As I look at social media, the hatred some people have for Lebron James and what he has done blows my mind. I think a lot of it stems from people’s inability to even consider that someone can be on the level of Michael Jordan. In this article, I will look at reasons that make me lean toward Lebron as the better player.
I know that Jordan fans — no matter what the stats scream — will say that Jordan won six NBA titles, but if that is your defense, shouldn’t you rank Bill Russell at number one all-time? So today I want to look at the reasons that I think make Lebron just as good if not better than Jordan.
1) Lebron has faced tougher competition in the NBA Finals
Sure James is only 3-5 in finals, but when you look at just raw numbers, you will find that James’ eight foes in the NBA Finals entered the playoffs with a combined .764 winning percentage to Jordan’s .746. Look at just this season: The Golden State Warriors brought three All-NBA players in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, plus a fourth all-star and All-NBA snub in Klay Thompson. Jordan never faced a team with that much firepower ever! The Warriors’ addition of Kevin Durant would have been like the 1992 Trail Blazers, after losing to the Bulls, then going out and getting Hakeem Olajuwon. The Warriors won more games than any team in NBA history last year and James still beat them, so they had to go out and add the second-best player in the league to beat the Cavs.
2) Lebron James is a better shooter
I don’t think this point can even be argued. Inside the three-point line, James has shot over 54% for his career, while Jordan was around 51%. Now, it is true Jordan took a lot more shots and defenders could hand-check him, which gives Jordan fans an argument, but they also forget that teams couldn’t play a zone defense against Jordan, either.
Behind the three-point arc, even the biggest Jordan fan can’t argue this one. Jordan for his career was a 32% three-point shooter on 1.7 attempts per game, while James has been over 34% on 4.0 attempts per game for his career. Also keep in mind that the NBA, in an effort to increase scoring, moved the line in to 22 feet during the 1995, ’96, and ’97 seasons, which helped Jordan. In the end, I think there can be no doubt that James is the better shooter.
3) Lebron is a better passer
Lebron gets accused of passing too much, while Jordan has never been criticized for passing too much. I don’t even think there is room for debate on this point.
4) Lebron is the more complete defensive player
Jordan was an outstanding defensive player; this cannot even be debated. But with the Bulls, Jordan was not given the toughest defensive assignments — those went to scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. James can defend all five positions on the floor and, while defensively he is not what he used to be, he once was one of the most complete defensive players in NBA history.
5) Lebron is bigger, stronger, faster and smarter
Lebron’s basketball I.Q. is up there with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and physically the NBA has seen few like him.
James has made everybody better around him. The first Cavs team he helped get to the finals had no business even being there. Jordan was more of a “follow me or get out of the way” kinda guy. I will take the guy that makes everybody around him better.
7) NBA Finals appearances and playoffs
Jordan never made it to more than three NBA Finals in a row, while Lebron has made it to a mind-boggling seven straight and counting. Throw in the fact that Jordan didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs until his fourth attempt and Lebron has never lost in the first round. You can say that Jordan’s Bulls lost to Bird’s Celtics on two of those occasions, but they also lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the other. Meanwhile, people don’t give Lebron a break for losing this year to a loaded Warriors team in the playoffs, either.
8). Playoff Triple-Doubles
The score here is Lebron 18, Jordan 2. While triple-doubles are not a be-all-and-end-all, they do show that Lebron is a more complete versatile player that gets his teammates involved in the game.
9). Lebron is a different player than Jordan
Kobe Bryant will never be considered by most people to be equal or better than Jordan, and why? Bryant was just too similar to Jordan. James, on the other hand, is a very different player than MJ. James’s gifts are far more diverse than just scoring: His vision on the court and his leadership on and off the court are something Jordan doesn’t even come close to. It’s these differences that put James in the conversation with Jordan.
10). Lebron plays in a different era
The NBA was much different in the 1980s and 90s, as back then rosters were filled with large big men that were not always highly skilled players. Today’s athletes are much better physically. Guards were not as talented as a whole, you could find right-handed guards that were very limited when it came to using their left hand, and the ability to shoot the ball generally wasn’t as good.
11) Lebron has had more pressure
Magic and Bird made it easier for Jordan. Coming out of North Carolina he didn’t have a ton of pressure on MJ, and he wasn’t even the first player drafted in the 1984 NBA Draft. Lebron was expected to be the Second Coming starting at the age of 16 on, he was drafted number one, he had expectations that very few athletes if any have ever had coming straight out of high school, and he was a star from his very first NBA game all the way up to today. So when people try to say that he doesn’t handle big situations … well, I find that laughable.
12) Jordan would have a hard time playing today
Social media blows everything out of proportion these days. Would Jordan punching teammates be swept under the rug? Would late-night gambling habits be blown out of proportion? Yes, they would have and these are things the NBA never publicly dealt with when it came to Jordan. James has had a tougher road filled with land mines and for the most part has handled everything thrown at him for the most part with class. Would Jordan have dealt with social media and a hungry press looking for a bombshell story just as well?
13) It took great players around Jordan for him to win also
Today people act like Jordan was the sole great player on those Bulls teams of the 1990s and that simply wasn’t true. When Jordan left to play baseball in 1994, the Bulls lost in the final seconds of the Eastern Conference semifinals without Jordan to the New York Knicks. That Knicks team went on to lose in the finals in seven games to the Houston Rockets, so to suggest that only Lebron played on an all-star team would be false. The Bulls had four of the best players in the NBA on their roster in Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Toni Kukoc.
14) Jordan had a great coach
Phil Jackson is a Hall of Fame coach — Who did James have coaching his teams? He had guys like Erik Spoelstra and David Blatt. This is another often overlooked advantage that Jordan had. Plus Jordan played for three years under the legendary Dean Smith at North Carolina, while Lebron came straight out of high school.
15) Lebron brought a world championship to Cleveland
Cleveland had not won anything in almost half a century, I know the Bulls never won anything until Jordan got there but at least Chicago had the 1985 Bears. Taking Cleveland to a title was a HUGE accomplishment.
16) Lebron James IS CLUTCH
Do guys that shrink in big moments have this many clutch moments?
• 2007 East finals: 25 consecutive points vs. Detroit (05.31.07): As Steve Kerr said on the broadcast many years ago, James mounted a Jordan-esque campaign against the Pistons, scoring 25 straight points for the Cavaliers in every conceivable way.
• Game 6 vs. Celtics (2012): The last run of the “Big Three” Celtics ended when James put together a Game 6 performance for the ages and scored 45 points to eliminate his heated rival from the 2012 playoffs.
• Cramp-gate (2012): Michael Jordan had the “Flu Game”, and Lebron had his Cramp Game. LeBron James, one of the best-conditioned athletes in the world, was forced to leave Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals with leg cramps. He crumpled to the ground in that moment and appeared more human than he ever had before. After struggling to reach the sidelines, he returned with 2:56 left in the game and hit a clutch three-pointer to help Miami take a 3–1 series lead.
• LeBron’s block of Tiago Splitter in the Finals (2013): James’s history of series-altering blocks in the NBA Finals started here. The Spurs put together a clean pick-and-roll set for Tiago Splitter to turn and flush a dunk. James had other plans, as he flexed his strength and turned away the 6’11” center. After screaming for a few seconds, he even finished the offensive possession with a bullet pass to Ray Allen.
• Playoffs Game 4 buzzer-beater vs. Bulls (2015): With the Cavs a few seconds away from being down 3-1 to the Bulls, coach David Blatt designed a play that called for someone other than James to take the final shot. James would hear nothing of it. He called his own number, knocked down a three-pointer to win Game 4 and carried his team to an incredible comeback.
• The Block NBA Finals (2016): The Warriors had their top scorer, Stephen Curry, and best athlete, Andre Iguodala, trudging toward the basket in transition offense. None of this mattered after LeBron James erased what could have been a game-changing moment for the Warriors when he tracked down Iguodala and pinned his shot to the backboard, creating yet another banner moment.
I have many more moments I could add to this list, but I think my point has been made. My point is this James and Jordan are great players in their own right and there is a case to be made for James as the best ever. To ignore that case is to ignore history.