The GOAT debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James may go on forever, even after the latter retires from the NBA. Jordan won six championships and six Finals MVPs with the Chicago Bulls and went 6-0 in the Finals. Meanwhile, LeBron has captured four titles and four Finals MVPs, but he’s 4-6 in the Finals.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about who the greatest basketball player of all time is. However, Hall of Fame sports reporter Sam Smith, who covered Jordan during the ’90s and has written books about the Bulls legend, believes there’s one area LeBron will never catch His Airness in.
Michael Jordan is the best scorer ever, LeBron James is best all-around player
Jordan is the NBA’s all-time leader in points per game. He averaged 30.1 points with the Bulls and Washington Wizards and led the league in scoring 10 times. The six-time champion has also scored the most points in a playoff game (63).
Meanwhile, LeBron is the only player in NBA history to rank top 10 all-time in both scoring and assists, making him the best all-around player ever. He has career averages of 27.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers.
Even though LeBron has scored more career points than Jordan, the latter was a superior scorer since he averaged more points per game and won nine more scoring titles. The biggest knock on LeBron is that he has as many Finals losses under his belt as Jordan does championships. He also had one of the all-time choke jobs in the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
Jordan and LeBron fans have been fighting with each other for years over the GOAT debate. While he may not take issue with that, Smith doesn’t understand why people claim the King is just as big of an influencer as Air Jordan.
The one way LeBron James will never be like Michael Jordan, per Sam Smith
Both Jordan and LeBron are NBA legends and have done countless great things off the court. However, Smith doesn’t believe the latter is an influencer like the former is.
“No. I don’t think so at all. I’ve never seen anybody skipping down in the commercials, saying, ‘Be like LeBron.’ Obviously, it was commercial and marketing and all, but Jordan changed so much in the world and society—the long shorts, the shaved head, and, obviously, the sneakers,” Smith told Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker. “The sneakers were a revolution. Nobody thought that sneakers would be a fashion statement back in the early nineteen-eighties. Nobody thought it mattered if you put a player’s name on a sneaker. I remember friends of mine would be in Russia, and they sent me home these nesting dolls—the Bulls with Jordan and Pippen—things you would never see anywhere else. And you don’t see that with LeBron. LeBron’s a big figure and a great player, and he has an influence in society, but it didn’t change anything. Nobody has changed anything because of LeBron James.”
Jordan and the ’90s Bulls helped the NBA’s profile grow internationally. Everyone wanted to buy MJ’s shoes and be like Mike, and LeBron was one of those kids as well.
Maybe 20 years from now, we could see how large LeBron’s influence was. But for now, whenever someone brings up basketball, Jordan is usually the first name that comes to mind.
LBJ is two rings, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP away from tying MJ
LeBron is two championships, two Finals MVPs, and one regular-season MVP away from tying Jordan. He won his fourth title and fourth Finals MVP in 2020 after leading the Lakers to the title over the Heat.
While LeBron was part of the historic 2016 Cavs team that came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the Finals against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, it’s worth mentioning that Jordan never played in a Game 7 of the Finals. He also only trailed a Finals series twice. That’s how dominant he and the Bulls were in the ’90s.
If LeBron manages to win six championships and six Finals MVPs, the GOAT debate will become the loudest sports topic maybe of all time. Jordan fans will only be able to point out how MJ went 6-0 in the Finals, which is a pretty notable distinction. However, LeBron supporters will likely talk about how LBJ has faced tougher teams in the Finals than Jordan did.
It would be better if fans appreciated Jordan and LeBron’s greatness without constantly comparing them. However, one thing we have learned is that sports fanatics love to debate and compare.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.