For much of the 2010s, internet users and broadcasters spent many hours discussing who was better between the two NBA legends. Older voices usually chose Jordan, the six-time NBA champion, and the younger generations often went with James, the current face of the league.
Scottie Pippen, who spent much of his career playing with Jordan on the Chicago Bulls, picked James when he originally cast his choice. However, the circumstances surrounding Pippen’s decision remain fascinating, nearly a decade later.
Scottie Pippen chose LeBron over Michael Jordan in 2011
It seems crazy to think that Scottie Pippen, who spent so much time with Michael Jordan, would pick LeBron James as the better player, right?
Things become far more interesting when one realizes that Pippen first provided his input during a 2011 appearance on ESPN’s Mike & Mike. Remember, this conversation took place a year before James won his first championship with the Miami Heat.
“Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game,” Pippen said. “But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will, but he keeps everybody involved.”
Pippen expanded on his thoughts, explaining why he — at that point in James’ career — was comfortable making his choice.
“You have to be on your P’s and Q’s on defense. No guy on the basketball court is a threat to score with LeBron James out there. Not only will LeBron dominate from the offensive end as well, but he’s also doing it on the defensive end, which really makes him the complete package. He’s able to get in those passing lanes, shoot those gaps and create transition opportunities where he is pretty much unstoppable.”
Again, Pippen made these comments in May 2011. James was about to play in his second NBA Finals, and he was still only 26 years old.
Pippen later backtracked on those comments
When Scottie Pippen went on a nationally simulcast show and picked LeBron James over Michael Jordan, the basketball world understandably reacted with shock.
Pippen had to do damage control, especially after James and the Miami Heat lost in that year’s NBA Finals. When speaking with reporters at a youth camp in June 2011, Pippen said his comments had been taken out of context.
“We all know that he’s the greatest player that ever played the game,” Pippen said of Jordan, according to ESPN.
Of course, one has to wonder what Pippen would have said if James had ended his first season in Miami with a championship.
The LeBron James and Michael Jordan debate is still raging on
This spring marks a full decade since Scottie Pippen chose LeBron James over Michael Jordan, and the debates are still happening in 2021.
James, to his credit, has won four NBA titles so far and is the greatest player of his generation. Now with the Lakers, James will easily enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame when his time arrives.
Pippen, for what it’s worth, said in 2017 that he believed James had passed Jordan from a statistical standpoint. Given that James turns 37 later this year and won’t play forever, it will be interesting to see where older NBA legends such as Pippen stand when James finally retires.