THE SANTA CLARA
January 11, 2017
Down 3-1 to the reigning NBA champions and best team in regular season history, the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors, LeBron proceeded to cement his status as the best in the world. Sure, he had the help of some clutch shooting from Kyrie Irving, but LeBron was the primary messenger who delivered Cleveland its first championship in 52 years.
Last year, LeBron led both Finals teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, and showed why he is on track to finish his career as the best player of all-time. Despite some honorable mentions—Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant to name a few—not many dispute that Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all-time. So, if LeBron wants to take the throne as the best ever, he must go through Jordan.
While their game styles differ, the similarity in LeBron’s and Jordan’s pedigrees makes it tough to separate the two from a purely statistical standpoint. They both have been finals MVP in each year they won a championship. LeBron has one less league MVP in his career, four to Jordan’s five.
Meanwhile, James has already dished out more career assists than Jordan and his career averages are slightly less in points, while more in rebounds and assists. Most amazing of all is that James’ field goal percentage is merely 0.1 percent higher than Jordan’s.
Michael Jordan is a 10-time scoring champion as opposed to LeBron’s one, but James’ extraordinary value comes in his ability to get everyone involved and completely change the game with his athleticism. James is a physical freak that can play any position on the floor and the NBA has never seen anything like him.
Even if he does not match Jordan’s tally of six championships, it will not be the end of the debate. LeBron has excelled with less in his career. The big three in Miami could be likened to Jordan’s in Chicago, but James has never had the luxury of a Hall of Fame coach like Jordan did. Phil Jackson helped guide Jordan with Pippen and Rodman to years of domination. Contrarily, LeBron toiled in Cleveland under the likes of Mike Brown in the early years of his career before moving onto more young, unproven coaches like Spoelstra, Blatt and Lue.
In fact, stats would suggest that LeBron has had less talent around him, forcing him to carry his team more than Jordan. When Jordan took his hiatus from the league to play baseball, the Bulls were one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals at one point. When LeBron left the Cavaliers, they finished 19-63, while the Heat went 37-45 after James returned to Cleveland.
LeBron’s championship deficit will keep him at a distance from Jordan in the minds of most, but he’s on pace to catch the larger than life legacy of Jordan. Jordan and LeBron both won three championships in their age 31 season, and LeBron has actually appeared in more Finals.
If LeBron manages to win a couple more championships like he seems poised to do, he’ll have to go down as the best player in NBA history.
Ben Epstein is a senior finance major.
Articles in the Sports section represent the views of the individual authors only and not the views of The Santa Clara or Santa Clara University.