When it comes to LeBron James and his place in basketball history, there is really only one name that comes to mind: Michael Jordan. Yes, there is Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and a handful of other sensational basketball players that possibly deserve to be in that conversation. But if we are being honest with ourselves, Jordan and James sit atop the pedestal of NBA greatness.
Now we all know the first thing that comes to mind when comparing these two athletes is rings, where Jordan outnumbers James by a handy 6-2 margin. However, are all rings created equal?
Just for a moment, let’s take a look at strictly numbers. Though LeBron has played a couple seasons less than Michael did in his career, they hold nearly identical averages in field goal percentage with James at .496 and Jordan at .497. Outside of this stat, the numbers are fairly different with Jordan holding the edge in points per game by about three, while James claims the assist and rebound per game averages by an average of about one, respectively.
As one would expect, both players seem to step their games up in the playoffs, increasing nearly all their basic statistical averages by about the same margin.
So based on just these high-level stats, we can infer that each player was highly impactful and this writer can argue James is perhaps more team-oriented given his higher rebound and assist rate when compared to Jordan. While both were equally efficient from the field, James took about four less shots a game than Jordan, which would lead us to believe the scoring would be nearly identical.
So what does this come down to? We all know the answer is rings, as previously mentioned. But, can we really compare Michael Jordan’s 6-0 record in the Finals to LeBron James’ current 2-3 mark (pending a current result in 2015 Finals), given the teammates each has played with? Jordan’s Chicago squads were among the most talent-ridden rosters in NBA history, boasting the likes of Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, etc. James has dragged Moe Williams to the Finals, albeit a sweep at the hands of the Spurs, and is currently doing the same with a depleted and battered Cavs roster against perhaps the best team of the last decade in the Warriors.
This writer brings up these details, not because they haven’t been brought up before, but to make it aware that these should clearly be factors when distinguishing between the two best players of all-time. LeBron is still in the prime of his career, and has the potential to single-handedly lead an average Cavs team to perhaps the biggest upset in NBA Finals history.
With nearly identical playoffs records to this point, it’s difficult for this writer to not appreciate the greatness we are currently watching and think, “Yeah, this guy might be better than Jordan.” Obviously the choices LeBron has made over the course of career have led to his polarizing public image, but we shouldn’t let that hinder what he has done, and more importantly who he has done it with. In a team sport we tend to recognize great teams, but somehow forget about the team aspect when singling out players. LeBron James has put up the same numbers, in a more efficient manner, than Jordan and will most likely blow by many of the totals the greats have amassed over time.
So, what does this Finals mean to LeBron? Well, simply put, it means everything and nothing. A win secures LeBron’s spot among the NBA’s two-man pinnacle with he and Jordan. A loss also puts him in the same predicament. Let’s stop comparing the two and just wait until the resume is complete and then compare the greatness, but not forget to appreciate it while it’s occurring in front of our eyes.