Michael Jordan and LeBron James are the two most elite basketball players ever, but only one of them can be the greatest of all time (GOAT). By evaluating their regular season and postseason play over their careers, the GOAT of basketball can be determined.
Jordan spent 15 seasons in the NBA: 13 with the Chicago Bulls and two with the Washington Wizards. He played 1,072 regular season games, starting in 1,039 of them, and 179 post season games, starting in all of them.
In the regular season, Jordan played an average of 38.3 minutes per game over his career and averaging 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. Jordan is the all-time leader in points per game in the regular season and fourth in all-time steals per game.
Jordan is a natural scorer and is able to consistently score in clutch situations. He led the league in scoring 10 times. Even though he is not the greatest passer or rebounder, he was a great wing defender, leading the league in steals three times.
Although his regular season stats are impressive, Jordan’s ability to consistently perform in the postseason established him as one of the greats. He played a whopping 41.8 minutes per game throughout his postseason career, averaging an all-time playoff high of 33.4 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks. He has 13 playoff appearances, making the finals six times.
What really puts Jordan over the top is that he is undefeated in the NBA Finals, winning six out of six times. It consisted of two sets of three consecutive championships from 1991-93 and 1996-98. Jordan won the Finals MVP all six years his Bulls won the championship.
Freshman Alex Mennella says, “Michael Jordan’s most impressive achievement was his undefeated finals record. His killer instinct and ability to consistently play at such a high level when the pressure is on is unlike any other player. Even greats like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Wilt Chamberlain could not achieve this great feat.”
Jordan is also a five-time NBA MVP, an NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and a Rookie of the Year. He is only one of four players to win both the MVP and DPOY, and one of two to win it in the same year. Jordan was named 11 times to the All-NBA team and nine times to the All-Defensive team. Also, Jordan is a 14-time All-Star, and a three-time All-Star game MVP.
By the end of Jordan’s career, most thought no other player would ever rival him as the GOAT, until James came along. James has also played in 15 NBA seasons, but his career is far from over. He played 11 seasons with his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and four seasons with the Miami Heat. James has played in 1,143 games, starting in all but one, and 230 postseason games, starting in all.
In the regular season, James averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game in 38.8 minutes per game over his career. James is seventh all time in total points in the regular season.
James is able to efficiently fill up the box score unlike any other player. He is a great scorer, leading the league in scoring one time over his career. Along with scoring, he is an elite passer with stellar court vision who is able to rack up assists. On the glass, he can grab rebounds, but the majority are defensive so he can allow his team to set up on offense.
On defense, James can steal the ball with ease, but is only an okay defender. However, if he is in a clutch time situation, he is able to lock down on defense and get important steals or blocks.
Just like Jordan, James truly shines in the playoffs. Throughout his playoff career, James has averaged 28.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, seven assists, 1.8 steals, and one block. James is also the all-time playoff leader in points and steals. He has 13 playoff appearances and made the finals eight of those times. Of those eight NBA Finals appearances, James has won the championship only three times.
Along with his three rings, James is a three-time Finals MVP, four-time league MVP, and a Rookie of the Year. He has been selected 13 times to the All-NBA team and six times to the All-Defensive team. In addition, James is a 14-time All-Star and two-time NBA All-Star MVP.
The greatest argument against James is that he only has three rings, while Jordan has six. Although rings play a major role in determining the GOAT, it is not the deciding factor. If this was the case, greats like Bill Russell, who has 11 rings, would be considered the GOAT.
Looking at their records in the NBA Finals, Jordan has won six of six times, while James has won three of eight times. James made the finals more than Jordan did, but Jordan remained consistent and brought home the championship every time. When the spotlight was on him, James choked multiple times in the finals, unlike Jordan who never let a finals series reach seven games.
Scoring wise, Jordan edges James out. They both shot similar percentages throughout their careers – Jordan shooting 49.7 percent and James shooting 50.4 percent. Jordan led the league in scoring three times compared to James’ one time. James is a slightly better three-point shooter, but three-point shooting was not as important during the era Jordan played in. The main reason Jordan is a better scorer is that he is the all-time leader in points per game while James trails at fourth.
James is a better passer than Jordan. He averaged about two more assists per game compared to Jordan, and is third all-time in total playoff assists. James has superior court vision and is always able to find the open man. Along with passing, James is a better rebounder as well. Neither player is an elite rebounder, but James averages one more than Jordan over their careers, which gives James an edge.
On defense, Jordan beats James on stealing the ball. Jordan was an elite wing defender and was able to rack up steals, leading the league in steals three times. James is also fairly good at stealing the ball, but Jordan was one of the bests. For shot blocking, both players are very even, but James has the slight edge. Both Jordan and James averaged 0.8 blocks over their careers. The reason James just barely beats out Jordan is his shot-blocking in important situations. James can be fairly weak on defense at times, but he can lock down and block a shot when it really counts.
Considering their play over their entire careers, Jordan still remains the GOAT for one reason: his ability to perform in clutch-time situations. Although James has made five buzzer beaters (shots at the buzzer to win the game) in the playoffs compared to Jordan’s three, Jordan has hit 25 game winners over his entire career. Seven of these shots were made in the playoffs. James has had his clutch moments, making around 20 game winners himself, but he still has a little bit more to go to overthrow Jordan as the GOAT.
Freshman Andrew Viola says, “Jordan is one of, if not the best clutch performer in the history of basketball. He never hesitated to take the last shot and put up stellar numbers when it mattered in the finals. In the past, LeBron has choked in the finals and lost his rhythm, but this never happened to Jordan. He never let the expectations and pressure get to him, which is why he is the GOAT.”
Who do you think is the GOAT of basketball? Why?