I bet you $100 that if LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers make the 2018 NBA Finals, every sports outlet will, once again, start comparing him to Michael Jordan.
Would you take that bet?
No, of course you wouldn’t! That would be preposterously stupid and I would end up $100 bucks richer. I would actually bet the remainder of my student loan payments that the LeBron/MJ comparisons will continue every time LeBron makes it to the NBA Playoffs, not just the Finals.
It seems to be a popular narrative that literally all sports shows enjoy pushing. I can hardly watch any of my favorite sports programing on ESPN and Fox Sports 1 because during every show there will be a segment about LBJ vs MJ, whether it be people telling them not to compare the two or coming up with some stale argument about why one is better than the other. It’s not just exhausting, but it’s pointless because no one is making any new points or giving any new perspective.
Just for fun, let’s line up some of their regular season stats:
Games played: LBJ: 1061, MJ:1072
FG %: LBJ: .501, MJ: .497
3-point %: LBJ: .342, MJ: .327
Rebounds per game: LBJ: 7.3, MJ: 6.2
Assists per game: LBJ: 7.0, MJ: 5.3
Points per game: LBJ: 27.1, MJ: 30.1
Career points scored: LBJ: 28,787, MJ: 32,292
So, where does that leave us? On paper, LeBron is barely a better player than MJ. In fact, they are almost identical except when it comes to rebounds and assists. And Bron Bron’s numbers, keep in mind, will continue to improve because he is still playing. So, why do people say LeBron is not as good as MJ?
Oh yeah. Rings.
LeBron has won 3 NBA Finals. MJ has won 6.
I hate to break it to you, but LeBron will probably never win 6 rings. The NBA is a different place and the parity is much better. I mean, I still know who will go to the Finals every year, but you can’t count on one team winning it all. Besides, I don’t think championships are always indicative of player greatness. Look at all the supporting cast members on the Bulls or the Cavs or the Heat who have the same number of rings as each of these dudes. There are guys who have far more rings than MJ, yet no one will say they are greater than him. Like, Brock Osweiler has more NFL rings than Dan Marino, but no one in their right minds will say that Brock is a better QB than Marino.
Sports pundits and networks LOVE to compare past and present players. For example, I’ve heard them ask who was a better Yankee: Ruth or Jeter? I’ve heard them push the narrative of is “Brady a better QB than Montana” (the answer is “yes” BTW). You can’t compare Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter because they played at two completely different times in baseball. Tom Brady and Joe Montana didn’t face the same kind of competition or have the same kind of coaching. The supporting cast around these players also makes a HUGE difference. LeBron would probably have at least one more ring if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving weren’t injured in 2015. Jeter wouldn’t have five rings if he didn’t play for the Yankees. Brady also wouldn’t have five rings if it weren’t for Bill Belichick and some outstanding plays by his defense during the last two Super Bowls they won. There are too many factors that go into making a player great for us to objectively say one is better than the other.
The point I want to make here is that we should all stop comparing athletes to those of a previous generation. The NBA was a different place when MJ was playing than right now. It was a different place when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was playing. All three are great players who will likely sit on the basketball version of Mount Rushmore. However, it isn’t fair or conducive to compare them to each other. We can look at stats and rings to see who is the better player, but we can’t arbitrarily compare one to the other.
Eras of play change. LeBron might have been better than MJ if they played at the same time, and MJ might be better than LeBron if he played now. We have no way of knowing because you have to look beyond the stats and try to compare what the NBA was like before and what it is like now. The game has even evolved during LeBron’s career. If it can evolve that much since Bron Bron made his debut, we have to realize how much it’s changed between the LeBron era and the Jordan era.
Both players are monumentally important to the game of basketball. Both have been two of the most marketed athletes in history. Both have illustrious Playoff resumes and both of them have carried teams on their backs to Championship titles. But that’s where the Greatest Of All Time debate needs to stop. We can have multiple GOATs. That sounds blasphemous, I know, but we need to stop comparing the two. Or, wait until LeBron retires at the very least. Don’t compare someone who is in the middle of their career to someone who has been retired for a long time.
Let’s just enjoy the greatness of LeBron James and remember the greatness of Michael Jordan. Appreciate both, don’t compare both.