Why Michael Jordan Is Still Better Than LeBron James

   Streeter Lecka/NBAE/Getty Images

Before I begin, I would like to make a few things clear. I do NOT hold a grudge against LeBron James. He is, with ease, in the top five of my greatest players of all time list, and probably even in the top three. I am also not going to rule out the possibility that he may eventually force me to place him above Michael Jordan as, on my list, the best player in NBA history. With that being said, I strongly believe that he has not yet surpassed Jordan. Recently, due in large part to his monstrous NBA Finals performance, LeBron has been dubbed by some fans as equal or above MJ, and I hope I can make it clear why I respectfully disagree.

The Early Years: “Carrying A Team”

The most common argument which I have seen in favor of James is the way in which he carried a lackluster team to multiple successful seasons and an NBA Finals appearance in 2007. This argument also tends to involve the fact that Jordan had a mediocre 1-9 playoff record before the arrival of his longtime teammate, Hall of Fame small forward Scottie Pippen. Let’s dive into a year-by-year analysis of King James in Cleveland from 2003-2010.

2003/2004: James, a teenage phenomenon, was drafted first overall to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft, and joined a team that had won just 17 games in the previous season. LeBron averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 41.7% from the field. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a good player form the year before, averaged 15.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. The Cavs also got some contributions from some other new players, power forward Carlos Boozer saw a large increase in minutes and a new opportunity to shine, and averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 52.3%, and Jeff McInnis, acquired via trade during the season, averaged 11.7 points and 7.5 assists as well. Ricky Davis, in the games he played, averaged 15-6-5. The Cavaliers won 35 games this year, led by Rookie of The Year LeBron, but did not make the playoffs.

2004/2005: In the 2004-2005 season, Drew Gooden came in as the replacement for Carlos Boozer. He averaged 14.4 points and 9.2 rebounds, McInnis averaged 12.8 points and 5.1 assists, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas averaged 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. LeBron’s supporting cast remained relatively similar, maybe a bit better, but there were no drastic acquisitions. LeBron, however, had a breakout year. He averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game while shooting 47.2% from the field. The Cavs won 42 games, a seven game improvement, but not enough for a playoff spot.

2005/2006: Despite playing less than half of the season, newcomers Ronald Murray and Larry Hughes, 13.5 and 15.5 points per game respectively, proved to be solid players. Ilgauskas and Gooden remained on the team, while McInnis did not. James continued to improve his game, and had a ridiculous year. He averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists while shooting 48.0%. An MVP candidate, James led the Cavaliers to fifty wins, an eight game improvement from the ’05 campaign. Now in his third season, James would have play his first playoff series against the 42-40 Washington Wizards. He averaged 35.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on 51.0%, absolutely dominating the Wizards as the Cavs won in six. Hughes averaged 12 points on a horrendous 31.3% shooting percentage, and Murray averaged 11.0 points on 44.0%. In the East semifinals, James and the Cavs lost in seven to the 64-18 Pistons. James averaged 26.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists on 44.2%. Ilgauskas was the only other Cavalier to hit double digits, as he averaged about 11 points on 47%. The Cavaliers played terrific defense, however, to help force a seventh game. They held Detroit to 10.2 points per game under their regular season average.

2006/2007: Averaging 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists, James led the Cavaliers to 50 wins once again. Cleveland had similar offensive production, and had the 4th ranked defense in the league. In the first two rounds, the Cavs defeated the 41-win Wizards and 41-win Nets. In the first round, James averaged 28-9-8 on 42.5%, Drew Gooden averaged 15-10 on 61%, Ilgauskas averaged 19-11 on 60%, and Hughes averaged 19-7 on 44.2%. The Cleveland defense held Washington to 12.8 points under their regular season defense. In the second round, James averaged 25-7-9 on 42.3%, Hughes averaged 14-4-3 on 32.3%, Ilgauskas averaged 11-9 on 47.9%, Gooden averaged 11-10 on 45.2%, and Pavlovic averaged 10 on 42%.The Cleveland defense held New Jersey to 13.4 points under their regular season average. The Cavs met a 53-win Detroit Pistons team(no Ben Wallace or coach Brown) in the Eastern Conference Finals. James averaged 25.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 8.5 assists on 44.9% as the Cavs defeated Detroit in six games, Ilgauskas averaged 13 and 9, and Daniel Gibson almost 14. The Cavaliers, with their elite defense, held the Pistons to ten points under their regular season average. In game 6, LeBron had 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists on 3-11 shooting and Daniel Gibson had 31 points on 7-9 shooting(12-15 from the line). In the NBA Finals, the Cavs faced a 58-win San Antonio team and lost in 4 games. While the sweep ma indicate that the Spurs manhandled the Cavaliers, the four games were decided by: 1, 3, 9, and 11 points. The Cleveland defense held the Spurs to 12 points under their regular season average. James struggled in this series, averaging 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists while shooting 35.6% from the field. Contrary to popular belief, LeBron was not “carrying a team of scrubs” to the NBA Finals this year, rather leading a 50-win team with minimal starpower, as the Cavs had some decent double digit scorers and an elite defense which played terrific in the playoffs.

2007/2008: The Cavs faced injuries throughout the year, and won just 45 games despite another terrific year from James: who averaged 30.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.2 assists on 48.4%. The Cavs added guard Delonte West, and acquired center and four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, who, despite being a bit old, helped anchor their defense. In the first round, the Cavs defeated the 43-win Wizards as LeBron averaged 30-10-8 on 48.3%, Ilgauskas averaged 15-7 on 53%, Gibson averaged 12 points on 47.3%. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavaliers faced the 66-win eventual league champion Boston Celtics. LeBron averaged 26.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 7.6 assists on a horrendous 35.5%. Ilgauskas averaged 12-8, and Gibson 11-4-3. Despite struggling to have a great series offensively, the Cavaliers pushed the best team in the league by playing stellar defense. They held the Celtics 16.5 points under their regular season average. In the ’08 playoffs, no team played better defense than Cleveland.

2008/2009: This was arguably the best individual season in LeBron’s career, as he led his team to 66 wins while averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds,and 7.2 assists on 48.9%. He rightfully won his first league MVP award. The Cavaliers again boasted a great defense, ranking third in the league in terms of defensive rating and 1st in opponent points per game. Point guard Mo Williams averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists, earning a spot in the All-Star game. Delonte West averaged 12-3-4, and Ilgauskas averaged 13-8. James and the Cavs easily swept through the 39-win Pistons and 47-win Hawks, and met a 59-win Magic team led by center Dwight Howard. Howard shot above 65% and averaged 26-13, dominating the Cleveland big men. LeBron averaged 39-8-8 on 48.7%, but his superhuman performance was not enough as the Magic won in 6 games. LeBron could not have played much better in this particular series, and had his teammates helped out a bit more, fans could have seen a Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James finals series.

2009/2010: LeBron averaged 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.6 assists while shooting 50.3% as he led Cleveland to 61 wins and earned his second straight MVP award. After defeating Chicago in five games, the number-one seeded Cavaliers faced the 50-win four seed Boston Celtics. After being the favorites to win and taking a 2-1 lead, nobody expected Boston to end up winning in six games. LeBron averaged 27-9-7 on just under 45%, not a bad series at all, but not as great as he was throughout the season. With the series tied 2-2, the Cavs lost by 32 points in game 5 in Cleveland. James scored just 15 points and shot just 3-14 from the field, the only Cavalier to reach 20 points was center Shaquille O’Neal who scored 21 points on 7-11 shooting. LeBron did not “choke” in this series, but he did have a relatively “not incredible” series for his standards.

Looking through LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, it is clear that he was an all-time great player. By no means did he have a great team, but he did have a decent team. Consistently playing great on defense, and helping to space the floor and also score at times, the Cavs were not as much of a joke as people seem to assume. On top of that, the East did not have too much competition during this time as the Cavs beat only beat one  team with over 50 wins and that was their only playoff series upset(vs. DET in ’07), they were the higher seed in every other playoff series that they won. They lost to the Magic and Celtics in ’09 and ’10 as the higher seed, although LeBron was  as good as can be against Orlando. Now, let’s look at Jordan’s career before he won his first championship, and we’ll see why the “1-9 without Pippen” and similar arguments along those lines are quite invalid.

1984/1985: The 1983-1984 Bulls had won only 27 games, led by Dave Greenwood, Orlando Woolridge, Dave Corzine, Quintin Dailey, Ennis Whatley, and Mitchell Wiggins. In the 1984-1985 season, Corzine and Greenwood both played significantly less minutes and were unable to start every game as they had throughout the past season. Mitchell Wiggins, a 12 ppg scorer in ’84, was no longer on the team. The team(without Jordan), which had only won 27 games to begin with, probably would have won around 20 games this season. Rookie Michael Jordan, however, did all he could to stop that. The Bulls won 38 games, led by Jordan, who averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists on 51.5%. Woolridge, who averaged nearly 20 points the year before, averaged nearly 23. Quintin Dailey averaged 16 points per game as well. The mediocre 38-win Bulls, unlike LeBron’s 35-win Cavs during his rookie  year, snuck into the playoffs. They faced a 57-win Bucks team that was nearly the top-seed in the East, and boasted the number two defense in terms of defensive rating(number one in opponent points per game). Their perimeter defense was exceptional, led by back-to-back Defensive Player and of the Year Sidney Moncreif. Jordan averaged 29-6-9 on 44%,  not bad for a rookie leading a supbar team against an incredible defense, and the Bulls lost 3-1. Despite facing a far superior team in the playoffs and losing in the first round, Jordan’s Bulls made a significant improvement and were headed on the right track.

1985/1986: The 1986 Bulls won only 30 games. This shows Jordan’s value more than anything. MJ broke his foot and missed the first 64 games of this season. The Bulls added Kyle Macy, former All-Star and Hall of Famer George Gervin, got a healthy and ready Sidney Green, and added Charles Oakley. Considering the fact that they made such significant upgrades and additions, one would not have guessed that they went 21-43 during Jordan’s absence. This is on pace for 27 wins. Jordan, despite being advised not to, returned for the final 18 games but started just 7 and managed to play only 25 minutes per game. He still averaged 22.7 points, and the Bulls were 9-9 in the games that he tried to play in. The Bulls somehow snuck into the playoffs again, and matched up with the 68-win 1986 Boston Celtics, arguably the best team of all time. A near 40-win difference between the two teams, Jordan’s historic series did not stop the Celtics from sweeping the Bulls en route to a championship. MJ scored 63 points in game 2, and averaged over 40 points on over 50% for the series, having a great individual output.

1986/1987: The Bulls not only lost their additions of Gervin, Macy, and Green, but they also lost Quintin Dailey and Orlando Woolridge. A team that was on pace for 27 wins without MJ lost their top three, maybe top five players, and probably would have won 10-15 games without Jordan. They did, however, have him. Averaging 37.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists on 48.2%, Jordan finished 2nd in MVP voting(5th in Defensive Player of the Year Voting) and led the Bulls to 40 wins. Charles Oakley averaged 14.5 points and 13.1 rebounds on 44.5%. John Paxson added 11.3 points and 5.7 assists on 48.7%. No other Bull averaged double figures, and their team defense but not top 10. Obviously, 40 wins is impressive considering the situation of the team, but still quite mediocre. Once again, it was enough to sneak into the playoffs, but being an eight seed again and facing a far superior team does not produce much success. The Bulls were swept once again by the Boston Celtics, despite Jordan averaging 36-7-6.

1987/1988: The Bulls lost Gene Banks, and added Sam Vincent, who averaged 13-8 on 45% in the 29 games that he played in. They also added young Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, but both players were not only bench players during this time, they played barely over 20 minutes per game and both averaged  less thane 8 points per game. The Bulls supporting cast was around the same level, with no player averaging over 13 points other than Jordan, but Jordan had another historic season. Averaging 35/6/6 on 53.5%, Jordan led the Bulls to 50 wins and won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award, helping improve their defense from 11th to 3rd in defensive rating, and first in opponent points per game. The Bulls beat a 42 win Cleveland team in 5, as Jordan had a monstrous series. He averaged 45/5/5 on 55.9%, almost 35 points more than the Bulls second leading scorer (10.8).In the second round, they played a 54 win Pistons team that ended up defeating Boston and barely losing in the NBA Finals to the Lakers. They easily defeated the Bulls in five, as Jordan had a good series, but not as great as he was against Cleveland. He averaged 27/9/5 on 49.1%, and his second option averaged 12.8 on 40.7%. The Pistons were great at forcing the other Bulls to make plays, which they simply could not do, and as a result they were easily defeated.

1988/1989: The Bulls had some internal problems, injuries, and lost Oakley. They still won 47 games, due in large part to Jordan. MJ played some point guard this season, averaging 33/8/8 on 53.8%. Without Oakley, it was difficult to have the same interior defense, and they fell to 11th in defensive rating. Horace Grant averaged 12-9 and Pippen averaged 14-6, Bill Cartwright averaged 12-7. The Bulls faced a 57-win Cleveland team in the first round that not only had the home-court advantage, but also more depth and the second ranked defense in terms of defensive rating. Jordan averaged 40/6/8 on 51.8%, hitting “The Shot” to win game 5 and win the series. Pippen averaged 15, but on 39.7%, Grant and Hodges averaged 10.4 for Chicago as well. In the second round, the Bulls faced a 52-win Knicks team that again had the homecourt advantage. Pippen, Cartwright, Grant, and Hodges averaged 15, 15, 13, and 11 respectively. Jordan delivered another superhuman series, averaging 36/10/8 on 55% to lead Chicago to victory in six games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls faced a Pistons team that had won 63 games, and would have won even more had they traded for Mark Aguirre earlier in the year. The Pistons, again, were masterful in forcing Jordan to get rid of the ball as they knew that the rest of the Bulls could not make enough plays to defeat them. The Bulls lost in 6 games. Hodges averaged 12 points on 45%, Cartwright averaged 10.5 on 41.2%, and Pippen averaged just 9.7 points on 40.4%. Jordan, despite averaging 30/6/7 on 46%, was not going to defeat the Pistons with this team. The Pistons manhandled every team in the league but the Bulls, sweeping every other opponent in the playoffs including the Lakers in the Finals. Jordan practically single-handedly challenged Detroit, and their smothering defense to do everything they could to get the ball out of Jordan’s hands and stop him became extremely popular(“Jordan Rules”).

  • In my opinion, Jordan’s 1989 run to the Eastern Conference Finals was more impressive than LeBron’s run to the NBA Finals. First of all, Jordan averaged 34.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists on 51.0%. LeBron averaged 25.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.0 assists on 41.6%. Jordan averaged only 1.1 less rebounds and .4 less assists, but 9.7 more points while also shooting almost 10% better. The Bulls were the 11th ranked defense, while the Cavaliers were the 4th ranked defense. LeBron’s help offensively: 13-10 on 49%, 11-8 on 49%, 11 on 35%. Jordan’s help offensively: 13-8 on 46%, 12-7 on 49%, 11 on 41%. As you can see, both players had a lackluster supporting cast in terms of starpower and playmaking, but LeBron had the better defense. The Cavs beat two 41-win teams and a 53-win team before getting swept in the NBA Finals. The Bulls beat a 57-win team and a 52-win team, both upsets, and then won two games on Jordan’s back in the ECF against a 63-win NBA Champion Pistons team. The Pistons swept every opponent in the playoffs outside of Chicago, and in game 6 of that series, Scottie Pippen, not yet an All-Star but still the second option, played just one minute while Jordan had 32-4-13 on 50%. In game 6 against the 53-win Pistons in LeBron’s ECF run, Gibson scored 31 while LeBron had 20-14-8 on 3-11. As you can see, a superior defense and overall supporting cast and much weaker competition for LeBron as well as worse production than Jordan makes me place more value in Jordan’s 1989 run despite Cleveland making the Finals in ’07.

1989/1990: In 1990, the Bulls won 55 games. Scottie Pippen emerged from a decent player to a solid, low-level All-Star. Pippen averaged 17-7-5 on 49%, Grant averaged 13-8, and Cartwright averaged 11. Pippen was not yet the historically great defender he would become, but he was still a solid defender. Jordan was, as he had been for a few years, arguably the best perimeter defender in the league. Despite great perimeter defense, the interior was not well-protected and the team defense for the Bulls was shaky. Their defensive rating fell from 11th in the league to 19th, but the coaching change(Phil Jackson’s first year) helped their offense improve. Jordan, despite not winning MVP, was the best player in the league again. He averaged 34/7/6 on 53%. The Bulls faced a 44-win Bucks team and 53-win Barkley-lead 76ers team in the first two rounds. Jordan obliterated both of these teams, averaging 40/7/7 on 54% during these first nine games and beating a solid 76ers team in 5 despite Pippen missing a game. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they faced the number one seeded defending NBA Finals champion Detroit Pistons. The Pistons lost just two games during this playoff run outside of the Bulls, and would win the NBA Finals again. This time, however, the Bulls did match up. Jordan averaged 32/7/6 on 47%, not a huge increase in average production from their ’89 matchup, but he was able to dominate more willingly and not allow the “Jordan Rules” to get the ball out of his hands as frequently. This also occured in part due to the new and improved supporting cast that Chicago had, lead by Scottie Pippen. Pippen had averaged 19/7/4 on 46% through the first six games, but outside of Jordan and Pippen, the entire Bulls team was shook by Detroit. At crucial times in games, the Pistons were able to control Pippen and the entire team outside of Jordan. Somehow, the Bulls forced a seventh game, in which practically every Bull but Jordan delivered an epic choke job. Pippen had the famous “Migraine Game”, as he suffered from severe head pain and played 42 minutes but was basically useless, and might have even had a negative impact if any as he scored 2 points on 1-10 shooting and dragged along the court. This bad luck alone was enough to allow the Pistons to win handily, but the rest of the Bulls struggled mightily as well. Horace Grant shot a terrifying 3-17 from the field, Craig Hodges was 3-13 including 2-12 from the three point line, Cartwright shot 3-9, and Armstrong shot 1-8. Jordan shot 13-27, just under 50%, and scored 31 points while grabbing 8 boards and somehow dishing 9 assists. Jordan played at or quite close to his production level, but the Bulls delivered an epic choke job in the most important game of the series in order to prevent them from winning their first championship.

So WHY THE HELL did I just throw all of that information in this article? Quite frankly, you should be able to tell that the “1-9 without Pippen” or “Jordan couldn’t win in the 80’s” or “LeBron carried his team like nobody else could” arguments are invalid. Did LeBron have a subpar supporting cast and overachieve in his time in Cleveland? Yes. Did he face far worse playoff competition, have a better defense and more team structure than Jordan did in his early years? Yes. The Cavaliers ’07 championship run was nowhere near the highlight of LeBron’s career, he has had many playoff runs which were more impressive. Jordan’s 1989 and 1990 playoff runs were more impressive despite the fact that he did not make the NBA Finals in either. LeBron was barely better if at all better at all in his first stint in Cleveland than Jordan was in his first six years in Chicago. I would hope that reading and/or re-reading the information above would make it easy to see my argument.

“The Numbers”

  • Regular Season:
    • MJ- 33.4 ppg/6.4 rpg/6.0 apg
    • LBJ- 27.1 ppg/7.3 rpg/7.1 apg
  • Postseason:
    • MJ- 34.6 ppg/6.7 rpg/6.6 apg
    • LBJ- 28.1 ppg/9.1 rpg/6.6 apg

Prime for prime, Michael Jordan was a better basketball player than LeBron James was-if you think his prime has passed-or is. The information above considers Michael Jordan’s prime 1987-1993, although I believe that 1987 was more of an emergence and 1988 marked his true prime. It also considers LeBron’s prime 2009-2016. A lot of you guys seem to think that somehow the pace of Jordan’s era makes his statline look better, so I will present the numbers in Per 100 possessions format, and add some of the “advanced statistics” that I found.

  • ’87-’93 MJ(Per 100):
    • Regular Season- 42.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 7.7 assists on 51.8% from the field, 59.0% TS, 30.4 PER, .285 WS/48, 10.4 BPM, 69.7 VORP.
    • Postseason-  44.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.4 assists on 50.2% shooting from the field, 58.1% TS, 29.8 PER, .264 WS/48, 11.9 BPM, 15.3 VORP.
  • ’09-’16 LBJ(Per 100):
    • Regular Season- 38.0 points, 10.3 rebounds,  and 10.0 assists on 52.1% from the field, 60.6% TS, 29.4 PER, .274 WS/48, 10.3 BPM, 69.5 VORP.
    • Postseason- 36.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 8.7 assists on 49.2% shooting from the field, 57.9% TS, 28.9 PER, .258 WS/48, 11.3 BPM, 21.2 VORP.

In the regular season, Jordan had a higher: PPG average(by 4.6 points), PER, WS/48, BPM, and VORP. LeBron had a higher: RPG average(by 2.1 rebounds), APG average(by 2.3 assists), FG %(by .3%), and TS%(by 1.6%). Seems pretty even, consider the fact that LeBron was in an offense with much more spacing and weapons which ultimately allowed him to shoot better, and Jordan carried more of an offensive load. The regular season is basically a split, but I understand if you favor Jordan slightly or LeBron slightly.

In the postseason, Jordan had a higher: PPG average(by 7.3 points), FG %(by 1.0%), TS%(by .2%), PER, WS/48, and BPM. LeBron had a higher: RPG average(by 3.3 rebounds), APG average(by .3 assists), and VORP. I think it’s tough to deny that MJ has the edge in postseason statistics. The assist difference is just .3, while Jordan has a 7.3 advantage in points per game while being more efficient.

During his respective prime, Jordan finished: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, and 2nd in MVP voting. In his respective prime, LeBron finished: 1st, 1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd. LeBron had one more MVP, and both players were definitely the best players in the league during this time, although one year probably belonged to different player-Magic in ’87(the first year of what we noted as Jordan’s “prime”), and Curry in the ’16 Regular Season(this season, LeBron was the best player in the postseason).

Jordan gathered 3 MVPs, a DPOY award, 3 rings in 3 appearances, 3 FMVPs, and 7 scoring titles in 7 years from ’87-’93. LeBron gathered 4 MVPs, 3 rings in 6 appearances, and 3 FMVPs from ’09-’16.

Jordan returned from baseball and from ’96-’98 was still the best player alive. However, he was not as good as he was in his prime. His team was better, and he was able to lead them to three more rings while earning all three FMVPs and two season MVPs along the way. Jordan played 18 games(started 7 and only averaged 25 mpg) in ’86 on a broken foot, he returned from baseball after retirement and played in 17 games in ’95(played bad for his standards, but not legitimately bad at all). He came out of retirement after three seasons of managing the Wizards, cracked his ribs, had the fluid drained out of his knees and battled tendinitis, and despite a statement from Tim Grover saying Jordan wasn’t in shape to play he played two season.

  • An interesting note, the ’01/’02 Wizards won 19 games, led by Richard Hamilton. In the ’02/’03 season(with Jordan), they were 26-21 before Jordan injured his knee(26-20 with him as he missed a loss). He attempted to play through the injury, but was eventually shut down after playing a total of 60 games(30-30 record). The Wizards were 11-25 in the games he missed or played injured in, and were 7-15 after he was officially shut down. Even with his second option-Hamilton-missing much time due to injuries, being advised not to play and playing on injured knees, being 38/39 years old and having not played in a few years, Jordan averaged 25-6-5 on about 42% through the first 47 and had the previously 19 win Wizards with Hamilton all year at 26-21 without him healthy(and only heating up, started season poorly).

For that reason, I am not going to dive into full career numbers. Simply comparing full career-to-career numbers shows LeBron having an advantage in the regular season, and Jordan having an advantage in the postseason. However, Jordan’s career numbers are a bit flawed, as we noted above, he played through injury/returned from retirement in ’86 and ’95, and had two “washed up” years with Washington near age 40. Excluding the Wizards years, he averaged 31.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists on 50.5% from the field, averaging 4.3 more points than LeBron has so far, .9 less rebounds, and 1.5 less assists while shooting slightly better. Those stats quite clearly favor Jordan. Excluding ’86 and ’95 as well, his averages look even better. If ’86 is included,  then Jordan played 12 full seasons with the Bulls. LeBron has already played 13 full seasons in the league. Jordan played in 930 games with Chicago, LeBron has played in 987 games already. LeBron has also already played in more playoff games than Jordan. He will eventually decline, and as Jordan’s career numbers dipped, his will as well, but LeBron has literally played more games in his career than Jordan did with Chicago.

Jordan was the best playoff performer ever, and one could argue that either one of his first three Finals Performances were the best ever… People seem to think that Jordan had a “stacked team” and that his winning came handily, but this is far from the truth. The Bulls were a great team when they were winning rings, but they were no super team during the first three-peat, and were not invincible during the second-three peat. The Bulls won two playoff series without home-court advantage during the first three-peat, including the ’93 Finals. The Suns were an extremely deep team, led by MVP Charles Barkley. Despite injuries throughout the season, they won 62 games. Jordan averaged 41/9/6 on 51%, in my opinion the greatest finals performance ever, in order to help his team win in six. The sixth game was won on a game-winner from John Paxson, so a tightly contested six game series despite a heroic effort from Jordan shows how “stacked” the Bulls were in comparison to their competition. Each Finals opponent that the Bulls faced was lead by the MVP or MVP runner-up, and along with the ’93 Finals the Bulls did not have home-court against Utah in ’98 but still won(Scottie Pippen missed 38 games in the ’98 season, 35-year old Michael Jordan led the Bulls to a 26-12-pace for 56 wins-record).

Over 70% of Jordan’s playoff opponents in his career had 50+ wins, and just above 50% of LeBron’s playoff opponents in his career have had 50+ wins. Both players have won five series without home-court advantage. Jordan NEVER lost a series with home-court advantage, LeBron has lost 3 series with home-court advantage, one was his fault, one was not entirely his fault, and one was entirely on his teammates.

I hope that the conclusion to the massive amount of information above helps convince you that LeBron has not-at least not yet-passed Jordan, prime for prime, career-wise, whatever the case may be. I wish LeBron the best as he continues to “chase the ghost”.



4 thoughts on “Why Michael Jordan Is Still Better Than LeBron James

  1. This was a very good and descriptive analysis. But I have some things I would like to include.

    You compare the numbers of Jordan’s prime to the numbers of lebrons prime but I do not think the years for lebron were chosen correctly. I do not consider 2015 and 2016 to be lebrons prime. You can even see that he’s clearly a step slower and not as good as he was. Even if the age comparison may be similar to Jordan’s, lebron had played way more NBA minutes than Michael as he came into the league from high school and has much more wear and tear on his body at a similar age. Also I do not think it is a coincidence that lebrons down years statistically (2011 and 2015) came after he had to adjust coming to a new team with players he never played with before. Finding his own role and adjusting was very tough and something Jordan didn’t have to really deal with. So I do not think they should be included in the comparison because if lebron stayed with the Cavaliers in 2011 or the Heat in 2015, it is almost guaranteed that he would have more impressive numbers those seasons based on his 2010 and 2014 seasons.

    Also when you go through lebrons old teammates in Cleveland and state their stats, I think it is very important to recognize that lebrons passing ability helped his teammates statistics look much better than they probably would be without him. His overall team impact is amazing as when he left the 2010 Cavs they dropped from 61 wins to 19 (!!!) and then when he left Miami they went from dominating the East to not being able to make the playoffs next season even with acquisitions. On the other hand, the biggest stain on Jordan’s resume is how good the Bulls were without him in 1994, winning 55 games and possibly being able to win the title (if it wasn’t for Hue Hollins). Even in 1995, before Jordan came back, the Bulls were 34-31 but had a point differential of a 53 win team over an 82 game stretch. This is why I find it hard as you claimed that the Bulls didn’t have a stacked team the first 3 peat. Looking at the roster, you may find it hard to believe that the 94 Bulls somehow won 55 games but you have to remember that the league was really watered down from several expansion teams in 1990.

    Overall, I like how much time you put into this and it is certainly a fascinating debate.

    • Well, the ’94 Bulls winning 55 games is a testament to the greatness of Phil, Scottie, and the whole team. However, it is important to note that the team added Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr, both extremely important for the team as shooters and to space the floor. Shooting and spacing can make a rest difference, especially in the regular season. Toni Kukoc was also a very solid player, not just a spot up shooter during this season and years to come. Also, the ’93 Bulls were fatigued from two rings, the Olympics, and coasted through the season and still won 57 games. In 1992, they won 67 despite Jordan missing 2 games(losses). The ’94 Bulls also added and had healthier interior rebounders and defenders, which helped them win games. Their first round opponent in Cleveland had almost all of their marquee players injured, resulting in an easy win. Their second round opponent, the Knicks, were also a bit injured with John Starks, but he was able to play solid minutes. The Knicks were beating the Bulls in game 3 and were close to taking a 3-0 lead before the ejection of Derek Harper, and a miracle Toni Kukoc shot shot paired with Harper’s absence allowed the Bulls to avoid a 3-0 hole. The next game, with Harper suspended, the Bulls won again. In Game 5, the horrible call at the end of the game occurred and the Knicks won. Harper was suspended this game again, so one call is an unfair judgement. I’d say, given a healthy and loaded ’94 Knicks team in front of them, the Bulls lose in 4/5. So Basically, they lose Jordan, make significant team improvements, but would’ve went from 3-peat to losing handily in second round, and lost in the second round anyways. The ’95 Bulls were 34-31 before MJ returned, and 13-4 in the games with washed post-baseball MJ who was refreshed but still not as good as he was in his prime from ’96-’98, and not even close in ’95.
      The 2011 Cavs lost LeBron, of course the biggest loss… But nobody mentions Shaq and Big Z leaving, getting a new coach, and Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Antawn Jamison being injured.
      Your points are all valid and were well thought out but I willstick to my initial conclusion(for now).

    • It is a misconception that a great leader’s team will fold when he is not around. A valuable player’s team will diminish and you will see that player’s value by his absence, but a leader of the highest order will have helped his team to develop to the extent that they continue to function at an optimal level even in his absence. There you see the difference between “grass is greener” LeBron James, and the House That Michael Built. Michael’s Bull’s were more established, and although he didn’t build that dynasty by himself, he was definitely the most important piece of the pie. His relentless pursuit of excellence was infectious and because he stayed, not taking his talents to South Beach or anywhere else, the franchise flourished in ways that LeBron’s teams didn’t. LeBron just wasn’t there long enough. So, there is the difference between valuable LeBron and Great Michael.

  2. The notion that LeBron James is as good as Michael Jordan is a naive one at best, and an insidious one at worst.
    Jordan played in a league where they could physically push you with both hands where they wanted you to go. They could hand check you and even flagrantly foul you and live to see the next game. Jordan’s 10 scoring titles in spite of much tougher opposition is why Hakeem Olajuwon said that Jordan is “far superior” to LeBron. LeBron, who melted down against Dallas, could never have dealt with the Knicks, let alone the “Bad Boys of Detroit”. Even in a league with inflated scoring averages, LeBron will never get even 4 scoring titles, and we will never get defensive player of the year, so he is not in Jordan’s league.

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