LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan

LeBron James with the Miami Heat (left, via Wiki Commons by Scott Mecum), Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls (right, via Wiki Commons)

Since he was just a 17 year old boy trying to finish his senior year of High School, NBA star LeBron James has been compared to the NBA’s best players of all time. One of these many comparisons stands out more than the rest; Michael Jordan. The now retired shooting guard from UNC (University of North Carolina) has been considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time since the early 90’s. Would any player ever claim that spot for themselves? It didn’t seem possible…until LeBron.

“With the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select…LeBron James,” said NBA commissioner David Stern to nobody’s surprise. Fresh out of high school, the 5 star forward from Akron, Ohio was expected to be one of the best players in the league instantly. Being drafted by his hometown team, James was destined for greatness and it could not have been more obvious. However, this greatness didn’t occur right away. It wasn’t until his fourth season that James was finally playing in the NBA finals, and the Cavaliers lost 4-0 to the Spurs that year. James would stay with Cleveland for three more seasons before deciding to sign with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, devastating thousands of Cavaliers fans. This decision would prove to be beneficial for the future NBA Champion, as James made the finals in four consecutive seasons with the Heat, winning his first two NBA championships. 

After finally achieving every basketball player’s biggest goal of winning an NBA championship, James decided it was time to return home. On July 11, 2014, LeBron James signed back with the Cleveland Cavaliers and promised his city they would win. A city that had not seen a professional sports championship in fifty years was promised the curse would be broken. The pressure on LeBron to fulfill his promise was unmatched, and he came through in a huge way. In the 2016 NBA Finals, the 73-9 Warriors, with the best record of all time, were just one win away from defeating the Cavaliers and winning their second consecutive championship. They had a 3-1 series lead, a lead that no team has ever come back from in the Finals before, and they were heading back to Oakland for game five. James would go on to break multiple records in a three game win streak that secured Cleveland’s first championship in fifty years. 

“Watching LeBron carry his team in that series was…I was speechless. It was incredible. Those seven games solidified him as my G.O.A.T (greatest of all time),” said Woodgrove High School student Christian Maglione. Unfortunately, following their huge finals victory, things in Cleveland began to go downhill. Just one month after defeating the Warriors, NBA superstar Kevin Durant signed with Golden State. A team that already seemed unbeatable truly became unstoppable. The Cavaliers would go on to lose to the Warriors in back to back seasons, causing James to make another major free agency decision. In July of 2018, James announced that he was going to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, completely shaking up the basketball world. Although the Lakers failed to make the playoffs in James’ first year there, they would certainly bounce back in a big way the following year. Lebron would win his fourth NBA championship during the infamous 2020 “bubble” season with Los Angeles. Lebron has acquired many accolades, apart from championships, to make a great case for best of all time. During his eighteen year career, James has won four NBA MVP awards, four NBA Finals MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals, holds the record for most playoff points of all time, is third in all-time points, and eighth in all-time assists. James has ten NBA Finals appearances, which means he’s made the Finals in more than half of his seasons played, and he’s certainly not done yet.

In 1984, the Chicago Bulls were one of the worst NBA franchises of all time. Then, they drafted Michael Jordan, from the University of North Carolina. 13 seasons, six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVPs, five league MVPs, ten scoring titles, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive team appearances, and two gold medals later, the Bulls had the greatest basketball player of all time. Michael Jordan may not have as many points, assists, rebounds, or blocks as LeBron James, although having played in four fewer seasons, Jordan’s stats are undeniably incredible. Similar to James, Michael Jordan’s career didn’t begin with instant success. It wasn’t until his seventh season that he won his first NBA championship. But once Jordan, dubbed MJ by his fans, got that one…he never looked back. Jordan would lead the Bulls to two more championships in a row, securing the three-peat. 

After winning his third championship, Michael Jordan‘s basketball career would take a shocking twist. Jordan addressed the media to announce that he was tired of the basketball grind, and the constant pressure that came with it. Along with coping with the death of his father, Jordan wanted to see if he could still play baseball like his father thought he could. So in 1994, Michael announced he was going to join the Chicago White Sox AA roster to pursue baseball. After failing to succeed in the field in his 13 months there, he decided it was time to return to the court. Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995, and would go on to win another three championships in a row, securing his second three-peat with the team. Having solidified his position as the greatest of all time, Jordan decided it was time to call it a career. In January of 1999, Michael announced his basketball retirement for the second time, officially ending his time with the Bulls. In his 13 seasons with Chicago, there was one thing that separated Jordan from the rest of the league: his work ethic. “If Jordan had a weakness in his game he worked on it faithfully until he got it right,” said Franklin Basketball coach Osadonor Esene.

Having retired just a few years before LeBron James came into the league, we never got to see these two all-time greats play against each other. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to compare the two. Or maybe it’s because the stats and eras they played in are so different. Would Lebron succeed in the 90’s? “LeBron’s best years are with super teams. Back in the 90’s nobody was putting together super teams so it’s hard to see LeBron without a super team,” said  Esene. What about Jordan succeeding in the 2000’s? “Jordan would be super successful in this era because the game is less physical now, and nobody is matching Jordan’s competitive mindset in today’s game,” Esene added. Unfortunately, there will never be one definitive answer to these questions. It’s up to each and every one of us to decide for ourselves who’s better using the facts that we know, and the accolades that the players achieved. Esene has an interesting take on this topic: “I think they both have two different styles of play. I’ll say LeBron is better because he can dominate the game in multiple ways. Scoring, passing, rebounding, and leadership.” 

Although LeBron James’ career is not done yet, we may never know who’s greater between him and Jordan. But in the words of rapper J.Cole, “They both changed the game, came through and made a lane. Who’s to say that who’s greater? All we know is they aren’t the same.”

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