Crunch Time – Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James

Basketball fans like to revel in the great debate as to who is the greatest of all time. This usually starts with a Top10 list as to who should be included in the rarified air that is the NBA’s Mount Olympus. 

Among the usual suspects spanning the ages are Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant

Well, there’s eight of 10, I wonder if we can think of two more that might be worthy of basketball immortality? Oh, yes, that Jordan fella who won six NBA championships, he might qualify. And who else? Hmmm, ah, yes, the man whose last name is a first name. James something or other. Those two would do just fine!

Tale of the Tape

Unless you have forgotten your morning cup of coffee or don’t know the NBA from the PGA, the two names at the top of anyone’s list are Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Unfortunately, they never played against each other, with Jordan’s career ending in 2003 while LeBron broke into the league the following season. 

Although LeBron’s 2020-2021 season was supremely disappointing, with the Lakers getting bounced in the first round after winning the NBA championship last year, it is also interesting to note that according to the NBA ATS standings this season, the LA Lakers ranked 25th of 30 teams. This illustrates they not only fell short in the playoffs but failed to live up to their lofty expectations at the betting windows throughout the season.

However, the legacy Jordan left and the one LeBron is carving serves as fertile soil for the great debate as to who is the greatest to ever grace the hardcourt. Let’s set the stage and discuss their legendary accomplishments as a basis of comparison.

Michael Jordan (6’6” shooting guard, 3rd overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft)

  • 6× NBA champion (1991–1993, 1996–1998)
  • 14× NBA All-Star (1985–1993, 1996–1998, 2002, 2003)
  • 5× NBA Most Valuable Player (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998)
  • 6× NBA Finals MVP (1991–1993, 1996–1998)
  • 10× NBA scoring champion (1987–1993, 1996–1998)
  • NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1988)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1985)

LeBron James (6’9” small forward, 1st overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft)

  • 4× NBA champion (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)
  • 17× NBA All-Star (2005–2021)
  • 4× NBA Most Valuable Player (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)
  • 4× NBA Finals MVP (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)
  • NBA scoring champion (2008)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2004)

Playoff Stats

They say that the true measure of a great player is how he performs during crunch time when the game is on the line and you need that one go-to guy to make that game-winning bucket. And there is no grander stage than the playoffs where those monumental shots become the sepia-toned snapshots that go down in the annals of NBA history. Let’s review Michael Jordan’s and LeBron James’ playoff stats.

Michael Jordan

Playoff Games – 179

Record: 119-60 (66.5%)

Points Per Game – 33.4

Field Goal Percentage – 48.7%

Three-Point FG Percentage – 33.2%

Rebounds Per Game – 6.4

Assists Per Game – 5.7

Steals – 2.1

Minutes Played Per Game – 41.8

LeBron James

Playoff Games – 266

Record: 174-92 (65.4%)

Points Per Game – 28.7

Field Goal Percentage – 49.5%

Three-Point FG Percentage – 33.7%

Rebounds Per Game – 9.0

Assists Per Game – 7.2

Steals – 1.7

Minutes Played Per Game – 41.5

The Great Debate is a Jump Ball

It has often been said that LeBron James is the superior all-around athlete, with a physique chiseled in granite while MJ is silky smooth and almost lithe compared to LeBron. However, when it comes to making the biggest shots at the most crucial times it is hard to argue that Jordan wasn’t more of a stone-cold killer in that regard. Jordan’s obsession with winning is legendary and that extends to his renowned gambling exploits.

Kevin Durant was asked by Jay Williams on the ESPN show “The Boardroom”, how Michael Jordan would fare in today’s game, “He can adapt his game to anything. He would fit in as the best player in the league. That’s what he would be. He would have more possessions to do more things. More space for M.J. to go to work. We’ll never know, but for sure he’s a masterful basketball player, and like we’ve been saying his skill level is unmatched.”

Magic Johnson shares his opinion regarding the MJ vs. LeBron debate, “LeBron James, to me, when you think about all-around basketball players, he’s probably the best of all time… But when you want to say who’s the greatest ever, it’s still Michael Jordan. 

Now, LeBron James’ chapter is not closed yet, right? He still has some basketball to play. So maybe he has a chance to catch him later on if he can get some more championships under his belt. But at the end of the day, they’re both great, and they play the game right way, they make their teammates better, they’ve won championships, and thank God for LeBron, because right now, that’s what we’re watching. We’re watching LeBron James.”