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Proof LeBron James Is the GOAT

Jesse is a lifelong sports fan with a passion for finding the facts. His writing has been recognized and published by Sports Illustrated.

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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 done research for over a year in an attempt to give my argument for LeBron 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, I'll attempt to find the answer and include it in the article at a later time.

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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

Leading statistics are in bold. * cells indicate statistics that aren't logged for strictly playoff games.

NamePoints Per GameField Goal Attempts Per GameRebounds Per GameOffensive Rebounds Per GameAssists Per GameFG Percentage3-Point FG PercentageFree Throw PercentagePlayer Efficiency RatingSteals Per GameBlocks Per GameTurnovers Per GameUsage Percentage

LeBron James

27.1

19.6

7.4

1.2

7.4

50.4%

34.4%

73.4%

27.5

1.6

.8

3.5

31.5%

Michael Jordan

30.1

22.9

6.2

1.6

5.3

49.7%

32.7%

83.5%

27.9

2.3

.8

2.7

33.3%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LeBron Playoff Stats

28.8

20.7

9.0

1.5

7.2

49.6%

33.5%

74.1%

*

1.7

1.0

3.7

*

Jordan Playoff Stats

33.4

25.1

6.4

1.7

5.7

48.7%

33.2%

82.8%

*

2.1

.9

3.1

*

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 HelpAvg All-Star HelpAll-Star OpponentsAvg All-Star OpponentsHall of Fame HelpAvg Hall of Fame HelpHall of Fame OpponentsAvg Hall of Fame Opponents

Michael Jordan

58

1.6

60

1.7

90

2.4

55

1.5

LeBron James

99

2

81

1.8

117

2.6

55

1.2

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.

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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.

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 x3
  • Russell Westbrook
  • James Harden
  • Kawhi Leonard x2
  • Steph Curry x4
  • Klay Thompson x4
  • Draymond Green x4

Total: 30


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.

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LeBron vs Jordan Finals Comparison

Leading categories are highlighted in bold.

Finals AppearancesFinals Wins# HOF Talent Advantage# HOF Talent DisadvantageEven HOF Talent Spread# Times Facing 3 HOF Finals Opp# Times Facing 4 HOF Finals Opp

Michael Jordan

6

6

5

1

0

1

0

LeBron James

9

3

1

4

4

4

4

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

Leading statistical categories are in bold. Attempts are left neutral because more or less shots taken could be identified as a positive or negative thing depending on the circumstances of the game.

 Finals AppearancesPointsField GoalsField Goal AttemptsField Goal %3-Point Made3-Point Attempts3-Point %2-Point Made2-Point Attempts2-Point %Free Throw MadeFree Throw AttemptsFree Throw %Offensive ReboundsDefensive ReboundsTotal ReboundsAssistsStealsBlocksTurnoversPersonal Fouls

Michael Jordan

6

34.66%

33.41%

32.25%

1.93% over team avg

28.64%

24.89%

1.57% under team avg

34.83%

34.55%

0.52% over team avg

41.67%

37.96%

8.92% over team avg

13.02%

16.03%

15.08%

25.22%

21.13%

11.28%

29.45%

12.71%

LeBron James

9

29.15%

29.71%

27.45%

3.55% over team avg

19.90%

21.02%

3.18% under team avg

32.92%

30.38%

4.05% over team avg

31.85%

31.60%

1.07% under team avg

18.02%

25.81%

23.58%

41.71%

21.91%

19.95%

33.69%

11.53%

LeBron Difference

+3

-5.51%

-3.70%

-4.80%

+1.62%

-8.74%

-3.87%

-1.61%

-1.91%

-4.17%

+3.53%

-9.82%

-6.36%

-9.99%

+5.0%

+9.78%

+8.5%

+16.49%

+.78%

+8.67%

+4.24%

-1.18%

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

Leading statistical categories are in bold. Attempts are left neutral because more or less shots taken could be identified as a positive or negative thing depending on the circumstances of the game.

PointsField GoalsField Goal AttemptsField Goal %3-Pointer Made3-Point Attempt3-Point %2-Point Made2-Point Attempts2-Point %Free Throw MadeFree Throw AttemptFree Throw %Offensive ReboundDefensive ReboundTotal ReboundAssistsStealsBlocksTurnoversPersonal Fouls

Michael Jordan

26.77%

27.42%

26.46%

1.98% over team avg

18.02%

19.17%

0.45% over team avg

28.36%

27.27%

2.20% over team avg

34.36%

31.08%

8.04% over team avg

10.94%

15.62%

14.11%

20.41%

26.69%

16.42%

17.82%

10.71%

LeBron James

26.36%

25.88%

24.09%

3.34% over team avg

18.48%

19.63%

1.59% under team avg

27.84%

25.84%

3.74% over team avg

31.78%

32.15%

0.74% under team avg

11.19%

19.44%

17.38%

33.47%

21.24%

15.04%

26.02%

9.17%

LeBron Difference

-0.41%

-1.54%

-2.37%

+1.36%

+0.46%

+0.46%

-2.04%

-0.52%

-1.43%

+1.54%

-2.58%

+1.07%

-8.78%

+0.25%

+3.82%

+3.27%

+13.06%

-5.45%

-1.38%

+8.20%

-1.54%

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

Leading statistical categories are in bold.

PointsField Goal %Free Throw %AssistsReboundsStealsBlocksTurnoversRecord

Jordan Career Stats

30.1

49.7%

83.5%

5.3

6.2

2.3

0.8

2.7

699–373 (65.2%)

LeBron Career Stats

27.1

50.4%

73.5%

7.4

7.4

1.6

0.8

3.5

837–422 (66.4%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Eliminating Opponents

33.4

48.5%

83.2%

5.6

5.9

2.0

0.9

3.1

30–10 (75%)

LeBron Eliminating Opponents

28.2

46.6%

74.4%

7.0

8.9

1.7

1.0

3.5

35–10 (77.7%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Facing Elimination

31.0

45.7%

76.5%

7.0

7.9

1.8

1.3

4.3

5–7 (41.6%)

LeBron Facing Elimination

33.7

49.1%

67.8%

7.5

10.8

1.6

1.0

4.1

14–10 (58.3%)

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

These stats represent go-ahead shots taken in the 4th quarter or overtime with five seconds or less to go. Buzzer-beaters represent shots that hit as time expired.

 Buzzer-BeatersField GoalsField Goal %

Michael Jordan

3

5–11

45%

LeBron James

5

7–15

46.6%

LeBron Difference

+2

+2

+1.6%

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.

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