LeBron James’ two decades of effort to establish himself as a contender for the greatest basketball player of all time have paid off. Having surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s points record, James has officially become the NBA’s all-time scorer. However, does this title of “New Scoring King” make him the greatest basketball player of all time? Michael Jordan has long been given that title by many basketball fans, not to mention Netflix and ESPN’s recent ten-part documentary series highlighting Jordan’s contributions to the Bull’s successes. Two undoubted legends of the sport, both have written history with their achievements, becoming ambassadors of the NBA. But which of the two has been the bigger winner?
Here are three reasons for either of these giants being better than the other.
LeBron Has Taken Over
He lifts up a whole team
In basketball, many great players succeeded as parts of great teams. However, unlike Jordan, James led an arguably average Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA championship in 2016. In each subsequent season with them until he left to join the LA Lakers in 2018, James’ leadership in getting the Cavs to the finals was also a truly special achievement. While the Cavs ended up losing those subsequent finals, it was only because James faced a stacked Golden State Warriors team with far more individual quality than the Cavs. In both Cleveland and LA, James has proven that he can be a true leader, making everyone else around him bring their A-game.
Bigger, stronger and more defensive
Both James and Jordan are amazing offensive players that can dominate games like few others. But James also has the edge over Jordan in terms of defense. Around 25-30 pounds heavier, two inches taller and with a significantly longer wingspan, James is much more of physical presence on the court. This makes him able to defend all five positions on the floor, from point guards to power forwards. James also leads his team to defend as a unit, making it that much more effective. If they had ever played each other, James could have likely come out on top in terms of defense.
James is also a better passer than Jordan ever was. He averages 7 assists per game, while the Bulls and Wizards star had only 5.3 assists in an average game. Unlike Jordan, James has no problem letting go of the ball and passing it to a teammate. His ability to read the game and other players and involve his team when needed makes him that much harder to play against (maybe even “unguardable”), rather than an individual who keeps the ball all the time. Providing teammates with key assists are a big part of James’s game, whereas Jordan was always seen as more of a selfish player.
Jordan Was The Best
No one could split a defense to score the game-winning shot like Jordan could. His dribbling, jumping, footwork and lethal scoring ability made him a nightmare to defend against. His lightning-fast first step often left opponents in the dust while he created space to score. It took until 2019 for someone (James) to pass Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring records for most points scored on average during a season. Offensively, Jordan was just unstoppable.
Jordan is very likely to have been the most clutch player that has ever played the game. This means that he was able to raise his game when the pressure was the highest. His game winner, during his last Chicago Bulls game to secure the championship and his second three-peat with the team, stands out. Jordan won the NBA finals MVP award six times, compared to James’s four times. Sure James is now the NBA top scorer of all time, but Jordan was known as a king at scoring the game-winning shot in the final seconds of play. On the other hand, James still struggles to shed his reputation as a “choker,” for having fallen direly short in big moments. Jordan is better because he always delivered the good when it really mattered.
Jordan is probably the biggest brand ambassador that basketball and the NBA have ever had. He was a mythical player, who moved and scored in ways that set him apart from everyone else. His fadeaway jump shot. His up-and-under finish. His ability to make it look easy to slip by the other team’s defense. Jordan’s unique technique allowed him to jump in the air and ‘hang’ there that many fractions of a second longer than others. He could pull off dazzling moves that excited fans everywhere and brought many new ones to the sport. It was his almost alien talent that set him apart, landing him a role in the 1996 Looney Tunes movie Space Jam (which earned more than James’ 2021 Space Jam sequel) and making him a global household name.
The Bottom Line: While Jordan was more of a flashy individual talent, James is a fantastic team player. Every conversation about who is the greatest NBA player of all time will undoubtedly include these two iconic names. Where do you stand? Do you prefer James’ team-spirit or Jordan’s unique attacking ability?