American professional basketball has been around for over 70 years. Like many sports, each generation is defined by the legacy of its superstars. These superstars are often subjects of many fan debates. The most common debate had by fans is over which superstar is the best of all time. However, the question of who is the best is a difficult one to answer. Basketball is a team sport with many different positions. Each generation plays with a different style and rules that differ from years before. These debates are often never concluded due to the fact that most fans are really comparing apples to oranges.
For most, the debate has narrowed itself down to just a hand full of players. The most popular players to compare are Michael Jordan and Lebron James. Both of these individuals have left their mark on the game of basketball. However, based on the reasons I gave above the debate for who is best can never be fulling answered. On the other hand, I believe that changing the question might get us to an undebatable conclusion. Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?
Michael Jordan played three years of college Basketball at the University of North Carolina under legendary coach Dean Smith. In his freshman year at UNC, Jordan hit the winning jump shot in the NCAA championship game. After only three years Jordan left college and moved onto the NBA. Jordan was drafted as the 3rd pick in the first round by the Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s first season in the NBA was impressive finishing the season as the NBA rookie of the year.
Like Michael Jordan, Lebron James also had success prior to joining the NBA. Lebron James didn’t attend college, he was highly recruited and drafted right out of high school. Prior to joining the NBA Lebron James lead St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to three state and one national championship. James was drafted 1st overall in the 2003 draft. Even though he was just 18 year old, James was beast of a man; able to compete on the professional level. He also finished the season winning the rookie of the year honors.
Both superstars were the most dominate players in the game the moment they stepped onto the court; statistically having success that was unparalleled to the competition. Jordan was a scoring machine averaging over thirty points per game over his entire career. At the time of his retirement Jordan has been the NBA scoring champion ten times. Jordan’s regular season dominance helped him win five MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards, tied for second most all time.
James never had a problem scoring but his statistics were amazing because he was so good in so many categories. His career average up to this point is just over twenty seven points per game. Unlike Jordan however, James also excels in passing and rebounding. It is Lebron James’s well rounded stat line that puts him in the Jordan conversation. No one has had regular season statistics like Lebron James in over forty years. Lebron James is a four time MVP tied for third all-time and his career isn’t close to being over.
The list of similarities could go on forever. Both men are two time Olympic Gold medal winners. Both men have record shoe deals with Nike, the biggest shoe company in the world. Both are active in charities and have successful businesses away from the basketball court. On paper it is easy see why this debate has merit. While they have different playing styles, body types, and they play different positions their accolades are very much the same. Well, almost the same.
Lebron James has been to six NBA finals. He is the only NBA player lead his team to five straight NBA championships from 2011-2015. James is a two time NBA champion and a two time NBA Finals MVP. The one knock on Lebron James his inability win big games. In fact he has a reputation for deferring to his teammates in pressure situations instead of putting the team on his back and willing them to win. However this is something that is difficult to prove statically. Everything on papers looks amazing as far as Lebron James in concerned. Even a 2-4 record in the NBA finals. Most NBA players will never play in a finals, so playing in six is a testament to itself.
Like Lebron James, Jordan has also been to six NBA finals. However, this is where Jordan separates himself from the pack. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA finals resulting in six NBA championships. The six-time finals MVP had a playoff reputation that differs from Lebron James. When the game was on the line Jordan always had the ball and a will to win that was unprecedented. He led the Bulls to their only six finals appearances in franchise history. The Chicago Bulls are the only team with multiple finals appearances and an undefeated record.
There are plenty of arguments to say that Lebron could be the best player in the history of the game. However, championships are what define greatness. The best players and teams come and go with each generation, but championships last forever. The current Golden State Warriors are on pace to win more NBA games in a season than any team in history. Oddly enough the current record is held by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. However, the Warriors four championships pale in comparison to the seventeen championships held by the Celtics or the sixteen held by the Lakers. Michael Jordan’s NBA Final dominance is something that has never been seen before and my never be seen again. Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the greatest basketball player of all-time.