As the NBA offseason begins, we continue to ask the most controversial question in all North American sports: Who is the GOAT? Our 2 candidates are very clear. Is it His Airness, Michael Jeffery Jordan or it is the King, Lebron James?
Many different analysts have dedicated their whole careers to answering this amusing argument. Today, we will be assessing these 2 over the course of 3 different categories 1. Career Numbers & Achievements, 2. Playoff Success, and 3. Clutch Moments. *Just a quick disclaimer, I’m not an NBA analyst, I have no affiliates with any shows that do have NBA analysts, this comparison combines statistics as well as in-game impact to determine who the True GOAT is.
To start off our discussion today we are going to look at Career Numbers & Achievements. Up to the time of this article, Lebron James boasts career averages of 27.2PPG 7.2APG 7.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG on 50.4% shooting and a 27.7 PER . Since entering the league in 2003, James has had yearly averages of 25-5-5 on 50% shooting 8 times, while the rest of the league has only done it 4 times. James is a 4-time MVP, 3-time champion, 3-time Finals MVP, has made the All Star game 14 times, and made 13 All NBA teams, 12x being first team. He posts one of the longest, most decorated and distinguished NBA rap sheets ever. He’s been named All Defensive 6 times(5x 1st Team) and was named the 2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year. He scored a career high of 61 points in a victory on March 3rd of 2014 against the then- Charlotte Bobcats, playing for the Miami Heat. During the game he made 22 of 33 shots including an amazing 8 of 10 from the 3 point line, which still stands as a career high.
On the contrary, Michael Jordan posts career averages of 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG 2.3 SPG on 49.7% shooting and hangs a 27.9 PER. Jordan is a 6-time NBA Champion along with a 6-time Finals MVP, 5-time regular season MVP and a DPOY award in 1987 to his credit. He is a 14 time All Star, 11x All-NBA selection(10x First Team) and a 9x All Defense selection (All First Team) and won Rookie of the Year in 1985. With the many similarities that these 2 possess, a glaring difference would be that Jordan has won an astounding 10 scoring titles while James has only attained the title of scoring champion once. Jordan has also lead the league in steals 3 times while James has not ever in his career.
Lebron certainly has time left to claim many more accolades that will put him over the top and in a class of his own, but until he does, I believe the edge has to go to Michael Jordan. You can argue that Bron’s extra rebound and 2 more assists could put him over the top but Jordan averages 3 more points which can decide a game while also being a consistent top tier defender circa his 9x 1st Team All Defense selections.
Shifting gears into where the legacy is really made. That good ol’ Playoff Success can make or break any argument. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘Jordan easily takes the cake with his 6-0 record in the finals compared to Lebron’s 3-6′; however that will not be the deciding factor of who wins the Playoff Success argument. The Finals is where the champions are made, but you don’t make it to the Finals every year (well Lebron can but..)
We start our discussion in 1985 where a Young Michael Jordan made his playoff debut averaging an astounding 29.3PPG against the Milwaukee Bucks. However, beat in this First Round series, it wouldn’t be his only time losing in the 1st Round. In each of his first 3 seasons, a young Michael Jordan had his Chicago Bulls teams exiting in the First Round twice losing to the hands of the Boston Celtics; and when he did make his Second Round debut he would be eliminated by the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. These early playoff failures didn’t stop Jordan from performing. In each of the series’, he was eliminated in during his first 6 years in the NBA Jordan put up 29.3PPG ,43.7PPG , 35.7 PPG , 27.4PPG, 29.7PPG, & 32.1 PPG respectively.
Then came the 1991 NBA Playoffs where Jordan would start his playoff success, making light work of anyone who stepped in his way en route his first NBA championship against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, defeating them in 5. The stats finally matched the performance in 1991 when the Finals series Jordan averaged 31ppg-11apg-6rpg on 56% shooting in 44 minutes. Dethroning an older Magic Johnson was just the beginning for Michael as he would defeat Clyde Drexler and the Blazers in 1992 and Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in 1993 en route to his first ever three peat. Then Michael Jordan did something that only Michael Jackson would do; while at the top of the basketball world, he walked away from the game that he had dominated to 3 straight championships.
I would go into Jordan’s baseball career but….. (let’s save some time)… Jordan would return in 95’ returning half way through the season, facing an up-and-coming Orlando Magic team including a young nucleus of Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Horace Grant. Unfortunately, due to his time away from the court and the amazing efforts of Shaq and Penny, the Magic would dismantle the Bulls in 6 games. Jordan would post an impressive 31 PPG 6.5 RPG & 3.7 APG. Mind you, the man just came back from swinging a minor league baseball bat for 2 years, but we’re not here to make excuses.
BUT, when Jordan got a full summer to prepare, he didn’t lose. He would sweep the Magic team that defeated him the season prior in the Conference Finals this time; averaging 29.5PPG 5.5 RPG and 4,8 APG. In the end, Jordan would add 3 more championships to his belt in 1996-98 defeating Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and the Supersonics, and the Utah Jazz back to back years. In those last 3 finals, Jordan would not post less than 27 PPG in any of the Final Series, averaging 32.3 & 33.5 in each of the series against the Jazz. Including…. *Plays final shot over Byron Russell*
Lebron James’ playoff career started when he was a little more established than MJ making his debut in 2006 as a 3rd year mans for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he would not disappoint averaging 35.7PPG 7.5 boards and 5.7 assists on 51% shooting in the 6 games it took the Cavs to defeat Washington, dominating the Wizards almost effortlessly with scores 45, 38, and 41 during the series to knock off Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas. James would continue to perform in the next series against the Detroit Pistons who were 2 years off of defeating the 1st super team of the 2000s in the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004. James and the Cavs would take the dangerous Pistons to the brink before falling to them in 7 games. In the series, Lebron averaged 26.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG & 6 APG on 44% shooting against that stingy championship defense that the Pistons possessed; but, he would not have to wait long for his revenge.
Facing off against that same Detroit Pistons team the following year in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals…. James would not accept losing as he willed his team to a gutty series win in 6 games, including a historic 48 point performance in Game 5 where he would score 25 straight points including 29 of the last 30 to give the Cavs a 109-107 win and a 3-2 series lead. Unfortunately, starting in the 2007 Finals, the next few years would not be happy times for Lebron because just like Jordan, he hit his stride of playoff misfortunes.
In the 2007 Finals he swept by the San Antonio Spurs and didn’t really perform to the level we’re use to; shooting 36% from the floor and only averaging 22 PPG. Despite averaging 26.7 PPG in the series, the following year, Lebron would be dropped by the Boston Celtics in 7 games, in the Semifinals and in 2009 while almost averaging a 40 point triple double he would be eliminated in 6 games by the Dwight Howard who led the Orlando Magic team.
2010 brought new opportunities but resulted in eventual and almost annual disappointment as he would be terminated by the Celtics again, this time in 6 games. With this being his 3rd year in a row falling short to make the Finals, Lebron had to make a decision in free agency and that’s exactly what he did; making “The Decision” to join DWade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
In his 8th season in the league, facing the most scrutiny we’ve ever seen in North American Sports (until KD did KD things), Lebron led the Heat to the NBA Finals, and with an above average supporting cast he would win the championship right?….. not exactly. Having one of the most epic drop offs in NBA history seemingly disappear in 3 straight 4th quarters against the Mavs including an atrocious Game 4 in which he only scored 8 points for the entire game; going into Year 9, a change could be seen.
A new level of focus became apparent in 2012 for Lebron and the Heat as they steam rolled past the competition to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 Games, claiming his first NBA Championship and Finals MVP. Maintaining that success the following year with the help of a Ray Allen, 3 in the waning moments of Game 6 he claimed his 2nd Championship following a 37 pt- 12 rebound Game 7 performance against the Spurs.
Now, let’s fast forward to the 2016 NBA Finals. ‘Bron, once again a member of the Cavaliers is back in the Final series. In the time leading up, he had not claimed another championship since defeating San Antonio in 2013. Questions continue to rise as the best player in the world had only won 2 rings at the time of his rematch with the 73-9 Golden State Warriors behind 2-time MVP Stephen Curry. Down 3-1 ‘Bron dealt with the adversity and scrutiny the only way you’d expect the King to do so. In Games 5 & 6, he would score 41 points and make devastating play after devastating play to scratch and claw his Cavaliers back into the Finals, forcing a Game 7 in Oracle Arena in Oakland. With the help of a Kyrie Irving, James and the Cavs defeated Golden State overcoming the 3-1 deficit he once faced, and winning his 3rd championship and finals MVP.
In 2017, James faced a far more advanced Warriors team that just added Kevin Durant. Even though it was in a losing effort, James still managed to average 33.6 points 12 rebounds & 10 assists in a 5 game span in the 2017 NBA finals.
In 2018, James took a sub-par team with no other All Stars outside of Kevin Love, who struggled within the year to yet another NBA Finals after beating the Pacers & Celtics in 7 and sweeping the Toronto Raptors, whom at the time had the best record in the eastern conference. Even though James’ team got swept by a far superior team, he showed up giving a great effort averaging 34 points 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds on 52% shooting from the field.
Michael Jordan will always be the champion of champions as he’s never lost and never even seen a Game 7 in the Finals. However, I believe the edge will go to Lebron for the reason that 1. He’s never been eliminated in the 1st round. 2. Has played in and won 2 Game 7s in the Finals with incredible performances in each playoff finale and 3. Has achieved more with lesser teams; no team he has brought to the playoffs will compare to Jordan’s Bulls teams.
Tied 1-1 going into the final category. What more did you really expect? And what category is more fitting than Clutch Moments? Now everybody remembers the shot on Ehlo, everyone remembers the 3 point bomb against the Magic, everyone remembers the shrug against Portland and of course the block against the Warriors. Both these guys are clutch personified. Time after time they’ve had to make a play and whether you believed if they’d make it or not, the play was made. This topic isn’t going to be decided by numbers and percentages; this topic isn’t even going to be decided by me.
Go back and take a look. Look at every Jordan and Lebron clutch moment that made you say, “Wow!”, that moment that just completely blew you back and made it hard for you to comprehend how something like that is even possible on a basketball court. We get so caught up in comparisons that we forget how great these 2 really are.
With that being said, I’m out of here.