Written and Media by Brian Ehresman[divide]
The title “greatest ever” carries a lot of weight, especially when talking about one of the most popular sports in the world. It is also rarely a unanimous decision as to who deserves to own that title, and can lead to some heated and strongly opinionated debates.
It has been perceived since the late 1990’s that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game, after leading the Chicago Bulls to an astonishing six championships in the decade. Even since his retirement, basketball fans have been waiting on the “next MJ” and comparing every superstar to “Air Jordan.” The basketball world is beginning to realize that we may be in the middle of witnessing the only player of the current era who can challenge Michael Jordan’s title as the greatest basketball player of all time. That player is LeBron James.
James has long been thought of as the next big star in the game. Many of his high school games were broadcasted on ESPN, and he was drafted as the number one overall pick in 2003 at the age of 18. He has developed into a great physical specimen and has taken the league by storm with his dominance in attacking the basket and making others better.
The debate between Jordan and James normally begins with the amount of championships each has won. Jordan holds the clear advantage with six titles and a perfect 6-0 record in Finals appearances. James has not struggled to make Finals appearances but has not been able to finish like Jordan did in the 90’s. He has reached the championship round six times to match Jordan but has only cashed in on two of those opportunities.
Many will argue that Jordan had more help from his teammates to win those titles, with the likes of NBA legend Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Horace Grant. However, LeBron teamed up with superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami before the 2011 season to end that argument. Both players have enjoyed talented role players during the prime of their careers.
When looking at stats alone, Jordan holds only a slight advantage and we have to remember, LeBron is still playing, and not just playing, but performing at an extremely high level. MJ was named league MVP five times, compared to James’ four, while they have both been named to 11 All-NBA teams. Jordan’s career scoring average of 30.1 ppg is currently higher than LeBron’s 27.3. LeBron has averaged one more rebound (7.1 to 6.2) and nearly two more assists (6.9 to 5.3), however, while Jordan holds the steals advantage 2.3 to 1.7.
The stats that weigh in Jordan’s favor more heavily relate to defense. He won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 1988 and led the league in steals three times. He was also named to the All-Defensive first team nine times. James is certainly a good defender in his own right, as his size (6’8, 250 pounds) and athleticism is unmatched in league history and allows for him to shut down many opponents in late stages of the game.
The stats as they currently stand lean in the favor of Jordan, but what I think sets MJ apart from the rest is his killer instinct on the court and desire to win. Jordan led the NBA in scoring 10 times, and would do whatever it took for his team to gain the victory. In his infamous “flu game” Jordan led the Bulls to a victory in the 1997 NBA Finals with 38 points in the midst of having the flu and vomiting before and during the game. Jordan nearly always took the last shot and made sure that the game would rest on his shoulders. Honestly, LeBron James may make better overall basketball plays than Jordan did, but Jordan has taken more responsibility up to this point in late-game situations. James is gaining more and more clutch moments as time goes on, and we have to remember that he is still playing at a high level where many more opportunities are going to become available for him.
At this point, though, I still give the nod and title of greatest basketball player of all time to Michael Jordan, with LeBron James closing the gap. The debate continues, and may never end for the lofty title of “greatest ever.”
If you don’t want to take my word for it, I also caught up with freshman Daniel Saeli and sophomore Clayton Settle to debate the issue on who they believed was the better player.
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