It might be the most hotly-debated topic in American sports. Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Both have hall-of-fame careers and have inspired countless athletes beyond just basketball. A strong argument can be made for either athlete.
Let’s start with Michael Jordan. Everyone knows his name. The famous Jumpman logo, plastered on the ever-famous Jordan series of shoes, is culturally iconic. His NBA career is just as iconic. Five league MVPs, six championships, six Finals MVPs, an undefeated record in the Finals and a plethora of other accolades.
He won three championships in a row with the Chicago Bulls and retired, then came out with his famous press release, stating two words, “I’m back” and won another three championships in a row.
Michael Jordan is perhaps the most dominant scoring force the NBA has ever seen. He still holds the league record for the highest career points-per-game and has the most scoring titles in NBA history, with 10.
Jordan was also a lock-down defender. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 1988, and made multiple All-Defensive teams. He is almost inarguably the best two-way player of all time.
Another strong candidate for that title is LeBron James. Drafted #1 overall at 18-years-old, straight out of high school, his expectations going into the league were higher than any player ever — and he surpassed them.
Four championships, four Finals MVPs, 10 trips to the Finals, another myriad of accolades and most recently — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. LeBron’s longevity as a player is unmatched. He’s played at an elite level for longer than anyone.
Everywhere LeBron has been, from Cleveland, to Miami, to Los Angeles, he has won. Regardless of where he ends up, he becomes the best player on a championship-winning team. He’s also one of the best passers and playmakers of all time, and cracked into the top five in assists total.
The debate comes down to what you value more in a player: longevity or dominance?
Jordan was a more dominant player, but his light didn’t shine as long. Jordan may have peaked higher, but LeBron played at a high level for longer. Jordan is undefeated in the Finals, but he didn’t make the Finals as often as LeBron has.
Many people bring up LeBron’s 4-6 record in the NBA Finals, but blindly stating a number based on a team accomplishment without any context doesn’t tell the full story. LeBron, despite being the best player on the court, was often punching up.
From 2007 against the San Antonio Spurs to 2018 against the Golden State Warriors, LeBron has had to make herculean efforts to just bring his team to the Finals — let alone win it. We would be remiss to not mention LeBron’s greatest achievement, winning the 2016 Finals.
LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit against a team with the best regular-season record of all time: The 73-9 Golden State Warriors. No team had ever come back from that position in NBA history.
Jordan was the king of the ‘90s. He was nearly untouchable. He never even had to go to a game seven in the Finals. He helped propel basketball into a global sport and that impact is impossible to measure.
Regardless of who your GOAT is, both players can and should be appreciated for what they’ve contributed to basketball, but we’re going with LeBron, he came back from being down 3-1 — who does that?