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Michael Jordan Vs. Lebron James

By Veejai Ashbey

When I hear people, whether on ESPN, NBA TV, or the general public debate on the topic of Michael Jordan vs Lebron James, it really makes me question their basketball knowledge.

Now, James, wearing the number 23 in Cleveland, doing Jordan’s chalk toss intro, and tattooing Chosen One on his back, brought much of this upon himself.

Theres no argument over who the best player in the NBA today is, and that’s LeBron, but if we’re talking greatest of all time, then there’s no doubting that the winner is MJ.

Just based on some startling facts, there’s just no way LeBron could ever be better that Jordan. The most obvious, and the most important is NBA Finals performance. In Jordan’s career he made it to the Finals six times, won all six, and never got taken to a game 7.

Needless to say, he did all of this while averaging 34 PPG, 6 APG, & 6 RPG.

LeBron’s Finals appearances weren’t nearly as prosperous as MJ’s. In 2007, James was surrounded by arguably the worst team to ever make it to the Finals and got swept miserably by the Spurs.

After The Decision and all of the media backlash that followed, James went back to the Finals in 2011 and was the favorite to win it all. But when he turned into the ‘Frozen One’ averaging only a meager 2.2 points in 4th quarters, the Heat were put away in six games by the Mavericks.

Jordan on the other hand was the definition of a clutch athlete, never shrinking when the spotlight was at its brightest.

The last 45 seconds in game 6 of the 1998 Finals to me, epitomizes what the heart of a champion truly is. Sure, LeBron finally got the monkey off his back and won a title this past year in incredible fashion, but it doesn’t cover up the fact that he lost, twice, while MJ never lost at all. This alone stands to prove my point that LeBron and MJ just aren’t one the same planet. James is a physical specimen, and I’d consider him one of the top 10 players of all time, but he’ll never touch MJ as the best ever.

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  • Ross

    To simply state that the most obvious and important criteria upon which to evaluate greatness is NBA finals performance doesn’t make it true. People have been throwing this idea of “winners” and the “clutch gene” around for a long time, but evidence of this even existing is manifestly in short supply. Jordan both made and missed a lot of huge shots during his career, because Jordan was the best player in the world and because Jordan took a lot of huge shots.

    The thing about clutch stats is that by definition they are compiled from smaller data pools than what we actually have available or what has actually proven to be useful. Greatness is manufactured or manufactured away by manipulating variance. Beyond that though, LeBron’s stats in clutch situations are everything you’d ask for from the best player in the world: if you sort his advanced stats on NBA.com by “clutch,” you’ll see that he’s averaging almost 35 points, almost 11 rebounds, and almost 10 assists in clutch situations this season, and is doing so with a FG% well over 60%.

    And if LeBron’s earlier struggles are a strike against the player he’s become, Jordan’s apex should be indicted under the same logic. Jordan was in the league for more than half a decade before he even saw a championship game, and during this time he was an even more derisive figure than King James, with the establishment insisting his style of play could never win it all. And maybe they were right: the iconic Air Jordan of the ’80s and the Jordan who actually won all those titles were very different players. Just like the LeBron who lost with the Cavs and the LeBron who wins with the Heat are very different players.

    Also, to call LeBron a “physical specimen” I believe fails to take into account what’s made him so special the last couple years. The transformations he’s made to his game since leaving Cleveland may appear more subtle than the way Jordan improved his game, just because there was less of a precedent for the kind of player Jordan was in the ’80s, but the reality is that shifting from being an isolation-penetration guy to being more of a “team concept” isolation jumpshooter is kind of trivial compared to going from playing more or less like a massive point guard to suddenly having a mesmerizing post game. The way he’s added to his game is unprecedented, even by Jordan. No one has as many dominant components to their game as James today, nor has anyone in history. Who could possibly defend him? Anyone who was quick enough to stay with him in 2008, now he can just post them up and it’s game over. This is an edge that he worked deliberately to achieve, and while this is aided by the fact that he is just better built for basketball than Jordan was, it you can’t take away the fact that he has as great a mind for the game as any star before him. Check out this article Kirk Goldsberry wrote on his game’s evolution: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9109245/how-lebron-james-transformed-game-become-highly-efficient-scoring-machine I feel like lines like, “LeBron is a basketball scientist and his game is his laboratory” are more accurate to what he does than just noting how big and strong he is.

    Personally, my answer to the question here is the same as yours, depending on how you define greatness. Jordan was more exciting to watch, and his influence on the way the game is played is second maybe only to Irving. Additionally, the league was so different then and so unprepared for him that he was able to embarrass people in ways that even a technically sophisticated monster like LeBron can’t in today’s league. But it’s tough to imagine 1993 Jordan being able to find an answer for a player as quick, strong, giant and multifaceted as 2013 LeBron. And we both know that 1993 Pippen would have been the one guarding him anyway.