For a while now, NBA fans have engaged in an ongoing debate: Who is the greatest player in league history? Some are quick to answer with Michael Jordan, while others would mention names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, or even Bill Russell. In this piece, we’ll make an argument for Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. By the time this piece is over, maybe you’ll agree with the LeBron GOAT idea—that King James is the greatest of all time.
Many hoops fans hold strong in their belief that Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history. They’re quick to point out that His Airness has more championships (6-0 for MJ in the NBA Finals compared to 4-6 for LeBron), MVPs, and a better scoring average. However, The King actually holds the advantage in several categories, including All-NBA First-Team selections, rebounds, assists, blocks, and overall field goal percentage. Plus, he boasts a number of impressive records.
Jordan was a prolific scorer, a cold-blooded assassin who could dominate a game single-handedly. James, on the other hand, has always been known as more of a facilitator, despite his own scoring prowess. In fact, LeBron is the only player in league history with at least 35,000 points, 9,000 assists, and 9,000 rebounds.
Though he plays the small forward position in most cases, James is just the ninth player in NBA history to reach 9K assists— a true testament to his unselfish style of play. For comparison, Jordan racked up 5,633 assists over the course of his illustrious career.
When assessing their respective statistics for the regular season, it becomes clear that Jordan (30.1 points per game) was the better scorer than James (27.0), though MJ was slightly less efficient from the field and three-point line. As previously mentioned, though, James holds the upper hand in assists and rebounds.
Jordan’s scoring was even higher in the playoffs (32.4 points per game), as were his defensive stats. However, James holds a marked advantage in other postseason categories, including accuracy from the field, assists, and rebounds. To be fair, though, LeBron (260) has played in more playoff games than MJ (179).
Climbing the LeBron GOAT ladder
LeBron James is steadily rising on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He had already passed Jordan for fourth place and the late Kobe Bryant for the no. 3 spot.
LeBron is sitting on 35,000+ points for his career. If the former no. 1 overall pick can maintain his current scoring pace for a bit longer, he’ll become the league’s all-time leader. This is a remarkable opportunity, as most believe Kareem’s record (38,387) would never be topped.
In the wake of departure
Michael Jordan decided to retire (the first time) in 1993, opting to try his hand at a new gig in professional baseball. Most experts thought the Bulls would struggle without their star player, but that wasn’t exactly the case. Without Jordan, Chicago produced a 55-27 record. Notably, that was just two wins shy of the mark the team hit with Jordan on the team in the previous season.
LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland had far worse effects.
The Cavaliers selected LeBron with the top overall pick in 2003. Within weeks of his rookie campaign, it became clear that Cleveland was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference for years to come. The LeBron GOAT theory began the moment he hit the NBA if we’re being honest.
In fact, LeBron went on to lead the Cavs to five postseason appearances. Unfortunately, though, Cleveland was unable to claim a championship in his first stint with the team.
Following the 2010 season, James decided to “take his talents to South Beach” and play for the Miami Heat. As a result of his departure from Cleveland, the Cavs suffered for years. After compiling an NBA-best 61-21 record in 2009-10, the team finished with an Eastern Conference-worst 19-63 mark in the following campaign.
Clearly, James was important to Cleveland’s success.
After winning a pair of championships with the Heat, LeBron came back to the Cavs in 2014, announcing that he was “coming home.” Just one season later (2015-16), he would lead the team to its first title in franchise history, defeating a 73-win Warriors team and ending a 52-year drought in Cleveland. His most recent departure from the Cavs also resulted in a major rebuilding period.
The playing field – greatest of all time
LeBron James and Michael Jordan played in different eras. In Michael’s time, the NBA was full of bruising centers and slashing guards. For James, it has been stretch bigs and a barrage of three-point shooting.
LeBron faced all-time great competition throughout his prime (see the 2012-14 San Antonio Spurs and 2014-18 Golden State Warriors). Jordan also faced some great teams (Magic’s Lakers, Drexler’s Blazers, Barkley’s Suns, the Payton-Kemp Sonics, the Malone-Stockton Jazz), but nothing like the dynastic Warriors that James had to contend with.
The fact that James managed to claim four championships during this era is truly impressive. Critics will point out LeBron’s shortcomings in the Finals, as he’s currently 4-6. This mark shouldn’t be viewed as a flaw, though, as he wasn’t always surrounded by the best teammates. Instead, it should highlight his leadership.
There will always be those who hold Jordan in the highest regard, but James is continuing to prove that he is the greatest of all time. So, yeah, LeBron GOAT conversations aren’t going anywhere.