Metta Sandiford-Artest‘s career spans multiple eras. Sandiford-Artest, who was known previously as Ron Artest as well as Metta World Peace, was in the NBA from 1999 to 2017. That means the former pro got to match up against both Michael Jordan and LeBron James during his playing days.
Being one of the few players who guarded both legendary players, Sandiford-Artest offered his input on the Jordan vs. LeBron debate. But the one-time champion made an interesting point in how the gap between MJ and the King in one particular area isn’t as large as some fans may think.
LeBron James is one of the strongest players in NBA history
If you took away all of LeBron James’ basketball ability, you would still see an incredibly strong human being.
At 6-foot-9 and 250 lbs, James has long been praised for his strength and athleticism. The King is one of the heaviest players in the NBA at his position, but he can also fly toward the hoop to finish a dunk or block opposing shots.
In a piece on The Players’ Tribune, Hall of Famer Paul Pierce went into more detail on how James’ strength makes him difficult to guard.
“His style of play just wears you out over the course of a game,” Pierce said. He’s constantly drawing fouls and getting and-one opportunities. The only way to stop LeBron from getting an and-one is to straight-up tackle him. Slapping down on his hands simply won’t work — he’s too strong.
“He’s just a caliber of physical specimen that this league has never seen before. A lot of the other guys I talk about on this list are tall, wiry, skinny, athletic types. But LeBron is just as athletic as they are, but he’s also stronger and faster. You can bet that after you guard LeBron, you’re going to be sore all over for the next few days.”Paul Pierce
But LeBron’s strength might have been matched by the one player he’s compared to the most.
Michael Jordan might have been just as strong as LeBron
James’ size and strength have always been considered an advantage over Jordan, arguably the only player standing in the way of The King’s quest to be the GOAT. But Sandiford-Artest pointed out that Michael was nearly as strong during his playing days.
“Jordan is strong,” Sandiford-Artest said to Shannon Sharpe on the Club Shay Shay podcast. “That’s the difference between Jordan and Kobe. Jordan is almost as strong as myself and LeBron. Not quite, but right there. And I’m sure the guys who played against him would say the same thing.”
Jordan came into the NBA at 195 lbs, while LeBron entered the league in 2003 at around 240 lbs. However, after getting battered around by the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, MJ committed himself to getting stronger in the weight room, eventually bringing his weight up to around 215 lbs.
“I would give him a certain amount of reps to do, but he would never stop at that number,” said Tim Grover, Jordan’s personal trainer. “If I asked for six, I knew he was going to do 12.”
Jordan was even strong at the end of his career
While Metta was young player during Jordan’s time, he was still one of the strongest players in the league. The forward was listed at 6-foot-7, 260 lbs, using his size to become a Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-Defense selection. But MJ was one of the few players who could match up strength-wise, even at an old age.
“I think Jordan would have given me 50 a couple of times,” Sandiford-Artest said. “The reason I say that is because even in my prime, he had 40 against us when he was old. I was an amazing defender, and Jordan had 40. So I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?'”
The game in question was January 4, 2003, Jordan’s last season. In a double-overtime thriller, MJ dropped 41 on Sandiford-Artest’s Indiana Pacers, leading the Washington Wizards to a 107-104 victory. Metta, however, was suspended at the time and had to watch from the bench.
Although LeBron may be more traditionally strong, Sandiford-Artest leads fans to believe that MJ and the King are much closer than we realize.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.