For better or worse, sports fans love to debate against one another. In the world of basketball, though, one topic reigns supreme over all others: Is Michael Jordan or LeBron James the GOAT. In recent years, everyone from Isiah Thomas to Barack Obama has weighed in on the matter, with seemingly everyone having a slightly different opinion.
In a recent podcast appearance, Shaquille O’Neal also offered his two cents. While the big man seems to give His Airness the edge right now, he did give LeBron James a concrete way to overtake him in the GOAT rankings.
LeBron James and Michael Jordan are two of basketball’s all-time greats
At the most basic level, there’s nothing controversial about saying that Michael Jordan and LeBron James are two of basketball’s all-time greats. Things get more complicated, however, when you start to argue that one man is better than the other.
Those who argue in favor of Jordan highlight his overall dominance. While he won six championships in two separate three-peats, His Airness was more than just an athlete: he was a legitimate pop-cultural presence. MJ redefined the game of basketball; today, almost everything we associate with the sport, from sneakers to slam dunks, started with him.
In more recent times, LeBron James has been cast as the heir to Jordan’s throne. While some insist that comparing the two men is an exercise in futility—they’re two different players, and the NBA has changed quite a bit since His Airness retired—the fact that there’s even a legitimate debate highlights the underlying truth: both Jordan and James are legitimate legends.
Shaquille O’Neal thinks he knows what it takes to surpass Michael Jordan as the GOAT
During his time as a player, Shaquille O’Neal faced both Michael Jordan and LeBron James. While the Big Aristotle doesn’t think that King James is the GOAT just yet—he’s previously said, as documented by Bleacher Report, that he believes MJ is the greatest to ever hit the hardwood—, he did outline what the LA Lakers star has to do to get there.
“I know LeBron, and I know he thinks about what people think,” O’Neal explained on CBS Sports’ All Things Covered podcast, according to Sportsnet. “So right now, he has four [championships]. Once he gets five—just think about it, he already passed Kobe [Bryant] and [Michael] Jordan in points. Once he gets five championships, now he’ll be closer to the GOAT.”
There’s also another target on the table for James, though: the all-time scoring title.
“I think he’s looking to pass Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], right, to get to 39,000 [points], and then that’ll automatically put him as the best player,” Shaq said. “I think LeBron is looking to tie Kobe and tie Jordan with championships, and I think he is looking to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabar. The conversation probably will change.”
Can LeBron James legitimately accomplish those two tasks?
Tying Michael Jordan in all-time championships and passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list are two major accomplishments that would enhance any resume. While no one can predict the future, LeBron James has a decent chance at accomplishing both of them.
In regards to the former, James would need to win two more championships to tie His Airness’ six titles. Although the odds aren’t necessarily in his favor—only one team can win a championship each season, which can create a time crunch for an older player like LeBron—he does have one thing working in his favor. As the NBA’s current top dog, he can, to some extent, pull rank; if James wants to join a certain team or play alongside a certain star, he has the clout to make anything (within reason) happen.
On the scoring front, James sits about 4,000 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list. While that might sound like a pretty wide margin, it isn’t that significant; even if you use some pretty conservative estimates, like averaging 20 points per game and playing 60 games per season, James can reach the top of the mountain in a maximum of four campaigns.
As Shaq said, it will be tough to argue with LeBron James’ resume if he retires with six NBA championships and the top spot on the all-time scoring list. Is that enough to make him the GOAT ahead of Michael Jordan, though? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.
Stats and records courtesy of Basketball-Reference