MJ vs. LeBron - Who’s the Greatest of All Time?
A new NBA season is upon us (finally!) and with that comes the standard questions and, as always, some debate. Who will be the MVP (our money’s on Anthony Davis)? Will anyone be able to dethrone the Golden State Warriors who have won three of the last four NBA Championships (fingers crossed)? Will Kawhi (pronounced KAH-WHY) Leonard be a good fit in Toronto (so far, very good)?
But, the question that remains at the forefront of basketball conversations everywhere, season after season, is a question that every sports fan grapples with – who is the greatest basketball player of all time, the GOAT, the wearer of the proverbial NBA crown? With Lebron James now donning the purple and gold for the storied LA Lakers, we couldn’t think of a better time to revisit this conversation.
Basketball fans, analysts, and players are in general agreement that there are two athletes vying for the title: former Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan and current Lakers power forward LeBron James. Both MJ and LBJ were/are phenomenal basketball players with pasts littered with awards, championships, and impressive statistics, but, like in sport, we need a winner! The question of MJ or LeBron being the GOAT might never truly be resolved, but basketball fans everywhere can get preeeetty passionate about their choice. We won’t tell you whom to choose, but we will lay out everything you need to know to take a side (or be a well-informed fence sitter if that’s more your style!).
Though both these athletes have made contributions to their communities, starred in movies (MJ in the OG Space Jam and LeBron in the sequel among others), and essentially have lives outside of basketball (shocker!), we’re just going to look at the stats…
Starting with Michael…
Let’s start with MJ – aka Michael Jordan, his Airness, Air Jordan, and the lone defeater of the MONSTARS (perhaps only until Space Jam 2). MJ was drafted into the NBA in 1984 to the Chicago Bulls; he was the third overall pick after a successful collegiate campaign at the University of North Carolina. MJ’s career stretched from 1984-1993, followed by a brief hiatus playing minor league baseball (because the dude just loves the game) before returning to the NBA from 1995-1998. In ’98, MJ retired again but returned in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards before his next and final retirement in 2003.
So here’s why you could consider MJ the GOAT:
MJ led the Chicago Bulls dynasty that won six championship titles over eight seasons (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998).
He topped the league in scoring in the regular season for all six of these seasons averaging around 30 points per game each year.
MJ was the recipient of the Finals MVP for each of these playoff runs.
The championships are MJ‘s edge in his claim to the GOAT throne, but he also led the league in scoring ten times (an NBA record) with seven consecutive scoring titles, while winning the league’s MVP five times.
MJ made fourteen All-Star appearances and was on the All-NBA team (the best players at each position) eleven times.
He was great on both sides of the ball finding himself as a recurring member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team (nine times to LBJ’s five) and even took home Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.
So…it’s definitely safe to say that MJ has the individual accolades, championships, and overall resume of one of the greatest to ever play the game. And people knew they were in the presence of greatness - everyone considered Michael Jordan to be the greatest of all time even while in the midst of his career!
Over to LeBron…
Challenging MJ’s claim to the GOAT title is LeBron James – aka King James, LBJ, the Chosen One, and the newest member of the Toon Squad (coming 2021). LeBron has been touted as the next great basketball player since high school.
Here’s why you could consider LBJ the GOAT:
In contrast to MJ, LeBron didn’t play collegiate basketball and was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft right out of high school! Yep, young LeBron was so good there was legit no need for him to go to college, he was ready to jump right into professional ball.
LeBron played with the Cavs from 2003-2010 before deciding in free agency to join the Miami Heat. He was a member of the Heat from 2011-2014 winning two championship titles before rejoining the Cavs where he won his third title in 2016 and the first ever in Cavs history.
LBJ won the Finals MVP for all three of his title-winning runs.
This past off-season, LeBron inked a four-year deal with the Lakers.
The biggest discrepancy between LeBron’s legacy and MJ’s is the championships. LeBron has only won three titles but has been to the NBA Finals the last eight years. We repeat…LeBron has competed for EIGHT STRAIGHT championships, winning three of them, but having to play the last four years against one of the best teams ever assembled in NBA history…the Golden State Warriors.
While MJ led the league in scoring ten times, LeBron’s stats are more well rounded. As his career has developed, he has become a proven passer, scorer, and rebounder from the power forward position.
Before the end of his career, LeBron is projected to be in the top 10 in almost every major statistical category; he is already 5th all-time in scoring (MJ is 4th), but he also has over 8,000 career assists and rebounds (that’s a lot more than MJ has in those categories).
He won the scoring title in 2008, as well as four league MVPs. LeBron has made fourteen all-star teams and been a fourteen-time All-NBA selection (3 more than Michael).
The biggest advantage LBJ has moving forward is that, although he’s 33-years-old and been in the league since 2003, he’s still playing and he’s getting better (like, how?!). LeBron has had some of his best statistical years in the latter part of his 16 seasons in the NBA.
It seems likely that the Lakers will not win the title this year (Go Raps!), so LeBron might have to wait another year to add to his championship haul (though we can never really count a LeBron-led team out).
So, who you got?
If the aliens invade Looney Tune Land again with MJ and LBJ in their primes, whose house are Bugs and Daffy going to? Whomever you choose, you really can’t go wrong. Both these athletes have left a huge mark on the basketball world.
P.S. This website has a really great graphic comparing every possible statistic between our two GOAT competitors. Give it a look if you want to improve your argument even more.