Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James – Who’s the better player?
The debate has been refueled lately, and I am just one more to offer their humble opinion on who should go down as the greatest player of all time, Michael or LeBron. To me, the answer is simple, but if I were to offer my answer now, there’d be no point for you to continue reading.
Disclaimer alert. The following comparison doesn’t take into account that Jordan played four years of basketball at North Carolina, to LeBron’s jump from high school right to the NBA. It doesn’t factor in how the game has changed from a more physical era to a ticky tack soft era. We won’t look at teammates of both James and Jordan in coming to our conclusion of who’s better.
Let’s begin our comparison by examining each player’s regular season career statistical numbers. I have to mention that currently, Jordan has played 85 more games than LeBron. LeBron has logged slightly higher minutes per game than Michael, 39.0 to 38.3. When it comes to points per game, there is no comparison, as Jordan wins hands down. Jordan averaged 30.1 per game to LeBron’s current average of 27.2 per. Jordan averaged three points more on approximately three more shots per game, however both LeBron and Michael have about the same field goal percentage (49.8% for James to Jordan’s 49.7%). LeBron has averaged his 27.2 points on four three point shots per game, while Michael only needed just under two three point shots a game to get his 30.1. Each player has made it to the charity stripe the same amount of times, however Jordan crushed LeBron in Free Throw percentage (83.5% to 74.4%). You have to make free throws to win, but we will get into that later. Surprisingly to me, Jordan actually averaged more offensive rebounds at 1.6 to LeBron’s 1.2 per game. Keep in mind, Jordan was much smaller than LeBron, coming in at 6’6″ 216lbs to James’ 6’8″ 250lbs. With that being said, LeBron has averaged almost one and a half more defensive rebounds than Michael. LeBron does average more assists per game (6.9 to 5.3), but to be fair, Michael was a true shooting guard, where LeBron has played quite a bit of the point guard position in his career. On the defensive side of the ball, there is no comparison, Jordan by far outshines LeBron. Jordan averaged 2.3 steals per game to LeBron’s 1.7, and each player averaged .8 blocks per game. Michael averaged almost one less turnover per game, however even at 3.4 per game, as much as each player had the ball in their hands, both are respectable.
Now, let’s take a closer look at both Michael and LeBron’s playoff numbers. Jordan’s point per game average jumps to 33.4, while LeBron’s only increases to 28.0. LeBron’s rebounding goes up significantly compared to Jordan’s marginal increase. Both player’s steals and blocks remain about the same compared to their regular season averages.
Based on shear statistics alone, while you can make a case for either player, I will take points and defense over rebounds and assists. So for me, based on the numbers alone, Jordan beats out LeBron.
Let’s now shift our focus of this comparison from numbers to accolades. The obvious is that Michael is six for six in NBA Finals and has six championships to LeBron’s three titles. Jordan has five regular season MVP awards, while James only boasts 4 MVP’s. Michael can brag that he owns six NBA Finals MVP awards, while LeBron can only say he has three. Jordan was voted to a staggering 10 All NBA Defensive First Teams, while LeBron has only been voted to five All Defensive Teams. LeBron does oust Michael in All NBA First Teams with ten to Jordan’s nine. Michael owns one Defensive Player of the year award, while James cannot claim any. Jordan won the league’s scoring title ten times, while LeBron has only won one scoring title. Michael also can brag that he is a three time steals leader, while LeBron has yet to lead the league in steals.
If you aren’t convinced yet, you have to at least acknowledge that Michael Jordan by far and above owns more awards and league accolades than LeBron. The picture is becoming clearer that Michael was, is, and forever will be the better basketball player than LeBron James. But, just for kicks (and word count of course), let’s take a brief look into the intangibles. In my brief 33 years on this earth, I have never witnessed a basketball player with the ability to take over a game like Michael Jordan. When he was in “the zone,” you felt like no matter what he did, the ball was going in the hoop, and whoever was guarding him was going to be left feeling hopeless. It is well documented about Michael’s competitiveness and need to win, whether it was basketball, poker, golf, etc. Chris Paul recently at a camp challenged Michael that if he missed a shot he’d have to give each child at the camp a new pair of sneakers. Mike being Mike, simply went out and precisely drilled every shot he took. I’m not discounting LeBron’s will to win, or his competitive spirit, however we have all witnessed LeBron give up in playoff games and take plays off. One last thing that puts Michael Jordan above LeBron James is that Jordan wasn’t afraid to confront and call out his teammates to their face. LeBron is constantly hiding behind the media, using social media, and sending subliminal messages to his teammates and ownership to show his displeasure with things. Michael wasn’t afraid to go after a teammate in person.
By now, my opinion, I hope, has been well conveyed. Michael Jordan should and will go down as the greatest basketball player of all time. Hats off to LeBron James on being top five of all time, but he is not in Air Jordan territory.