Whether it’s with your friends at your school or your co workers around the water cooler, at one point in time you’ve found yourself involved in an argument about who’s the greatest; Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Hell, I found myself arguing with a 6-year-old girl I met at a Chuck-E-Cheese about it. And with each of these arguments comes anger, stubbornness, and someone thrown into the ball pit at Chuck-E-Cheese (I’m embarrassed to say who in my case). This argument about who is better has happened for years now, with people flinging stats left and right trying to gain leverage in the debate. Now I’m not here to discuss who I think is better, I am here instead to explain why this entire debate is unfair, pointless, and time to be put to rest.
LeBron James and Michael Jordan are two of the most elite athletes in the history of sports and have dominated their eras of basketball since their respected entries into the league. Michael Jordan’s career spanned 15 years, saw six rings, and brought basketball to the level of popularity we all know it as today. LeBron James is in his 14th season and has seen three rings, and has brought constant talk as to if he is better than Michael Jordan. Now, admittedly, I have engaged in said arguments, but all in all, I believe that it is silly and premature to have these arguments and I will explain why.
When it comes to the content of these arguments, the main focus is on the playoff performances of both players. Many people tend to look at their number of rings and say that Jordan has three more championships than Lebron, so he is automatically better. If that was the case, however, then by that logic, Robert Horry, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff, John Havlicek, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones, and Bill Russell are all better than Michael Jordan (Note: Arguments can be made for the latter). So how is that a fair comparison? I’ll tell you how; it’s not. While championships may be an important sign of success and dominance, they do not always accurately represent the player. Take Charles Barkley, for example. Charles Barkley is arguably one of the best power forwards of all-time, yet he doesn’t have a ring. Meanwhile, Larry Siegfried, a career 10.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.5 apg player, has five. So is Larry Siegfried better than Charles Barkley? Hell no. God no. So how is it fair to judge Jordan and LeBron the same way?
Another argument that comes into play is the fact that this is a different era of basketball. A more competitive era of basketball. An era filled with better athletes and better competition. LeBron plays amongst players that are simply physically bigger and better than anything that Michael Jordan played against. Biologically and historically, athletes are going to be better as time goes on. The players develop alongside the game. Now while I agree with this, I feel it is more important to look at the player within the era and what he accomplished. Look at it this way: Babe Ruth is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but if you were to put him in the modern-day, where the average starting pitcher throws 95 mph consistently and the breaking balls are even nastier, he wouldn’t be nearly as good, yet I still consider him one of the greatest to play because of what he did during his era. Tying it back into this debate, you need to take into account some of the teams that Michael Jordan and company went up against. Michael Jordan had to go up against teams like the ‘86 Celtics, led by Larry Bird, and the Bad Boys Pistons team lead by Isiah Thomas. LeBron played some tough teams, but for the most part, nothing like what Jordan played against (see 2011 Mavs). In order to just reach the finals, Michael Jordan had to go through some of the toughest teams. Many point out that Jordan had been eliminated multiple times in the first round of the playoffs while LeBron has not, yet they fail to realize that Jordan was going up against some tough teams, no matter what era you’re looking at. Twice he and his Bulls got swept by Larry Bird’s Celtics, arguably one of the best teams in history. Jordan played against some of the greatest talents in NBA history, but so has LeBron. Jordan went up against guys like Bird, Thomas, and Barkley. LeBron went up against guys like Garnett, Pierce, and Allen. “But Zach, those last three guys were all on the same team.” Yeah, well I just wanted to stick with the rule of three. Can’t list those three without the other. “Zach it just sounds like your list of talent for LeBron is inferior in comparison to yours for Jordan.” Alright fine, want me to list some more? Gilbert Arenas, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh (Yes he had to face them before he joined them) Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Ben and Rasheed Wallace (Damn good 2006 team) Derrick Rose, Paul George, John Wall, Isaiah Thomas, Demar Derozan, I could go on. Just like I could with Michael Jordan. Talent is simply timeless.
Along the lines of talent, it matters who you’re supported by. Although one player can make more of an impact in basketball, who your teammates are matters. During his career, Jordan had a pretty nice group of guys to work with. Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, and countless other great role players. LeBron in his early career was sent out there with a lineup that featured Anderson Varejao at center…Jokes aside, he was a good defender at his peak, but the point is LeBron in early parts of his career was equipped with jack shit compared to the supporting cast that Jordan had. That is partially why LeBron left to go to Miami, which brings me to my counter argument to this point. LeBron eventually did have a good supporting group. His big 3 in Miami was insane and featured some great role players that really contributed when it mattered most (See Ray Allen Gm. 6 3-pointer vs. Spurs). And then when LeBron came back to Cleveland, he was once again well-equipped, besides 2015 when the team was riddled with injuries. Having Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on your side is a big boost for LeBron.
Now we have come to the end of this little ol’ random of mine, so I am going to end it with some closing notes on this whole debate, maybe explain myself a bit better and tie up some loose ends. It isn’t right to compare these two players, or at least not at the moment. Let LeBron play and finish his career, then we can all take a step back and look at what the two of them have accomplished. But until then, let LeBron play. And I know that I have come across as a LeBron supporter throughout all of this. While he may be one of my favorite players to watch, I do not lean in his favor, nor do I lean in MJ’s favor. I talk more about LeBron simply because I have seen more of him than I have seen Jordan. I grew up with LeBron, not Jordan, so can you blame me? Still, though, I know enough about Jordan to know that he is an exceptional talent and it is truly tough to top a player like that, I mean, just watch tape of his flu game and you’ll see the type of player Jordan is. And I do admit that Jordan’s stats vs. LeBron’s are better, especially in the playoffs. I just feel that it is simply too difficult to compare the two, especially since they both played in different eras of basketball. If the two played alongside one another, sure, go right ahead compare and contrast them until your face turns blue, but their careers never crossed. So let the greats be great and just enjoy it while it happens. Basketball is a game, it’s meant to be fun and enjoyed. No sense in worrying about who’s better than who. Just watch and treasure the game.