Updated: Feb 25, 2020
By: Brad Miller
With the NBA season now underway for 2019, the age-old debate about who is the greatest NBA player of all time rages again. Simply typing “Michael” into my search engine leads to who the “greatest basketball player of all time is” — either Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
Basketball is a complex sport with many factors contributing to a team winning. Judging by championship wins, Jordan clearly is superior since he led the Chicago Bears to a 6-0 record while gaining MVP honors in each of those wins.
Still an active player, James has appeared in the NBA championship series nine times with both the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, and he has a 3-6 record in the finals.
Jordan seemed to have a no-lose policy. When he was needed to win an important game, he didn’t give up. That’s when he played at his best. He said, "I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” His will to win surpassed everything.
Scottie Pippen, a teammate of Michael Jordan and six-time NBA champion, has been interviewed about this debate many times. In a Bleacher Report article he said, "When I look at LeBron, he's not what Michael (Jordan) was as a player. He's not even what Kobe Bryant was as a player.” Another NBA legend, Bryant has retired from the Los Angeles Lakers after 20 seasons in the league. He played in seven NBA finals with a record of 5-2.
Pippen thinks that LeBron lacks the will to win that drove both Jordan and Bryant.
James may not have as many rings as Jordan, but statically he is soon to surpass him in most categories. James has averaged 27.2 points a game over the course of his career while Jordan averaged 30.1. In total points, James surpassed Jordan last season. Also, Jordan never had the court vision that James possesses. LeBron making jaw-dropping passes is not uncommon. His passing is one of the most notable aspects of his game.
In an anonymous survey created by 247 Sports that was given to college coaches, 82 percent proclaimed that Michael Jordan is the superior player. One of the coaches said, "I can truly say that both those players are game-changing and iconic-type players... if I had to choose to start a team around one individual, I would choose LeBron."
Looking at how both these player’s teams fared when they left, you can see how differently they affected their teams. Last year, when James left the Cavaliers, the team struggled for most of the season, and this is after he led the team to the finals the previous year.
While the Bulls didn’t go on to win a championship without Jordan, the team fared better than the Cavs when James left. The Bulls went on to win 23 games while the Cavs won 17 last year. LeBron has lost the finals a few times, but his teams have made the playoffs consistently.
No correct answer exists for who is the greatest NBA player of all time. NBA fans should appreciate the amazing basketball they’ve seen from both of these extraordinary athletes.
Quinn Rice, an assistant coach for the Rochester University men’s basketball team, said, "I think it’s apples to oranges. Different positions, different eras. Different situations. I guess I would say Jordan revolutionized the game more since he inspired an entire generation, but I think they are 1a and 1b."