LeBron James has firmly established himself as an all-time great. James‘ accomplishments have pushed him into the GOAT conversation alongside Michael Jordan. Although many still believe Jordan holds that lofty mantle, Hall of Fame head coach Phil Jackson singled out the only way he sees the Los Angeles Lakers star passing the former Chicago Bulls great.
LeBron James continues to add to illustrious NBA legacy
Through James‘ first 18 NBA seasons, he has constructed a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume.
The Akron, Ohio, product has far exceeded the lofty expectations set before him when he entered the league. James has accomplished it all, winning four NBA titles and four Finals MVP awards, earning four regular-season MVP awards and 17 All-Star Game selections, and receiving a league-record 13 All-NBA First Team nods.
He holds the all-time mark with 17 All-NBA Team selections while being the only player to win an NBA title with three different teams as the Finals MVP. James currently sits third on the all-time scoring list, with an opportunity to move to the top spot before retiring.
All those accolades further fuel his involvement in the GOAT conversation, and Phil Jackson may have already laid out the only pathway for James to surpass Jordan
Phil Jackson sees only 1 way LeBron James can surpass Michael Jordan
Over the years, many have weighed in on the discussion that remains a part of James’ legacy.
It’s an ongoing discussion that has manning sitting torn on both sides. However, Phil Jackson, former Bulls and Lakers head coach, answered the question back in May 2013 during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show, where he narrowed it down to one factor required for James to top Jordan.
“I think a lot of people think he’s right there,” Jackson said. “I think better is only about championships. That’s the only measurement that’s left for LeBron that will say that he’s a better ballplayer than Michael or that people can argue it. It’s the number of championships that you win, and that’s proof in the pudding right there.
“He’s game is incredible. I think it’s incredible that he can play without fouling a lot of the time. He can play defense on almost everybody that is on the floor. He’s an unselfish ballplayer. He doesn’t lust to score as Kobe [Bryant] or Michael did, but when the need is there, he definitely finds a way to score. His game has continued to improve the last four or five years, and we don’t see what the limitations are going to be.”
At the time of Jackson’s comments, James was a two-time NBA champion and a month away from securing his third title, giving him a 2-2 record in the NBA Finals. The sentiment toward the star forward regarding the championship argument has shifted a bit since then, as he now holds a 4-6 mark in 10 Finals appearances.
Nonetheless, James’ career remains an open book with the chance to inch closer to that lofty goal.
Michael Jordan may always hold the upper hand
As James moves closer to two decades in the league, he continues to add impressive feats that only strengthen his legacy and resume.
The 36-year-old has firmly ingrained himself as one of the all-time greats. However, the path toward earning clear-cut recognition as the best player ever may never come to fruition. Many might never move Jordan off that prestigious throne regardless of what James accomplishes.
In January 2020, Jordan addressed the situation, voicing that playing in two different eras won’t truly settle the argument.
“We play in different eras,” Jordan said. “He’s an unbelievable player. He’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best player in the world. I know it’s a natural tendency to compare eras to eras. It’s going to continue to happen.
“I’m a fan of his. I love watching him play. But as you can see, our league is starting to expand on very talented players. I think he’s made his mark. He will continue to do so over a period of time. But when you start the comparisons, I think it is what it is. It’s just a standup measurement. I take it with a grain of salt. He’s a heck of a basketball player, without a doubt.”
Jordan has always publicly shot down the notion that he’s the greatest player due to his stern belief concerning eras. It’s an argument that James may never receive the recognition he desires, but he’s forever entrenched himself in the GOAT conversation.