LeBron James and Michael Jordan: Chasing the Greatest of All Time
Since the beginning of the NBA there have always been transcendent stars whose ability, charisma, and championship drive defined their personas. Michael Jordan is widely considered to be the greatest basketball player of all-time, with the exception of perhaps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who played in a completely different era. However, before Jordan there was Julius Erving (Dr. J). When Jordan came into the league, he was labeled the next Dr. J, who was considered to be a magician on the court. Jordan was a clone of Dr. J in the late 1980s, even to the point where he held a plethora of awards but experienced little in the way of success. When Jordan finally won a championship, his career, more than ever, resembled Dr. J’s, who had only won a single championship. In the end, though, Jordan surpassed Dr. J by winning five more championships and a host of other awards to cement his legacy. Nobody matched Jordan’s on court success, off court awards, and personality of “win at all costs.” Of the players in Jordan’s era, only Magic Johnson may be considered to be equal to Jordan in talent but his career was marred by personal tragedy and off-court distractions.
When a young high school player out of Akron, Ohio took the national stage by storm in the early 2000s, the first thing that came to everybody’s mind was “he’s the next Jordan.” Scouts were convinced of LeBron James’ abilities and even his potential, but were skeptical since there had been, since Jordan, a number of so-called next-Jordans who had failed to live up to the hype. Mitch Richmond and Harold Miner were just two of these next-Jordans who disappeared either into oblivion or mediocrity. Kobe Bryant was probably closest of the next-Jordans but was consistently competing with his own teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, for stardom. Many considered Bryant a winner only when he played with Shaq, because after Shaq left the Lakers, Kobe had difficulty bringing his team back to the Finals until Pau Gasol finally joined via trade.
LeBron James was instantly a different kind of next-Jordan. His game did not even resemble Jordan’s game. The way James played the game, he was more of a next-Magic than a next-Jordan. As soon as LeBron had his own run in with the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs, though, there was a storm of discussion about LeBron’s legacy as it related to Jordan and all those before him. LeBron’s difficulties winning a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers was quite well-documented and highlighted in the media. It was not until LeBron “took his talents” to Miami that he was able to finally break through and fulfill his chosen role as the next-Jordan of destiny.
Presently, LeBron may finally be compared to Jordan statistically since the nature of their on-court games do not entirely match up. Where LeBron is more of a facilitator and Point-Forward type of player, Jordan was always the pure scorer and lock-down defender. Now with LeBron’s third championship in the record books, he is, according to many, “half way” to Jordan. Nevertheless, LeBron has now played thirteen NBA seasons compared to Jordan’s 15, which means if one is going to compare the two players they may now do so, according to statistics since their totals are about to even-out on paper. LeBron has now won 4 NBA MVP awards to Jordan’s 5; 10 All-NBA First Team selections to Jordan’s 10; 6 All-Defensive teams to Jordan’s 9; but only 1 NBA scoring title to Jordan’s 10.
Even though LeBron relishes his role as the primary facilitator and closer of his teams, his career average is still startlingly similar to Jordan’s. LeBron thus far has averaged 27.2 points per game compared to Jordan’s 30.1. Jordan won the scoring title nine more times than LeBron but only averaged three more points per game. A major discrepancy between the two lies within the comparison of rebounds per game and assists per game. LeBron averages 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, making him a triple double threat every night. Meanwhile, Jordan averaged only 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists, which, while fantastic for a guard in any era, is not quite the same as LeBron’s total impact on the ballgame.
In the end, LeBron’s legacy will ultimately be defined by the number of championships he wins compared to Jordan. He may never get to six—but not many ever will. LeBron’s legacy should be defined by his domination over his peers in conjunction with his ability to morph the game generally to his all-around abilities even though he has never been the pure scorer Jordan was.