LeBron James v Michael Jordan: Battle of NBA's Kings
LeBron James might be the greatest athlete the NBA has ever seen. Some even argue he is the greatest player the league has ever seen.
LeBron James is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have ever played the game of basketball. While he has accomplished so much on the court, his status as a top-five player remains in question due to his record in NBA Finals.
His game blends the desired skills and qualities of many greats, from the physical presence of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell to the passing vision and IQ of Magic Johnson, and the elevation of his game when it matters the most to replicate undeniably the greatest of all-time: Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
To be honest, the only issue with LeBron is his Finals record of 3-5 and it just doesn't seem fair to criticise his outstanding career achievements due to one statistic.
When LeBron entered the league, he was only 18 years old with unbelievable expectations placed on him. With the title "The Chosen One" tattooed on his back, LeBron was the centre of that NBA offseason, viewed by many to be the saviour of a dying Cavaliers franchise. He did not disappoint in his rookie season, averaging close to 21 PPG along with 6 APG and 5.5 RPG which allowed him to bag the Rookie of the Year award, the first of many coveted individual NBA awards.
After coming into the league looking quite skinny (at least compared to what he looks like now), he immediately established himself as a physical force on the offensive end and anchored the Cavaliers defence with his tremendous leaping ability. Barring his team's average performances, LeBron's first few years in the NBA were a strong indication of what was to come from the All-Time great.
Even though James was probably the closest to Jordan in terms of the freak of nature that the latter was, he knew that he had to win championships in order to lay out a lasting legacy. In 2007, LeBron carried the Cavaliers to the franchise's first ever NBA Finals appearance. In only his 4th year, he led a rather paltry Cavaliers to the Finals, defeating a strong Washington team and eventually striding past the rock-solid Pistons led by Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups.
Personally, taking that team to the Finals should be considered a massive achievement considering the fact that many greats required another superstar to reach the Finals (look at Magic who had Kareem, Jordan who had Pippen, Malone who had Stockton, Chamberlain who had Jerry West). Unfortunately, his first Finals appearance resulted in a 4-0 sweep to the well-oiled Spurs who had their dynamic trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
Nevertheless, considering how early the loss was, that should be disregarded or at least have an asterisk next to it to show who his crew was that year.
Another reason why people tend to sway towards Jordan and not LeBron would be the infamous "Decision" wherein LeBron left the Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. Many felt it was the easy way out and thought he lacked the "competitive edge" Jordan possessed. Very few dig deeper to realise that LeBron basically spent seven years with the Cavs without a supporting cast close to that of Jordan's Bulls.
Furthermore, he battled one of the greatest teams of all time in the Warriors (one Finals without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love) so when people say that LeBron is not a competitive player, they tend to forget some of his hardest endeavours on the court.
So now that we put the case for championships aside, we can talk about averages. Yes, definitely, LeBron averages less ppg than Jordan and looks to be far less of a threat in terms of jump shooting compared to Jordan. Unlike Jordan though, LeBron possesses the gifted ability to find an open man and make the right basketball play.
His passing range is far greater than that of Jordan's and he can grab a few more rebounds per game as well. To be fair to Jordan, even with all these stats and averages LeBron still has not quite leapfrogged MJ and to really compare the two superstars, we need to look at the 32-year-old's impact on the court aside from averages, and also his longevity.
Jordan always made the team he was on great probably because he was such a tenacious scorer and defender. LeBron makes his team better because of his IQ, passing, and defending. Both were always the best players on their teams and almost always the best in the league. The few losses LeBron has are his Finals and regular season DPOY.
So when you look at the ex-Heat's career as a whole, it is safe to say he easily belongs in the top five of all time. He still has a good 4-5 years in him and the way he is going, I see him surpassing Jordan soon simply due to the longevity of his career. Whether he chooses to go to the Lakers or remain with the Cavaliers, one thing is for sure: he will take his team back to the Finals where he seems to have some unfinished business.