Before we begin let me just point out that LeBron James himself, didn’t ask for this comparison. It’s not his fault. Some might say he “asked” for it when he donned #23 and said he wanted to be just like Michael Jordan when he first entered the league (I’m looking at you Skip Bayless). But if you grew up as an NBA fan throughout the 90’s then who didn’t want to be “like Mike”? Since high school LeBron James has been overly hyped. He’s been overly hyped by the media and fans alike. Now I understand how ridiculously talented he is as far as his physical ability and basketball IQ. He is one of the greatest professional basketball players of all time. And with all of his accomplishments statistically and now with a title he has lived up to the hype. However, the issue I have with the media is they hyped LeBron up to be a basketball god even before he made it to the NBA and accomplished anything. And now the media is at it again, overly hyping up his performance the second half of this NBA season and comparing it to the greatest-of-all-time (G.O.A.T.), #23, Michael Jordan.
During this impressive stretch during the second half of the 2012-13 season, LeBron James has been averaging over 30ppg and shooting over 50%. Once again this is very impressive. However let’s not jump the gun here. Michael Jordan averaged the following:
- 86-87 Season – 37ppg, 48 FG%
- 87-88 Season – 35ppg, 54 FG%
- 88-89 Season – 33ppg, 54 FG%
- 89-90 Season – 34ppg , 53 FG%
- 90-91 Season – 32ppg, 54 FG%
- 91-92 Season – 30ppg, 52 FG%
- 92-93 Season – 33ppg, 50 FG%
You want to talk about a great 7 week stretch by LeBron James, how about sustaining it over 7 YEARS. Averaging 37ppg for a full season (86-87) is just BONKERS. The hype of LBJ’s second half of the season performances need to be put in perspective by MJ’s 7 year stretch of dominance. It was only until he returned back to the NBA in the 94-95 season did MJ have adequate help and his points per game dropped a little to the high 20’s, because he no longer had to carry all of the offensive load. What makes these numbers even more impressive for MJ compared to LBJ is MJ did it with a smaller frame. LBJ can just over power his opponents while MJ had to use more athleticism and skill.
However, it’s not all about the stats. So what separates Michael Jordan from LeBron James?
Consistency and longevity, basketball resume, and attitude.
Why Statistics Don’t Tell the Whole Story.
“Stat Stuffers”. The NBA has been full of them over the decades. The term “stat stuffer” sometimes has a negative connotation. It should be a positive term meaning someone that can fill up a stat sheet. However, often times players that are talented enough to fill up the stat sheet don’t necessarily turn their individual statistical success to actual team wins. This is where the negative connotation comes in. We’ve heard people say “oh *insert player’s name*, yea he’s good and all, he can fill up the stat sheet, but his team never wins, he’s a stat stuffer”.
If you just look at stats alone then James is a better overall player. LeBron is a better defender because of his superior length and size, better shot blocker, and better passer. The fact is, being the greatest of all time involves much more than just stats. If stats were the only factor then Allen Iverson or Tracy Mcgrady would be known as the best basketball players of all time and Zach Randolph would be the greatest Power Forward to have ever lived, but we know that is not the case.
This is why stats aren’t everything and why great stats don’t necessarily make you a great player or the greatest player.
Consistency and Longevity
The numbers James is putting up this season is something Jordan did for a seven year stretch in the league. My point is to not take away anything from James and what he has done the second half of this season but let’s pump the breaks a little and realize he has 6 more years of putting up these numbers to go, before he even matches MJ statistically. Consistency equals greatness.
This is LeBron James’ tenth season and he has about 5 more seasons left in his prime (he will be 34 years old on December 30th, 2018). Can LeBron James consistently put up these numbers over the next 5-6 years? It’s possible. But as NBA fans and spectators let’s act like we’ve seen this before.
The above awards and accomplishments put in perspective just how dominate Michael Jordan was. To me the number of championships is actually the least important stat shown above because you don’t necessarily have to be one of the greatest players of all time to have played on championship teams. The most impressive awards to me are Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY).
For a perimeter player to win DPOY is very rare. The reason being is because perimeter players (Guards/Small Forwards) average less block shots and defensive rebounds then say a Power Forward or a Center. And these defensive stats get more recognition then steals when evaluating who should be DPOY. Since the award was created in the 1982-83 season, only 4 Guards and 1 Small Forward have won DPOY and Jordan is among one of those Guards.
People like to use the counter argument (including LeBron James himself) that the number of titles matter little when evaluating a player’s career. Players like Robert Horry and Derek Fisher have 5+ championship rings as well and no one is suggesting they are better than Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. But that argument can sometimes be a little weak, because when people talk about that stat it’s obvious people mean that the player that they are speaking about was actually the main reason why their teams won the title. No one is suggesting Horry or Fisher was the main reason their teams won championships. That’s why I like looking at the Finals MVP stat.
The reason why the Finals MVP is so impressive is because for MJ the number of Finals MVP matches the number visits he has made to the Finals. So it’s clear that he is the main reason why his team has 6 championship trophies.
This means Jordan never lost. Once his Bulls team was in the Finals there was no way he was going to let them lose. Credit this to Jordan’s tenacious competitive attitude and killer instinct. Hey, what a great segue.
For me personally, this is what separate Jordan from James the most. I’ve seen all kinds of great players in my 20 year+ NBA watching career. I’ve seen champions and I’ve seen incredible statistical feats, but I never have and probably will not see again Jordan’s attitude. Jordan’s attitude was a combination of cockiness, arrogance, a level of selfishness, and a sore loser. I know what you are thinking, these are all negative virtues that your parents try to raise you to actually not have. Yes, these are negative personality traits if you are trying to find a date on Match.com. But you need these traits, professionally, to be the greatest of all time in a competitive arena (and I don’t just mean sports) and Jordan had them down to his competitive bones. No basketball player fears LeBron James but I remember players feared Jordan (Charles Barkley would be the first to admit it). When Jordan told you he was going to score 50 and you have no chance of winning this game, you believed him and the fact you actually believed him was the scary part.
LeBron will forever be known as whittling to the pressure and lacking the killer instinct to be successful in the playoffs with his Cavaliers team and then not winning a title until he teamed up with another hall of famer Shooting Guard (Dwayne Wade) and All-Star Power Forward (Chris Bosh) in Miami. Jordan’s first 3 championships came, at the time, with only one other All-Star teammate (Scottie Pippen) in an era where defenses were tougher. After the first seven season of not winning a title it only fueled Jordan’s desire that much more to win a championship as the main guy, as the leader. He faced a lot of the same criticisms LeBron did in Cleveland when a title wasn’t coming fast enough. But Jordan said “ok this is what we got? Bill Cartwright? Will Perdue? Ron Harper? BJ Armstrong? Okay, I can win with them because I’m Michael “Freaking” Jordan I don’t have to go team up with Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon”.
Say what you want about Kobe Bryant but I will always admire him as a basketball player/athlete because Kobe’s attitude is the closest I’ve seen to match Jordan’s intensity and therefore it’s no coincidence that Kobe’s the only player in the last 30 years to come even close of matching Jordan’s success. Once again, it’s not a coincidence. Attitude matters.
I believe the below clip shows my description of Jordan’s attitude perfectly. Rare raw footage:
This is the first year in his career where LeBron has looked and played more like a Jordan or a Kobe Bryant rather than a Magic Johnson. LeBron James can very well continue this level of play for the rest of his prime but until then, before we start the comparisons, let’s learn from the past and wait until he actually “does it” first.