Before I start this thought piece, I want everyone who reads this to know that Jordan is still the greatest basketball player in my brain. He is NOT THE BEST, but he is the greatest. Those are two separate arguments for another day. Now that I have stated that, Lebron is the 2nd greatest basketball player ever, and it is not close in my opinion. The distance Jordan and himself have made among their contemporaries is vast and should not be debated. I should preface all of this with the meaning of greatest and best.
Being the greatest has to do more with just the skill on the court, it has to do with impact and hardware. Jordan is the greatest because his impact and hardware far exceeds anyone else, but also his skill is on mastery level. Being the best has to do with just your skill on the court and only that. Hardware does not affect how skilled you are as a player because many skilled individuals have played this game, but not many have hardware. Lebron is the best player ever because he has no true holes in his game. He can play 1-5 if he “wanted” too and that is a key thing because he rarely wants to play the Power Forward or the Center position. If Lebron came out as the starting center for the playoffs, many would not dismiss it. If Jordan came out as the starting Power Forward, people would have called Phil Jackson crazy. Being the best at something does not mean you’re greater than someone else, but that is not what this post is focusing on. Lebron is stepping on Jordan’s yard and Jordan is watching him through the window.
Now before I start, I want to ask all the Jordan fans to be open while reading this. Do not put this on my age because that has nothing to do with any of this. Many kids my age believe Jordan is the best and have never watched him play. I cannot be one of those people because it goes against everything anyone has taught me. We have to analyze the facts and circumstances around both individuals. We have to accept the fact that Lebron will pass Jordan in every major statistical category when it is over. The only thing Jordan will have on Lebron are the rings and that is still up in the air because his career is not over. Jordan is a hallowed figure that most hold to a certain level and will not allow anyone to step in his realm. It is the same with Biggie and Tupac. The moment anyone attacks their G.O.A.T status than they do not know anything about anything, so for the minutes that you are reading this, I want you to listen to this debate.
Success is relative, so I must start off with saying that Lebron has been widely successful in the league. Playing through the social media era and the hype surrounding his arrival can only be compared to the likes of Wilt Chamberlain. Lebron was supposed to be the heir apparent to Jordan and his first two years in the league he missed the playoffs. After that he has always made the playoffs, and had success while there. In his fourth year in the league, Lebron took the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals in 2007, coming off an amazing performance in the Conference Finals. This let the world know that he was ready for the spotlight even though he exceeded expectations. Expectations went from if he will win a championship to when will he win one. Throughout that time, management tried to acquire a second star to put beside him. They signed Larry Hughes, traded for Ben Wallace, and also traded for Mo Williams. Now with expectations comes a huge possibility to fail. throughout his first eight years in the league, Lebron lived up to all the hype minus the rings. He was a Rookie of the Year, a 2x MVP, and a 7x All NBA player. The only thing escaping him was that ring. Since then he has still been great and accomplished more than many. He has been an All NBA player every year since, added two more MVPs (putting him one behind Jordan), and added three rings to that equation. Besides for that he has created winners as well. His success as a leader is unparalleled and needs to be a factor when weighing these two men.
Lebron as a leader is very well documented because many guys have come out and stated how much Lebron has helped them in their careers. From the likes of JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kyrie Irving, and others he has helped change the narrative of these guy’s careers on and off the court. Besides for helping his teammates, Lebron has been a constant symbol for how a superstar should be and this should count when we judge players. Off the court, Lebron is a husband and father of three children. He has never been in a scandal that would damage the way we view his character, but also he has perspective. Lebron knows that basketball is not everything and he does not show his obsession for it the way Kobe or Jordan did. He wants his team to experience the spotlight and want them to be happy while playing with him. He sacrifices his personal numbers for the team. Lebron could score 30 a game like Jordan and Kobe did, but he wants his teammates to love playing with him instead of put up with him. Jordan has harassed, fought, and bullied his teammates off the court multiple times. He punched Steve Kerr in the face at a practice once and also punched Will Perdue; because these guys were not the star of the team, their teammates protected Jordan. Even knowing Jordan was in the wrong they protected him. Incidents like that would not have happened today because practices have many media personnel there, but that should show the difference, Lebron embraces his teammates and through that embrace they play above their skill level for him. That cannot be said for Jordan
This taps into my argument that Lebron is the best player ever because he has virtually no flaws to point out besides free throw shooting. First let’s examine his offensive game because that is not the best part about him. Lebron has a decent mid-range shot. He shoots about 39% from 3-21 ft. Jordan has him in this department because he was a lethal shooter from those ranges. We do not have statistics of his Chicago years, but we do have them for his Washington years. While in Washington he shot around 43% from the same distances as Lebron. Everywhere else though Lebron trumps Jordan at. Lebron is a better passer than Jordan, but the bigger thing is he is more willing to pass the ball. Lebron’s career assist percentage is 35%. Assist percentage means while the selected player is on the court, how many of their team field goals are assisted by him. Jordan’s percentage was 24% for his entire career and only was over 30% twice. Open yourself up to the fact that the triangle is created to encourage isolation basketball than you can understand these number while he was with Phil Jackson. Just do not forget that Jordan had willing shooters and teammates who could score. Guys like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen proved themselves to be very reliable scorers without Jordan. The difference in skill is very finite, but with these two we have to split hairs. That leads me to the last section.
Defensively Lebron is a force that has to be reckoned with. He is an amazing off ball defender and continuously stops an opposing team’s offense by just being on the court. As an on ball defender he is ferocious as well. The key moment in this was in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, where the Heat dismantled the top seeded Bulls. Lebron in Game 2 started to defend Derrick Rose and made him virtually ineffective. Jordan is arguably one of the greatest defenders ever because his tenacity was unmatched. he was quick enough for smaller guards and was strong enough to defend bigger guards as well. Lebron’s versatility is why I love his defensive game because he can guard anyone and hold his own weight. He worries any offensive player who has a fast break layup because of his chase down blocks, and he disrupts any team’s offense off ball by being the smartest man on the court.
Every great players are defined by the moments they leave with you and not the totality of their careers. Kobe is known for his game winners, but people forget that he is one of the worse clutch shooters ever. The difference is he takes those shots every time and people respect a man who wants the pressure even if it’s at a detriment to the team. Shaq is known for his domination of Dikembe Mutombo in the Finals, but Shaq was a very skilled player who did not just dunk over everyone. These moments define people in every sport from the likes of Lionel Messi in soccer, Derek Jeter in baseball, and Tom Brady in football. Every great player has a moment on the biggest of stages that helps change the narrative on that specific player. Eli Manning is a perfect example for this, but that is for another piece. Now when it comes to Jordan and Lebron the thing that most people state is that “Jordan had the shot and Jordan was 6 for 6 in the Finals” and I agree. We do revere everything Jordan has done and it is kind of nostalgic. I love watching clips of Jordan and seeing every great thing he has done, but why do we always give qualifiers for his shortcomings?? I believe it is because we love what he did to finish his career that we modify the nuance of his career. Jordan was a failure in the beginning of his career and you cannot change that fact. He failed against the Celtics, but people say he was young and those Celtic teams were great. He failed against the Pistons, but we say they created the Jordan rules specifically for him and fouled him hard. He still failed he had to persevere through those moments and he did the same way Lebron persevered. The problems he went through were the same that Lebron went through, but we never gave him the benefit of the doubt. I contribute that to the fact that we are living in Lebron’s age and we are far removed from Jordan’s career.
Lebron has many moments that once his career is over, we will look back on with astonishment. The most notable one is the one that tore my heart out and that is his block of Andre Iguodala in the 2016 Finals, but he has more besides for that. We can talk about him jumping over John Lucas in 2012, or his game winner versus the Pacers in the 2013 Conference Finals, and many more that we can name. Lebron has moments that rival Jordan’s, but are you open to agreeing with that statement. The only thing that hurts his case is his complete no show in the 2011 Finals. People love to give credit to Jason Terry for schooling Lebron, but it actually should go to Rick Carlisle. Carlisle had a great game-plan for Lebron and psychologically schooled him. The zone defenses I believed took him out of the game mentally and he has to live with that. The greatest thing about Lebron in this part of his career is his mind and when you can hurt that than you destroy the machine that he is. This sign of mental ineptitude is why he has to prove to people why he is greater than Jordan. Jordan showed no weakness and people praise a guy who does not back down nor apologizes for being a winner, just look at the President. Jordan is the greatest and it will be hard for Lebron to pass him in people’s heads, but you must be open to this. Lebron is the second greatest to ever play this game. If you disagree then that is cool, but you cannot deny the stats and his ability to make you argue against him. I will leave you with this quote and will leave a link to it as well. A reporter asked Lebron ” does it bother him that so many people are happy to see him fail?” and he said this
“Absolutely Not, cause at the end of the day, Ummmm, all the people who are rooting for me to fail, ummm, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today, they got the same personal problems they had, today. You know, and I’m gonna continue to live the way I want to live, and continue to do the things I wannna do with me and my family …they gotta get back to the real world at some point.”