Hey there and welcome to the End of the Endless Debate: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James. This is the ultimate debate on who’s the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). We’re dissecting the ENTIRE situation in one place because no one has done that yet. And I just had to break it out into chapters because this is a MASSIVE debate covering lots of topics.
More chapters to follow.
Why are there chapters to this thing you might ask? Good question.
Instead of making you go through 15,000 straight words of how and what and why on this debate, I’m breaking it up into smaller chunks that you can read in bite size pieces. I’ll connect them as chapters like in a book. Hopefully, one flows to the next nicely.
The chapter idea came to me because there seem to be about a dozen “pillar points” in the Michael vs LeBron debate. For example: rings vs. stats, 6-0 vs 3-4 (as of June 1st 2017), scorer vs all-around player, competition, etc.
It’s for these reasons that I’m going to break each “pillar point” into it’s own chapter and dissect it in great detail. And for the record, all stats come from basketball-reference.com
I’m a huge Jordan fan. I’ll be upfront about that. But here’s my commitment: I will approach each topic with an open mind. At least I will attempt to do so.
Feel free to leave comments and play along with me here. This will only become a bigger point of contest as time goes. We are just about to being the 2017 NBA Finals with LeBron making his 7th straight Finals appearance.
It’s yet to be seen how these will play out, but either LeBron become 4-4 in Finals or 3-5 in Finals. Either way, this debate won’t be over any time soon.
So let’s begin! Here’s a list of all the chapters completed thus far. Check back regularly for more updates. I tend to add new chapters based on what sports analysts are talking about recently.
Chapter 1 – The Stats Argument
Let’s begin with a big topic that I see from both ends. Stats.
LeBron fans say his stats are so much better because he gets more rebounds and assists than Michael. Jordan fans talk about points and free throw percentage and win shares.
So let’s dive in. But you first need to understand one aspect: we’re comparing Jordan’s completed career to LeBron’s ongoing one. Things will change. LeBron’s totals will increase, and there’s a good chance his efficiency will decrease as it does to all players. So this is a living section that will need updating every year until LeBron retires.
First – Total Stats
Quick glance shows Michael winning 8 of those categories and LeBron winning 8 and one category ties.
On a high level note, this doesn’t show any undeniable evidence that one player is greater. So for casual fans who just check a box score, you’ve been exposed. They literally tie in 17 major categories on stats.
So now what?
We have to dig deeper. And also realize that LeBron is playing some of the best basketball of his career. It’s pretty safe to say his “per game” production numbers will dip slightly as he ages. Michael’s did and it’s likely in a few years LeBron will finally decline down to mortal levels.
So let’s go there. Because we know that Michael played 2 abysmal years with the Washington Wizards when he was about 40 years old. For fans like me, we hate these years because it was in many ways a tarnish on his legacy.
I mean when you make the championship winning shot in your final year, it’s hard to top that. Like ever.
But alas, MJ couldn’t stay away.
What that did, though, was hurt his statistical numbers. Michael clearly wasn’t in his prime during those Wizard years and hopefully no moron is going to argue that. So what if we isolated Michael’s prime years with Chicago? How would the stats argument go then?
Looking at this table things become a little clearer. Michael now wins 11 categories and LeBron wins 6 categories.
So when we compare more of the “peak” Michael versus LeBron, things tend to shift in Michael’s favor. However, remember LeBron is still going strong so this could change.
But look at the areas Michael wins: PER (Player Efficiency Rating), FG%, Points (obviously), FT%, Steals and Blocks surprisingly, Turnovers and did it in less games.
And the areas LeBron wins are rebounds, assists, eFG% (effective field goal percentage) and 3PT%.
I think it’s fair to say that the more important stats to be winning are Michael’s. Things like PER matter. He clearly had more stats on every defensive metric and turned the ball over less.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS?!
Good question. Let’s take a look at playoff stats. Thankfully, this comparison gets easier because Michael never made the playoffs with Washington.
Here’s where things get interesting. On a high level view, Michael wins 8 categories and LeBron wins 9. So most people would say LeBron wins this section. Using my eye test, I’m not sure this is a lock for LeBron.
In the first few tables, each players career total stat number aligned with their per game number. Meaning in our scenario, if the player averaged more of that stat per game, they also had more total numbers for the career.
But in the playoffs, that’s not the case. And the reason is because LeBron’s played 30+ more games in the playoffs than Michael. This is about a 17% increase in games played for LeBron.