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Is the GOAT debate in Basketball, Michael Jordan vs LeBron James, over?

Jayesh Sinha
860   //    09 Mar 2019, 09:21 IST

Who is the greatest basketball player ever? Michael Jordan (Left) or LeBron James (Right)?
Who is the greatest basketball player ever? Michael Jordan (Left) or LeBron James (Right)?

LeBron James is a name familiar to almost everyone who has had even a casual brush with basketball sometime in the past 15 years. LeBron James has for the bulk of his career been widely considered the best active basketball player on the planet, and historically second to only the great Michael Jordan.

There were some in the media, who argued that LeBron James had done enough to be considered the greatest ever. Whether LeBron James had surpassed Michael Jordan or not, was the hottest topic of discussion at the end of the past few NBA seasons.

The majority still leaned towards Michael Jordan, but very few questioned LeBron's place as second only to Michael Jordan. The general consensus was that LeBron, while not as great as Jordan, was definitely ahead of the other great basketball players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant etc.

There was Michael Jordan on a pedestal all by himself, then LeBron James on a pedestal of his own below Jordan, and then every other great player below those two.

Michael Jordan has appeared in 6 NBA Finals and won all 6 of them. What is more, he won his 6 NBA championships in 6 successive seasons (1991-1994, then Jordan retired, but he came out of retirement and led his team to three more titles in '96, '97 and '98).

Michael Jordan at his peak was unstoppable and his continued success cemented his place at the top. Not only was Michael Jordan a great individual basketball player, who would rake up stats and points against you, but your team also couldn't defeat Michael's team in a 7 game series.

Its a feat beyond belief that Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won 24 straight playoff series during the 90s while Michael Jordan was on the team.

Michael Jordan's teams were unstoppable and not only did Jordan always win, but he was also always the reason that his team won. This is evidenced by the fact that Michael Jordan was the finals' MVP in all 6 of the NBA finals that Chicago Bulls won.

LeBron James recently overtook Michael Jordan as the 4th highest points scorer in NBA history (having played 118 games more than Jordan), and this should have refueled the GOAT debate among basketball fans and experts, but it hasn't.


The reason is that LeBron's team, the Los Angeles Lakers, are currently 11th in the 15 team Western Conference and LeBron seems on course to miss the NBA playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

LeBron has been to the NBA Finals 9 consecutive times but has won the title only thrice. However, his dominance in the Eastern Conference had led to him viewed as the successor to Jordan and his individual stats and all-round game had led to earnest arguments being put in support of him being the greatest basketball player of all time.

Not only is LeBron a dominant scorer but, he is also considered one of the best passers of the ball in NBA history (something Michael Jordan could never lay claim to).

The 30 team NBA is split between the Western and the Eastern conferences of 15 teams each, and at the end of the season both conferences have their respective playoffs (top 8 teams in the conference qualify) and eventually, the winner of the Eastern Conference plays the winner of the Western Conference for the NBA Final.

LeBron James won the Eastern Conference 9 consecutive times. He often won the Eastern Conference with teams that were not as good as those he was up against. Having LeBron James on your team was seen as a guarantee of success in the Eastern Conference.

Even though LeBron went onto win only 3 of the 9 NBA Finals, 9 consecutive Eastern Conference wins is nothing to scoff at.

There was a slight blemish though and that was that the the Eastern Conference for the bulk of LeBron's career was always seen as that far easier conference to win. Nearly all the top players played in the Western Conference and the stronger teams also played in the West.

Winning the East was considered far easier than winning the West. So the question was always asked, "yes, but could LeBron do it in the West?".

There was no way to definitively answer this question, but such was LeBron's dominance on the basketball court that it was always assumed that he could.

At the start of the 18-19 NBA season, LeBron left Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles, a team in the western conference. Now people no longer had to speculate, LeBron was finally in the west.

He wasn't on a great team though. The Lakers had failed to make the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons. However, the experts and the media said, they had LeBron now. How could the Lakers not make the playoffs now, with the greatest basketball player in the world in their ranks.

Lakers have historically been one of the most successful teams in NBA history and have won the NBA finals 16 times. With LeBron on the team, the Lakers expected to once again, be at least competitive in the league.

Fast forward to today and the Lakers are effectively once again out of the playoff picture in the West. The Lakers' season has been disastrous and they have lost to even some of the minnows of the NBA.

The Lakers fans have turned on LeBron and so has sections of the media which have gone ludicrously overboard with their criticism.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to 5 NBA titles. Fans in recent games have chanted for LeBron to play like Kobe!
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to 5 NBA titles. Fans in recent games have chanted for LeBron to play like Kobe!

LeBron's individual numbers have been on par with what he did previously, but basketball is a team game. Its not about individual stats, but which team won. LeBron has coped a lot of criticism from the public for his negative body language, constant complaining about his teammates, abysmal disinterest in playing any kind of defense during games, among other things.

Of course, it must be said here that that LeBron is now 34 years old, which is hardly considered the prime age for Basketball.

However even so, LeBron's struggles in the West, have caused people not only to re-evaluate his position as the potential GOAT, but also whether his achievements in the weaker Eastern Conference, astounding though they may have been, really earn him a place above the other NBA greats like Kobe Bryant for instance, who played his whole career in the tougher Western Conference, and won more NBA championships than LeBron.

LeBron's decision to join the Lakers was seen has his final push to establish his position above Jordan at the pinnacle of the sport. To join one of the most successful NBA teams, and take them from their current state of irrelevance in the league and return them to the top, would have very greatly helped LeBron's case in the debate against Jordan.

However, for now, LeBron's decision to join the Lakers seems to have backfired on him, and for now there are few, if any, who will entertain any arguments about anyone but Jordan being the basketball GOAT.