In today's league, LeBron James has been considered one of the best in the NBA over the past two decades. James has been dominating in the NBA since he was 18 years old. LeBron is getting close to beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for all time leader in career points that hasn't been broken since the 80's. Now that we are nearing the end of LeBron's career, it is more appropriate now than ever to discuss if LeBron is in the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) conversation. Many LeBron enthusiasts argue that LeBron has surpassed Michael Jordan as the GOAT. LeBron has passed some of Jordan's records but Jordan's impact on the game is immeasurable to most. Michael Jordan doesn't have the most career points, championships, points in a game (Mike still retains career points per a game with 30.1 ppg), or MVP's, but his influence on the game itself has crowned him G.O.A.T. status.
Jordan's impact on the game is bigger than just basketball. He is considered the greatest athlete EVER. Michael Jordan is the archetype of LeBron James; everything down to jersey numbers, style of play, endorsements, even acting in the Space Jam movie franchise. Anybody good in their sport or profession is usually referred to as the "Jordan" of their category. Along with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Jordan's presence contributed a big part to the NBA's surge in popularity. Michael Jordan made NBA games a highlight reel, gliding through the air, dunking on opponents, his way of play was innovative. Watching Jordan play the sport was like watching ballet, lots of aerobatics and beautiful moves. His style of play made people tune in all across the globe.
Jordan hasn't been on a NBA floor in 20 years and somehow his Air Jordan sneakers still sell out at your local shoe store. Michael Jordan paved the way for the big shoe deals based on the success of the Air Jordan that Nike backed. Matter of fact, you can say Jordan made it possible for LeBron James to get a multi-million dollar shoe deal with Nike before he played in his first NBA game. Michael showed how an athlete/influencer can generate millions of dollars out of their endorsements. If we leave career stats out of the GOAT conversation and strictly spoke on impact, Jordan is the GOAT.
LeBron was anointed the heir to Michael Jordan’s throne before he even graduated high school. Over the past 20 years he has shown and proven time and time again. If we are talking career stats, LeBron's numbers are comparable, if not surpassed Jordan's numbers. Though LeBron career numbers have outgrown Jordan's, LeBron has played 7 more seasons than Jordan. Some argue Jordan stats would have been higher if he played longer. LeBron is in his 20th season (and still going), Jordan only played 13 seasons; his last two seasons with the Wizards don't really count. Jordan had maybe 10 solid seasons of peak performance compared to LeBron's 20 consistent seasons.
LeBron's consistency is unmatched. Playing professional basketball straight out of high school, with no major injuries over his career span, he has been able to play at a high level for almost 20 straight seasons. Michael Jordan was only able to play at LeBron's production level half as long, in between injuries and brief retirements. Jordan has had a broken foot, retired to play baseball, retired briefly again to become an owner of the Washington Wizards, then played two more seasons in Washington while he was owner of the Wizards. Unfortunately his last two seasons was plagued with injuries due to older age, but he was still able to put up impressive numbers for an older player.
Jordan is infamous for being a tough and ruthless leader. Many of his teammates have spoken out about how intense Michael Jordan's leadership was. Former teammates like Steve Kerr and BJ Armstrong, describe how intense Michael was throughout the season. Fans have firsthand knowledge after watching the Neflix documentary The Last Dance detailing The 90's Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan was a ruthless ruler of his Chicago Bulls dynasty. Jordan's method of leadership was applying game time pressure on his teammates at all times to prepare them for future games. Michael even resorted to punching Steve Kerr in the face to assert his dominance over his teammates:
LeBron's leadership has been quite the contrary to LeBron's leadership. LeBron is known to befriend his teammates and takes the time to bond with his teammates on and off the court. At times it’s effective, others it can ineffective when it comes to having authority as a team leader. It can sometimes blur the lines between friend and team captain. LeBron is considered a better overall player. He can score, pass, move without the ball, and defend very well. LeBron is the only player in NBA history with 10,000 points, rebounds, and assists.
Over the years his leadership has been in question. When the game is on the line, LeBron shies away to a supportive role. He passes on game-winning shots, sometimes confusing his teammates. When things are not going his way he wants to get traded to a team with better players. Many believe LeBron took the easy way out to win championships when requested a trade to the Miami Heat in 2011. Jordan was able to stick to one team and figure out a way to win championships, creating a 90's dynasty team that had two 3-peats.
Michael Jordan's only weakness was not passing the ball to teammates. In the late 80's the Detroit Pistons perfected a method of defending Jordan called "Jordan Rules." The Jordan Rules involved focusing defense on Jordan in an aggressive, unscrupulous fashion. The defense worked with the Pistons for years, to the point of a book being written about the subject called The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. The Pistons were able to keep The Bulls from reaching the finals for a few years until Jordan figured out a way to work around the defense. Jordan and the Bulls couldn't win a championship until Scottie Pippen got more involved in the offense.
Many players are compared to Michael Jordan, but many don't stand the test of time. LeBron James has stood the test of time, along with Kobe Bryant, to be the rightful heirs to the Jordan throne. LeBron's flaw is trying to fill Michael Jordan's shoes. LeBron James is one of the G.O.A.T.s but he needs to create his own legacy instead of chasing Michael Jordan. In today's era, when a franchise player is not able to win a championship they want to get traded to a superteam. In Jordan's era the great players stuck with their team until they figured it out, it wasn't all about stats and championships. Player comparisons can be difficult when the players in discussion are from different eras. So this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt.