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LeBron James vs Michael Jordan: A Statistical Comparison

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Among active NBA players, the only one who has even a shot at contesting Michael Jordan's status as the Greatest of All Time is LeBron James. Deep into his 15th season in the league, LeBron today matched Jordan's regular season record of 866 consecutive games with double-digit points on the way to leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 118-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Having solidified his status as the best player of this decade, James is leading a rejuvenated Cavaliers squad to the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference this year while putting up 27.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game. In terms of counting numbers, only Russell Westbrook is better than him this year!

Michael Jordan also played 15 (albeit not full) seasons in the league like James, so this is probably the best time to gauge who is the greatest of all time. To do that, we are strictly using statistics as our basis here. To read our qualitative analysis on this debate, do make your way over here.

#1 Biographical details

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Note here that Jordan only played 17 games in the 1994-95 regular season, so it is more feasible to count his total seasons as 14 (considering that he missed many games over the 1985-86 campaign, as well as the 2001-02 campaign). However, for the sake of statistical correctness, from here on in this article Jordan will be considered to have played 15 seasons of NBA basketball.

#2 NBA Championships and seasons

LeBron James
LeBron James
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Jordan has more championships than LeBron over the course of 15 years. LeBron will play another playoff series this year, so in a short while his playoff total will match that of His Airness. It is important to note, however, that LeBron missed the playoffs in his first two seasons while in prime athletic shape, while Jordan missed the playoffs in his last two seasons after suffering an injury that derailed his first season for the Washington Wizards, who were one of the worst teams in the league.

Jordan's 15 seasons are spread out over 19 years, as he retired from the game twice. His first retirement in 1993 deprived fans of 2 years of peak Jordan, which would arguably give him another NBA title or two. Thus, the title count and the season count for Jordan would probably be higher if not for his ill-timed decision to leave the sport of basketball.

LeBron will definitely play more seasons than Jordan and probably beat him in terms of longevity. But his peak years do not face up to Jordan's who won 6 titles in 8 seasons.

#3 Honours and Awards

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MJ with his MVP trophy
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LeBron James leads Michael Jordan in only 2 categories here (All-NBA First Team selections and total All-NBA selections). Jordan's statistics sweep the floor with LeBron's in every other category. While James might have a genuine case for league MVP this season, James Harden is the prohibitive favorite and it would be a shock if LeBron did win to emulate Jordan.

LeBron has never truly been in contention for Defensive Player of the Year, while Jordan won the award once and was in the talk for several years. Jordan has more All-Defensive selections and led the league in steals thrice.

While LeBron has put up great scoring totals since his second year in the league, peak Michael Jordan won the scoring title in each of his full seasons starting with his 3rd to his 13th (he only played 17 games in 1994-95). LeBron only won it once in 2007-08, after trailing to Kobe Bryant for much of the season (before Kobe's usage rate reduced with the arrival of Pau Gasol).

#4 Per game performance stats

Image courtesy: nba.com
Image courtesy: nba.com
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Michael Jordan is the all-time leader in points per game in both the regular season as well as the playoffs. LeBron James is a better rebounder, which can be attributed to his greater physical gifts. LeBron also averages more assists than Jordan, which can be attributed to the fact that in every LeBron team ever, he has essentially been the point guard for the offense, whereas Jordan played in the triangle offense for his entire career, which offers fewer opportunities to average high assist numbers. It is tough to differentiate who has the better stats here.

Both players raise their game significantly in the playoffs, but here Jordan has the clear edge - he scored 5 points per game more than LeBron for an unreal average of 33.4 points per playoff game. He averages more steals and almost as many blocks, while the advantage LeBron has in rebounding and assist numbers do not offset the advantage Jordan took through his scoring numbers.

#5 Performance stats - totals

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets
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LeBron's superior fitness and overall health has enabled him to play more games in his 15 regular season campaigns. However, he trails Michael Jordan in total points despite playing 64 games more (it is expected that LeBron will overtake Michael Jordan next year). LeBron, as borne out by the averages, has thousands of rebounds and assists more than Jordan, who has more blocks and steals.

In the playoffs, LeBron passed by Michael Jordan for most points scored last year. He has greater totals in every statistical category, including games played (LeBron has played 38 playoff games more in his career).

#6 Shooting Percentages

Cleveland Cavaliers v Phoenix Suns
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The King enjoys slightly higher percentages in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage over the course of regular campaigns. His Airness is a much better free throw shooter than LeBron, however, effectively missing only 1 attempt out of 6 (LeBron misses more than 1 out of every 4).

Jumpman has slightly better numbers than the Chosen One in both shot attempt percentage categories during the postseason and he maintains his advantage in free throw shooting percentage.

The reason why LeBron's field goal percentage undergoes a nearly 2% fall in the postseason is that his average playoff opponents are better-equipped to deal with his driving game, which leads to LeBron reducing his field goal attempts inside the paint and forces him to take more jump shots, which have a lower conversion rate.

#7 Earnings

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Michael Jordan topped the Forbes list of the 25 Highest-paid athletes of all time with career earnings of $1.85 billion (adjusted for inflation). While Jordan's long-term sponsorship deals with Gatorade, Hanes, Nike, and Upper Deck account for a large chunk of these earnings, the biggest chip in his block comes from the ownership of the Charlotte Hornets NBA franchise.

Jordan bought a minority stake in June 2006, and in 2010 he became the majority stakeholder and currently owns a 90% stake in the team, which was last valued at $780 million. The Jordan brand posted a revenue of $3.1 billion in 2017, from which Jordan got a cut of over $140 million.

LeBron James is no slouch himself, having landed himself at the 11th spot ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in total career earnings. LeBron's major endorsers include Intel, Verizon, Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats by Dre and Kia Motors.

He is a shrewd businessman and owns a stake in 17 Blaze Pizzas, a 6-year-old brand which is reportedly growing at the fastest pacer eve among fast food businesses. LeBron also has one of the highest-paying current player contracts and is slated to earn $33.28 million this year. Nike's LeBron sneakers are their second-best performing sneaker brand after the Air Jordans.

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Edited by Yash Matange
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