Features

The GOAT Debate

By: Enzo Whetton

After the airing of ESPN’s The Last Dance, the debate amongst basketball fans has been reignited regarding who the greatest NBA player of all time is. While Jordan is obviously one of the greats, his position as number one is being challenged by LeBron James.

“nytimes.com”

Since he entered the league in 2003, LeBron James has been heralded as the greatest player of the generation, if not all time. Dubbed “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated during high school, James always had high expectations. He declared for the 2003 NBA draft out of high school, something no longer possible with the NBA’s new rule forcing players to attend one year of college before being eligible for the draft. “King” James, as he is often called, was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The only man standing between LeBron and the title “Greatest of All Time” is Michael Jordan. Jordan was the face of basketball during the 1980s, gaining sponsorships and publicity all over the world. In 1984, he was drafted third overall out of the University of North Carolina behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. Olajuwon went on to become a Hall of Famer, while Bowie’s promising career was riddled with injuries. Both Jordan and LeBron have impressive resumes, but there can be only one GOAT.

“fivethirtyeight.com”

Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA. He had 9 with the Chicago Bulls from 1984-1993 before taking a year off to play baseball. He then had another 4 year stint with the Bulls from 1994-1998, and he returned a final time to play for the Washington Wizards from 2001-2003. In his career, he was named NBA Rookie of the year, won 6 NBA championships, 6 Finals MVP awards, 5 MVP awards, and was an All Star 14 times. He averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game, all while shooting just under 50% from the field. He won the olympic gold medal twice for the United States. 

LeBron has a similar stat line. So far, he has played 11 seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, 4 seasons with the Miami Heat, and 2 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was also named Rookie of the Year. He has won 4 NBA championships, winning finals MVP all four times. He has 4 MVP awards and has attended the All Star game 16 times. James has averaged 27.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, with a field goal percentage of 50.4%. He also has 2 gold medals from the 2012 and 2008 olympic games.

When comparing these players, a few things stand out. Jordan has 2 more finals wins, 2 more finals MVPs, and 1 more MVP award than LeBron. He also edges out James when it comes to points per game. LeBron, however, has the lead in assists and rebounds per game, as well as shooting percentage. He also has been to more All Star Games than Jordan. On the all time scoring list, LeBron ranks 3rd compared to Jordan’s still impressive 5th. And LeBron still has a few years to improve that gap and close others.

A common statistic brought up by those who support Jordan’s bid to be the GOAT is that he has gone to and won 6 NBA finals without a single loss. LeBron has only won 4 out of the ten he has participated in. Jordan’s 6-0 record in the finals is amazing, but it shows that he faltered before and during the postseason prior to the NBA finals. LeBron’s consistency is shown as he has reached the finals in more than half the seasons he has played. 

Overall, LeBron’s career statline shows he is a better all around player as he has more assists and rebounds than Jordan while still putting up over 27 points per game. While both have primarily played the small forward position, LeBron shows his ability to be versatile and play like a point guard and teammate when he needs to. 

While it is clear these two men are the best two NBA players of all time, King James has a slight edge which will only grow as he continues his basketball career.

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