounds per game despite his physical size and ability that should allow him to crash the offensive boards more strongly.
Regardless, it's clear that both players excel in multiple areas, having advantages and disadvantages versus the other. Because both players play such a different game, it's not surprising to see this at a face value. Jordan is notoriously a great scorer and elite defensive man, whereas LeBron is seen as an all-around player who involves his teammates more often and plays with a high IQ. Because of these factors, I didn't mark an advantage in the category of "Field Goal Attempts" because I don't necessarily believe taking more or fewer shots is an advantage either way. More shots could be argued as taking over the game or being negligent, whereas taking less could be seen as cowering or taking smarter shots.
LeBron and Jordan's Greatest Rivals
Who Had Tougher Competition, Jordan or LeBron?
When you think of Micheal Jordan's greatest opponents people typically think of Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons, and Magic Johnson. Similarly, when you think of LeBron's greatest opponents people tend to think Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics, and Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. People often argue that Jordan's era was more physical or LeBron's is more athletic and advanced, but to compare eras is something that is almost impossible to do. However, we can look at the competition and make educated evaluations of each league to determine who faced better competition.
Michael Jordan Played in a Weak Expansion 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 (and 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 fewer years of experience.
Aside from this, the leagues were incredibly top-heavy! After the first expansion of Jordan's career in 1988, the following were the number of teams that had a .500 record or worse.
88-89: 10 of 25 40%
89-90: 12 of 27 44.4%
90-91: 14 of 27 51.8%
91-92: 13 of 27 48.1%
92-93: 14 of 27 51.8%
94-95: 13 of 27 48.1%
95-96: 15 of 29 51.7%
96-97: 15 of 29 51.7%
97-98: 13 of 29 44.8%
01-02: 13 of 29 44.8%
02-03: 12 of 29 41.3%
If you look at the numbers, throughout his career, there were a lot of losers in the league. More specifically, if you look at the 6 years Jordan won titles, 4 of them had more losing teams in the league than winning teams. Jordan got beat by the Celtics and Pistons for years and as soon as those teams broke up and were no longer an issue, he had the luxury of expansion teams picking apart rosters and watering down the league. Then, and only then, did his success begin in terms of winning.
LeBron Played in a Weak Conference
While Jordan played in a 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 matchups between the two conferences. The East has only won more games in one of James' 17 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.
- 17–18 West with +24 wins.
- 18–19 West with +54 wins.
- 19–20 (TBD when the league resumes)
Although the West has won more games consistently, the East has won seven out of 16 championships since LeBron has entered the league.
Aside from this, LeBron James has also only had two losing seasons against the Western Conference, in his rookie year when he was 6–22 and in his first season with the Lakers when he was 25–27. He tied the conference 15–15 once, in the 2017–2018 season. Every other season LeBron has a winning record against the West and overall James bolsters a record of 328–200 against the Western Conference for his career. So while LeBron did play in the weaker overall conference, he has never had a hard time beating the West.
LeBron joined the Western Conference when he joined the Lakers in 2018. After missing the playoffs in 2018, his team was leading the West in overall record before COVID suspended the season.
LeBron vs Jordan Postseason Hall of Fame Opponents
We've gone over the Hall of Fame opponents that each player faced in the Finals, but what about in the regular playoffs? Below are the Hall of Fame level players that each player faced in the playoffs, minus the Finals.
- Larry Bird 0-2
- Kevin McHale 0-2
- Dennis Johnson 0-2
- Robert Parish 0-2
- Bill Walton 0-2
- Isaiah Thomas 1-3
- Joe Dumars 1-3
- Adrian Dantley 0-2
- Dennis Rodman 1-3
- Patrick Ewing 5-0
- Charles Barkley 2-0
- Dominique Wilkins 1-0
- Alonzo Mourning 3-0
- Shaquille O'Neil 1-1
- Dikembe Mutombo 1-0
- Reggie Miller 1-0
Michael Jordan faced 16 Hall of Famers throughout the playoffs on 39 occasions. He posted a winning record against 6 of the 16, a tied record with 1, and a losing record with 9 of the 16. His total record in the playoffs against Hall of Fame opponents was 17-22, with 10 of his 17 wins coming against Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Alonzo Mourning alone. If you include his Finals appearances, MJ faced 24 Hall of Famers on 48 separate occasions, with a final postseason record of 26-22, or 54%. The problem with this is 20% of his entire postseason wins came against 3 players who never won rings.
- Ben Wallace: 1-1
- Chauncey Billups: 2-1
- Vince Carter 1-0
- Allen Iverson 1-0
- Jason Kidd 1-0
- Ray Allen 2-2
- Kevin Garnett 3-2
- Paul Pierce 3-2
- Dwight Howard 0-1
- Derrick Rose* 3-0 (These matchups were pre-injury against MVP caliber Rose)
- Carmelo Anthony 1-0
- Paul George 3-0
- Pau Gasol 1-0
LeBron faced 13 current or future Hall of Famers throughout the playoffs, with many players who may end up there that aren't listed here. He faced these 13 on 31 occasions. He posted a winning record against 10 of the 13, tied with 2, and only posted a losing record to Dwight Howard with a single matchup that he lost. His total record against Hall of Fame opponents in the playoffs was 22-9, having no more than 3 wins against a single opponent. If you include Finals appearances, LeBron faced 24 Hall of Famers on 63 occasions, with a final postseason record of 32-31, or 51%. Of those 24 Hall of Famers, 7 of them accounted for 17 of his matchup losses, being the dynasty Spurs and Warriors.
In conclusion, we can see that both players won more than they lost. Jordan never beat the dynasty Celtics in the playoffs and had a 25% winning percentage against the Bad Boys of Detroit. The majority of his postseason wins came against Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and Alonzo Mourning; guys who never won a ring. LeBron however, won against multiple Hall of Famers at a good ratio. He only posted a losing record in the playoffs against one Hall of Famer who he played a single time. Michael Jordan had a losing record in the playoffs against 9 Hall of Famers, 6 of which he never beat in the postseason.
Did LeBron or Jordan Have Stronger Opponents?
LeBron Beat His Greatest Competition
The final part of my argument revolves around the simple fact that despite LeBron's losing Finals record, he always beat his greatest opponents at some point in his career. When Jordan was faced with heavy adversity against the Celtics he never won a single game. When facing the Pistons he had a losing record of 1–3, and won after the team lost Adrian Dantley and had Isiah Thomas coming off his worst statistical season to that point in his career after a wrist injury. His victory over the Los Angeles Lakers came on the heels of injuries taking out both James Worthy and Byron Scott. The following season Magic Johnson retired due to HIV. None of these teams lost to Jordan in their primes. He consistently was beaten by them or didn't have to face them.
On the contrary, LeBron James has always had to face high-level teams throughout his career and succeeded in beating each one of them in their prime. He singlehandedly defeated the Detroit Pistons soon after they won a championship to advance to his first Finals appearance, he beat the Celtics in Miami after consistently being stopped by them, he got revenge on the Spurs, winning his second championship, and he completed the greatest Finals comeback in NBA history by defeating the record 73-win Golden State Warriors after trailing 3–1. LeBron has always found a way to defeat any opponent at some point in his career. His game has steadily improved throughout his career, always learning and evolving.
Why LeBron James is the GOAT
LeBron James simply outperforms Michael Jordan in every single area outside of scoring. While Jordan averages a few points more per game, he didn't shoot as effectively or utilize the team around him offensively. He was able to allow his team to make up the rebounding and defense that he lacked, whereas LeBron was used in all facets of the game at a much higher margin for his team than Jordan was. LeBron's average assists alone make up for the points he trails by statistically to Jordan.
When it came to the teammates that each player had, the two compare similarly but the opponents they faced were much stronger against LeBron than Jordan. Jordan had the benefit of cakewalks during his career, often facing one elite player when he had two or three Hall of Fame talents on his own side. The road only got easier in the Finals when he faced a third of the talent that LeBron did.
Both players left teams on multiple occasions, but only LeBron's teams went from being on top of the league to dead last multiple times. Jordan's teams continued their success despite his departure, and his teammates found success in their careers without him later. Of LeBron's Hall of Fame level teammates, only Dwayne Wade ever saw success without him. Kyrie Irving failed before he arrived and when he went to Boston and Brooklyn, Kevin Love failed to win in Minnesota and Cleveland without LeBron, Chris Bosh never succeeded in Toronto or after LeBron in Miami, and Anthony Davis couldn't get his team to consistently win in New Orleans.
LeBron is also more clutch than Jordan was. His statistics improve greatly when facing elimination or having the opportunity to put an opponent away, whereas Jordan's stats don't. LeBron even has better shooting ability in clutch moments than Jordan does, making more buzzer-beaters and having a better shooting percentage in clutch shot situations.
Overall it's not hard to see that LeBron James is a far better overall player than Michael Jordan ever was, despite Jordan's scoring ability. Jordan just had a much easier road in front of him and was able to win more while having to do less. LeBron has achieved greatness despite playing with the odds stacked against him.
You May Also Like:
- Top 10 NBA Players Ever
This article will cover the top 10 National Basketball Association players of all time, judged by their stats, career accolades, strengths, and weaknesses. Enjoy!
- Why Michael Jordan Is Overrated
Jordan is known as the greatest to ever play, but with emerging stars like LeBron James and old rivals like Bird and Magic, do the numbers support Jordan as the best? This article will show why Jordan was overrated as a clutch player, winner, and why
© 2020 Jesse Unk
Ola swagga on September 08, 2020:
Please let this people choose Lebron as their goat. Jordan stopped playing for the bulls 20 years ago. I liked watching lebron play just like kobe they are both exceptional & goats. Lebron & kobe would have been amongst the best if they played in the 90s. Lebron is a special special player, & he would have had a good chance to be the goat if he stayed in Cleveland & not jump ship. People think we call jordan the goat because of rings & points. They have no idea. We call him goat simply because of the way he played in the air. The hang time, the moves, the foot work, the leaner dunks etc etc. Let me put it simple, i have seen both lebron & jordan era and i have never seen anyone play like jordan. I know its hard for people that never saw him play, but only highlights from youtube to think how can anyone be better than lebron. Beleive me he was.
Nick on July 27, 2020:
You ask if the Warriors were really that good? Few would argue that they are one of the greatest dynasties ever. They won 67 games, then 73, then 67 again. You argue that the 2014 Spurs weren't elite and yet they won 62 games and won the West for a second consecutive year. The Cavs didn't have any notable players with LeBron during his first stint there. If you disagree, who was notable? It was a squad of insignificant players and you know it. I don't want to keep focusing on Dantley, the bigger point is that the Pistons won only 50 games in 1991 when Jordan finally beat them, down from 59 in 1990 and 63 in 1989, so to argue they were close to as good in 1991 is not a great idea. They obviously weren't as good as they were in the previous couple seasons. To say "Jordan was the dynasty" is frustrating because there were no other super teams during the 90's. Lebron's teams "were the dynasty" in the 2010's in the Eastern Conference, but he ran into two buzz saws in the Spurs and Warriors, two teams that have been historically great during his career. Other dynasties existed at that time. Jordan didn't have to deal with that during his prime, LeBron did. With that established, it's also important to note that longevity plays an important role in this argument, particularly because their per game statistics are so close. LeBron has done it now at a super elite level for more seasons than Jordan and that's a factor. The more seasons a player plays at an incredible level, the greater an impact he has made on his teams and on the league. If longevity isn't a factor, then Giannis would already be considered an all time great, but we know this isn't the case and that he must continue to produce this way for many more years until he is in the same breath as Jordan or LeBron. LeBron has already done it for more seasons than Jordan and will only continue to widen the gap as he continues to dominate the league and add to his already ridiculous career accomplishments.
Jesse Unk (author) from Ohio on July 26, 2020:
All of his games are available to view on youtube or other platforms. You act as if we've never seen him play period. Ive seen all of his Finals and multiple other games. Seen him as a child as well. I think its easier to believe you have memory bias due to his impact during your time than we look at things biasedly.
Ron John on July 26, 2020:
What facts are you stating. You only stated half truths and opinions. You yourself never saw Jordan play. Don’t you think that someone who saw both players can better compare them. To say one is better based on who they played with and played against is nonsense really. Of course the youngsters should have a chance to debate also, but what we should not do is make up their minds for them which you are doing by mentioning some stats and leaving out others. Give all the facts, not half. Lebron beat The Warriors with multiple stars, but he also lost to Dallas with only one star. He made Jason Terry a star. And, were the Warriors really that good, Thunder took them to 7 games in the WCF. The Cavs lost their 6 best players and you are suggesting that it does not matter.
You said that Duncan and Ginobili were still playing elite basketball when Lebron beat them. You based that on how they rolled over the league in 2014. Really. Outright lie. Duncan played 19 seasons, in 2014 he average 15 points, 4th lowest of his career. Elite for him would have been 2002 when he average 25 points. Ginobili had 12 points that year, elite would be 2008 with 19 points. The 8th seed Dallas took Spurs to 7 games in first round, is that roll over. They did roll over Lebron 4-1.
Why do you keep mentioning Dantley, it is a mute point, you never saw those Pistons play. Dantley’s team never won. Let me give you some more nostalgia, it may be outdated but it is facts. Pistons wanted someone to defend against Bird and Magic and Worthy. With Dantley starting at SF, Rodman was getting very little playing time. They traded away Dantley for former #1 Pick Aguire so that Rodman can start and have Aguire off the bench at the 1, 2, and 3 position. Rodman won DPOY that season and next. Piston won 2 championships. The new Pistons was better that the pistons with Dantley. Do you really think that Dantley could of guarded Pippen. The Bulls just got better in 91, as told to me in 1997 by Piston Broadcaster Fred Mcleod. Call it what you want.
Jordan loosing to the Celtics is not the same as Lebron loosing to the Warriors and Spurs. Jordan was not yet in his prime and had no All Star help. There was no dynasty for Jordan to beat in his Prime, because he was the dynasty. How often had Jordan not win when he had All star help. Once, with a game 7 migraine Scottie. Jordan had no bad playoff series, lebron have several.
Matt on July 26, 2020:
What is the criteria for being the GOAT? Is it accolades? Longevity? Best player at their Apex? Rings? At this current moment in time, Lebron only has longevity in career totals over Jordan. If we measure accolades as a combination of MVP awards, Finals MVP, and Championships, then Lebron is still behind Jordan, Kareem, Magic, and Russell. Because Finals MVPs were established at the end of Russell’s career, I won’t even include him because he’d likely have about 8 or 9 and dwarf everyone. Lebron has 4 mvps, 3 rings, 3 finals mvps. Add all those and it’s 10 for Lebron. Jordan equaled that in May 96 when he won his 4th mvp. Magic has 5 rings, 3 mvps, and 3 finals mvps so Lebron still trails him. Kareem has 6 rings, 6 mvps, and 2 finals mvps for a total of 14. Finally, Jordan has the 6 rings, 6 finals mvps, and 5 mvps for a total of 17. Until Lebron reels off a similar 2 year stretch like he had in 2012-2013, he’s way behind Jordan.
The idea of who had the better competition is flawed and stupid. You play whose in front of you no matter the sport. Winning is winning and Losing is losing. For this argument, I’ll omit the 07 finals when he was a puppy, and even the 2017 and 18 finals when a stacked team was in his way. Even with that, Lebron is 3-3 in the finals. 2011 doesn’t need explanation besides he sucked(relative to the rest of his playoff run) and was mentally exposed even with a 2-1 lead in the Finals. The 2014 was so uncompetitive that you could say the Heat in 2013 were lucky to win. And yes injuries hampered Love and Kyrie in 2015, but the Cavs had a 2-1 lead with Game 4 at home against a group of guys that had never won a championship and the Cavs end up losing 3 straight games. The same thing happened against the Celtics in 2010. In 3 instances(2010,2011,2015) from 2010-2015, Lebron had led his team to 2-1 leads in series and then shockingly...the team loses 3 straight and the series is over.
Once Jordan got that 1st championship, it was over. He and the Bulls never wanted to lose again. From November 1990 to June 1998, in both regular season and postseason, the Bulls never lost 3 games in a row with Jordan on the floor which is remarkable. The 95 series against Orlando shocked the world because it was the 1st time in 5 years, everyone saw Jordan come up empty-handed.
The Celtics and more so the Lakers set the bar in the 80’s with them winning most of the decades championships. Jordan reset the bar the following the decade first by 3-peating which no team had done since Russell. But the 96-98 clinched Jordan as the Babe Ruth of basketball. And that bar hasn’t been reached yet.
With the advancement of modern science, modern technology, etc, Lebron might have another 5 years of really good basketball and the Lakers may 3-peat. Dominating and dominating as the best player is the only way Lebron catches Jordan.
Nick on July 24, 2020:
I am stating facts, you're talking about track and field and asking how old people are. I'm also born in 1992 by the way, although that bears zero relevance to the conversation. The fact that you feel the need to bring up the age of people who have opinions on this matter to justify your outdated and nostalgic way of thinking about the game is a bit comical. But I'll address your points as best as I can anyways, because 75 years from now very few will have had the privilege of having watched either of them play, but their legacies will live on as will the debate between them. Do our kids and their kids not have a right to debate this topic just because they never saw them live? As you're already aware, the comparisons and debates between these two greats will never end, and will only intensify over time as LeBron continues to accumulate records and accomplishments, and it's everyone right to look at the situation objectively and draw a conclusion based on the evidence. I digress to address your points, Duncan and Ginobli were still playing elite basketball when LeBron beat them, evidenced by the fact that the Spurs ran through the league the very next season and won the title in 2014. My point about the Pistons is simply that the squad the Bulls finally beat wasn't as good as their teams from the past couple of seasons, with Dantley/Thomas either no longer present or playing at a lower level than in years past. Regardless, I still credit Jordan with his lone win over a dynasty for that Detroit win, as I noted he was 1-5 against dynasties. 1-3 against Detroit and 0-2 against Boston. The bigger point is that he failed just as LeBron has against his greatest opponents, the historically great teams he played against. Rationalize LeBron's teams failures once he moved to other teams however you like, the fact remains that clearly those teams didn't have enough to come close to winning without him, evidenced by their record when he left. The Cleveland team from his first stint there was a collection of everyday Joe's, they would crumble without him whether they kept that group together or not. The Miami team that he left was aging and already struggled relatively during the 2014 season and looked way less dominant than they did the previous two seasons, only achieving success that year because of LeBron. They predictably fell apart the following year. The second time he left the Cavs they once again completely fell apart. Jordan's supporting casts were strong, strong enough that Jordan could stay and develop continuity since he wasn't at the mercy of an incompetent Cavs organization that was never able to surround him with the kind of talent that Jordan enjoyed with the Bulls. There is simply no evidence that Jordan would beat dynasties such as the Spurs and Warriors when he failed to do so against his greatest adversaries. As LeBron continues to stack accomplishments and further his already ridiculous career totals, the gap will only widen between he and Jordan. I believe that in five years or so when LeBron is through, we'll look at his career achievements and it will be difficult to even have this conversation, because his numbers will speak for themselves far more loudly than they already do. Longevity matters, as do variables such as the ones we've already addressed.
Ron John on July 23, 2020:
So, I asked Jesse how old he was, never said. I checked, he was born in 1992. He would of been six when jordan last won. He never saw Jordan,How old are you. Did you see Jordan play. I think both of you read Darrell Huff 1954 book, "How To Lie With Statistics." Any one can do anything with stats.
In Berlin in 1936 Jesse Owens equaled the 100 meters record, and set a record in the 200 m in winning two gold medals. At Rio in 2016 Olympics, Trayvon Bromell came in last. But you guys can use stats to say that because Bromell ran 10.06 seconds and Owens ran 10.31, Bromell is the greater. Everything has to be contextualized. These days everyone one and their grandmothers runs sub 10.
Who is the greatest clutch 3 point shooter ever. I will say Reggie,maybe Bird, Ray Allen, Curry. Because I saw them play. Stats can say Steve Kerr, because he shot 45% compared to Reggie at 39%. But Kerr Shot less than two a game, and only when he was wide wide open. Reggie will shoot off the dribble, from the parking lot, off balance, so he missed a lot. Kerr did not missed a lot because he only took easy shots. Context.
No, No, Detroit was not a weaker team than in the past. The Bulls just got better. Bulls lost the year before because their second best player had Migraine, (8 points) in game 7, and the year before that, same Pippen in elimination game, got elbowed in face by Laimbeer, played only five minutes. The Bulls just got better. Detroit was the same team as the year before when they won. Adrian Dantley was traded for Mark Aguire in 1989, even before The Pistons first won. When the Bulls won in 1990 Dantley average 5.7 Points for the Bucks, his last season. That same year Aguire average over 14 points for Detroit. Fact is he was the second leading scorer vs the Bulls. It can be said they got better. Thomas came back from hand surgery, yes, but you forgot to mention that he average 16 points, one point less than the year before. Did his hand hinder him.
When Jordan left in 1993-1994 season, the Bulls lost no one else. Stacey King was traded for Luc Longley, Upgrade. Toni Kukoc finally signed in November, and the Bulls added Steve Kerr, Pete Myers and Bill Wennington. As big as Jordan loss was they up graded otherwise. When Lebron left in 2010, Cavs lost their six best players, yes their best six. and coach. They rebuilt. Completely different team. They lost, Shaq, Zydrunas Ilgauska and Delonte West to Free Agency, Anderson Varejao to injury and Mo Williams was traded for a much older Baron Davis and a first round Pick. Davis played only 44 games.
With the Heat now, when Lebron left in 2014, Ray Allen retired and the best 5 players all missed huge amount of games. Wade missed 20 games, luol Deng 10 games, Bosh missed 38, Goran Dragic missed 56, and Whiteside missed 34 games.
Jordan at age 28, beat the Pistons with Dumars age 27, Thomas age 29, and Rodman age 29, and you claimed that the Pistons, defending champs, were not as great as years past. Yet in the same token you says that Lebron beat a dynasty in Spurs. What dynasty. Man when Lebron beat the spurs, Duncan was 36 Ginolbi 35. You not stating facts, you are stating opinions.
Nick on July 22, 2020:
You have some valid points, but the fact remains that Jordan never had to go through dynasties like LeBron has had to. Jordan was 1-5 against them, LeBron is 2-5 against dynasties. The only difference is that LeBron's seven matchups against dynasties came in the Finals against the Warriors and Spurs, while Jordan's came in the Eastern conference playoffs. I agree with you that there's no shame in losing to the dynasty Pistons or Celtics, just as there's no shame in LeBron falling short against the Spurs or Warriors. However, we can't just assume that Jordan would have overcome a dynasty type opponent later in his career when he was in his "prime", as he never had to face one post 1990, and he failed to beat a dynasty type team other than in 1990 against Detroit when Isiah Thomas was coming off a severe injury and Adrian Dantley was no longer with the squad, a weaker Detroit team than in years past. There is no proof that Jordan would defeat historically great teams, as he failed to do so in his only attempts. Jordan also had the benefit of playing with an excellent team around him, illustrated by the fact that the Bulls won 55 games the year after he retired to play baseball, they won 57 games with him the year prior. The Bulls had THREE all stars in 1994 without Jordan, all of which were on the team in the years prior to that season with Jordan. Contrarily, when LeBron left the Cavs in 2010, they went from 61-21 to the bottom of the lottery. When he left the Heat in 2014 they went from making four straight Finals appearances to winning only 37 games, even with Wade and Bosh still on the roster. When LeBron left the Cavs again in 2018, they went from 4 straight Finals appearances to the bottom of the lottery once again. There is no better way to illustrate the difference in quality of LeBron and Jordan's supporting casts than to examine these facts. It is imperative to look at those facts because they represent critical variables that influence their respective postseason achievements. It's obvious that it's far easier to win championships on a team that is a 55 win squad without you than it is to win championships with teams that fail to even challenge for a playoff spot without you. Surely you must recognize that.
Jesse Unk (author) from Ohio on July 08, 2020:
You say jordan never lost in his prime but his prime was his 3rd season. Best statisitcal season of his entire career. Thats the definition of prime. He was swept. AGAIN.
Ron John on July 08, 2020:
Your articles are bias towards Lebron.
Fact. No one beat Jordan in his prime. All his lost came early in his career when his team had no other All Star. Lebron has lost multiple times in his prime.
Fact. Only once have Jordan failed to win the championship when he have at least 1 other All Star. 1990. And in that game 7, the only other All Star, first timer Scottie Pippen had a Migraine, 8 Points. Moral of this Story. Give Jordan one other All Star no one will beat him.
Lebron is bigger and plays closer to the basket, he should have more rebounds. he pass the ball more, he should have more Assist. He leads the league in shots within 3 feet from the basket, logical that he shoot a higher %.
Look these stats. Let us rank their averages at their individual position.
Jordan among SG Lebron at PF
1st Points 2nd
4th Assists 1st
3rd Rebounds 12th
3rd Steals 9th
3rd Blocks 17th
9th FG % 17th
34th FT% 107th
More all round player. Jordan has won defensive player of the year. 9 All defensive first team. 3 times steals leader. The best offensive player in the history of the game is also the best defensive player ever at his position. Scary.
You want clutch. Game 6 of the 1988 Finals vs Jazz, 50 seconds left, Bulls down by 3, Jordan takes the inbounds pass, drives to the basket and scores. He then steals the ball from Karl Malone and hit a Jumper.
In winning six championship, only 2 game 7s, none in finals. Almost all of the players who played against them says Jordan. Do you remember this comment from a commentator “ The only question is can Lebron James Stop Jason Terry”). How many times has Lebron lost in finals and that teams SF win MVP.
Fact: March 1989, Jordan have meeting with coach Doug Collins, The result of that meeting was that Jordan will play Point Guard for the rest of the season. Next seven games, Jordan had seven straight triple doubles. Had triple doubles in 11 of 15 games. Averaged 32 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assist. But next season the bulls went back to Jordan as primarily a scorer because they felt they had a better chance at winning. Jordan gave up stats for rings. And people want to use stats against Jordan.
Ron Unk on June 29, 2020: