His Airness vs. The King: Who’s Better?
With the Bulls-Cavaliers series in full action, the current players are not the only people being talked about. With LeBron’s recent buzzer-beater and level of play, many people are now bringing up the subject of comparing legend Michael Jordan and current star LeBron James.
It’s no question that LeBron may be the best player in the league now, the only player that can currently keep up with him is last year’s MVP, Kevin Durant. LeBron’s diverse skill set has propelled him through the league, but do his skills match up with Michael Jordan’s in his prime? When asked, Jordan said he didn’t even have to play in his prime to beat LeBron, that he could do it nowadays when he is 52 years old. As the debate will inevitably continue on, let’s look at why I think Jordan is the best player of all-time and would have very little problem, in his prime, defeating LeBron in a one-on-one match.
Firstly, Jordan’s defense is unmatched compared to LeBron’s. Jordan averaged 2.3 steals per game over his career, while LeBron only averages 1.7 per game. Though the .6 of a difference may not seem like a lot, it is. When there it is so hard to get a steal in the NBA with the skilled dribblers and the chance of getting a foul called. In his best season for steal per game, Jordan averaged 3.2 steals for the 1988 season, while LeBron’s best season for the stat was 2.2 in 2005. Michael was also the Steals Leader in the NBA for 3 seasons, while James has never accomplished this feat. Jordan went on to win Defensive Player of the Year once and earning a spot in the NBA All-Defensive First Team, 9 times; LeBron, to this point has never won Defensive Player of the Year and has only made All-Defensive First Team 5 times. The stats do not completely reflect Jordan’s guarding ability, as his on-ball defense and keeping the opposing player in front of him was amazing. Jordan’s lateral quickness had much to do with that; he could shuffle from side to side at amazing speeds and prevent the player from getting past him. In terms of each player’s blocking ability, they are about the same, with both of them averaging 0.8 blocks per game for their careers.
Secondly, one of the most important skills in basketball, scoring. Michael Jordan’s ability to score has been another of his greatest attributes. While LeBron and Jordan both have an incredible amount of talent at finishing layups and dunks, Jordan’s ability to knock down jumpers from outside of the paint is much better than James’. MJ’s ability to make three’s has always been one of his downfalls, however in the seasons after he came back from playing baseball, Jordan’s 3-point percentage was a scalding 42%. While both players lack(ed) the ability to consistently hit 3’s, Jordan has proven that even in the toughest situations, he can shoot lights out when he needs to. In the opening series of the 1992 Playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers, MJ proved that regardless of his averages, he could make just about anything when he needed to. While the rest of the Bulls were only able to match Portland’s talent, Jordan took over the first half of the game, making 6 threes, which set the record for most three pointers in a half. Portland’s Buck Williams had this to say about Jordan’s incredible performance: “It’s like looking down the barrel of a .57 Magnum when he shoots the ball like that. It’s kind of frightening.” More than his 3-point shooting, Jordan has also proved to the world that he may go down as the best scorer of all time. Jordan holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). Michael won the Scoring title an incredible 10 times, while James has only won it once. Jordan’s free-throw percentage is also about 10% better than James’.
Michael Jordan’s will to win has also proved that he is the best player of all time. Jordan lead his team to an unprecedented 72-win season in 1995-96, going on to win the franchise’s 4th NBA Championship in 6 seasons. Though now LeBron and MJ are tied for buzzer-beaters in the playoffs, Jordan has made it known that the playoffs are his feeding grounds. Jordan’s points per game per average at 33.4 ppg,and is 5 points better than LeBrons’. Moreover, MJ’s best season in terms of scoring in the playoffs, “His Airness” averaged 43.7 points per game in the 1988 playoffs; “The King’s” best average in the playoffs is 35.3 points per game, and that occurred in the 2009 playoffs.
Lastly, Michael’s resume looks much better than LeBron’s. Jordan’s greatest feat, winning 6 NBA titles, is 4 better than LeBrons. MJ won Finals MVP for every year he won a championship. And while LeBron still has years left to play in the league, it will be hard to beat that number with today’s NBA talent. Also, you have to keep in mind that MJ didn’t play for 4 seasons, taking one year off to play minor league baseball, and retiring for 3 years from 1998-2001. In those seasons, who knows how many more title Jordan could have managed to win. Michael Jordan won the regular season MVP 5 times. LeBron has won the MVP title 4 times, and will most likely tie or pass Jordan on this accomplishment.
Michael Jordan and LeBron James will always be compared, there is no question about that. It is also known that both players are two of the best in basketball history, if not the two best. Some of the NBA’s other best players such as Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon have spoken about the comparisons. Both players agree: Jordan is better. A Celtics’ great, Larry Bird, stated while LeBron is a great player who is built like Karl Malone, and can pass like Magic Johnson, that he will never be MJ, calling Jordan “God in Basketball Shoes.” Former Houston Rocket great, Hakeem Olajuwon has weighed in on the subject saying: “When people start comparing him with Jordan then that’s not a fair comparison. Jordan was a far more superior player in a very tough league, he was very creative…That’s not taking away anything from LeBron because he is a great player but it is not a fair comparison because Jordan is a far superior player.” Olajuwon has played with Jordan and knows exactly how good he is. Every player that played with Jordan believes Jordan was the greatest. Every reporter that covered Jordan believes he was the greatest. Every fan that watched Jordan believes he was the greatest. There was nothing, absolutely nothing like watching Jordan.
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