It’s a debate regularly discussed on sports radio and the numerous television sports networks — between Michael Jordan and LeBron James, who is the greatest NBA player of all time, the GOAT? According to one poll of NBA players, there’s a clear-cut answer and it’s not even close.
Michael Jordan by the numbers
In Michael Jordan’s 15 NBA seasons, he’s No. 5 on the all-time scoring list with 32,292 points but more impressively, finished his career with a regular-season average of 30.1 points per game. He led the NBA in that offensive category an incredible 10 times, his highest average in the 1986-87 season a staggering 37.1 points per contest.
In the postseason and clutch time, Jordan got even better as his points per game average increased to 33.4. In his 13 years of playoff appearances, he led the league 11 times in scoring. Jordan also excelled on the defensive side of the ball leading the NBA in steals three different seasons.
For his individual achievements, Jordan’s awards include: 1984-85 Rookie of the Year, 11-time All-NBA, Defensive Player of the Year in 1987-88, 9-time All-Defensive Team, 14-time All-Star, 3-time All-Star MVP, and 5-time League MVP.
All the individual statistics are great, but in team sports, the overall greatness of an individual athlete must be measured in how well his team performed. In Jordan’s case, the Chicago Bulls won six titles and he was named the Finals MVP each championship-winning season. To further prove Jordan’s overall importance to the team, the two years he took a hiatus to pursue baseball, 1993-1995, the Bulls failed to win the title.
LeBron James by the numbers
In LeBron James’ 17 NBA seasons, he moved past Jordan and Kobe Bryant in the last year to No. 3 on the all-time scoring list at 34,087 points. His regular-season scoring average is 27.1 points per game. He has led the league in that category once in the 2007-08 season at 30.0 points per game.
When it comes to playoffs, like Michael Jordan, LeBron James’ numbers increase over his regular-season average to 28.9 points per game. In his 13 years of playoff appearances, James has led the league in postseason scoring three times.
Individually, James’ awards are impressive and include: 2003-04 Rookie of the Year, 15-time All-NBA, 6-time All-Defensive Team, 16-time All-Star, 3-time All-Star MVP, and 4-time League MVP.
Unlike Jordan, James wasn’t always surrounded by the greatest supporting cast and earned his titles on multiple teams with Miami and Cleveland. James has won three titles and like Jordan, was named the Finals MVP each year.
Who do NBA players think is the GOAT?
- Michael Jordan (73%)
- LeBron James (11.9%)
- Kobe Bryant (10.6%)
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1.7%)
- Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant (1%)
While many will assume Jordan’s status as GOAT is etched in stone, James isn’t finished. In the 2019-20 season, James and the Los Angeles Lakers looked like title contenders with a 49-14 record and stood atop the Western Conference standings when the league suspended play.
There is a chance the season resumes, and James wins a fourth title, inching closer to Jordan. Whether he earns another title this season or more in the future remains uncertain. One thing, however, is absolutely certain—there’s always going to be a debate about who is the GOAT.