Michael Jordan vs LeBron James: The 15-Year Comparison That Could End The GOAT Debate
If you've watched basketball seriously for more than a month or so in the recent past, the one debate you've probably heard everyone having is the endless Greatest-of-All-Time discussion.
LeBron James is the latest candidate to knock His Airness Michael Jordan off this particular throne. The King of Akron has been one of the most physically dominant players in the history of this game. For this decade, in particular, he is the only one to make it to every single Finals series, winning 8 Eastern Conference Championships out of the 8 that he competed in.
He combines the athleticism of MJ with the creative finishing of Julius Erving, the playmaking ability of an Oscar Robertson and the force of a Shaquille O'Neal - possibly the most dominant basketball player ever at his prime. He's often proclaimed as the most complete player in the history of the game, though you'll read later on if this is really the case.
LeBron finished his 15th season this year - the same number as Michael Jordan played in his storied NBA career. If LeBron's peak hasn't been better than Jordan's (another thing that we'll answer later on), the only argument his fans can make is whether his peak lasted longer than MJ's.
Thus, I feel that this is the best moment in history to compare and contrast the careers of these two, who are probably the greatest wing players of all time. Without further ado, we launch into the requisite analysis
LeBron James is probably the NBA's most versatile layup artist of all time. He can use his strength to ward off defenders on drives. He can blow by them with his speed. Using a little bit of separation, he can pull off an ultra-smooth spin move with both hands for an easy finish at the rim.
His hang time is comparable to His Airness, and his larger frame allows him to get to the hoop much more frequently than other wing players. In fact, more than 30% of his shots for every single season have come from the 0-3 foot region - peaking at 45.9% in the 2015-16 season. This gives him a career average of 35.8% field goal attempts as layups, dunks or put-backs.
As we fade out to farther in the perimeter, his field goal percentage drops from the elite 73.3% at 0-3 feet to 42.4%, 36.7% and 38.5% at 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet and 16-23 feet respectively. With the progress of his career, particularly since the summer of 2011, LeBron has improved his perimeter game to a point where it cannot now be disregarded.
But Michael Jordan is the most skilled scorer of all time. Not only was he a threat to dunk on somebody or score off fast breaks, Jordan was also an elite shooter from mid-range. He married mid-range volume and efficiency in a manner never seen before him in the game.
Jordan's ball fakes are the stuff of legend. He sometimes used his entire body to befuddle his primary defender and create the separation for an open shot. He is one of the few players to achieve a soft release on the double-clutch - his iconic 'The Shot' shot against Cleveland in the 1989 playoffs is a textbook example of this.
He copied Hakeem 'The Dream' Olajuwon's footwork from the low post, and he came back stronger with weight training every single season in order to bully opponents from there. He shot through double, triple and sometimes quadruple teams from this region, and he patented the fadeaway jumper that is today a part of every elite player's arsenal.
Edge: Michael Jordan