Michael Jordan, move on over. Your title has been usurped by LeBron James.
Yes, I’m serious. No, I’m not high on PCP right now. No, I don’t want to reconsider. I legitimately believe that LeBron James is now the greatest player in the history of the NBA.
In the decisive Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James officially became the most prolific scorer in all of NBA playoff history. This, from a player whose primary objective most times has been to set up his teammates and play brilliant all around ball, not hog the spotlight like, say, Kobe Bryant.
All of the NBA greats who have passed under the bright lights, and LeBron stands ahead of them in one of the most important metrics possible: points in the playoffs. Sure, yes, I get it. He’s 3-4 in Finals appearances, yes he lost four more Finals than Michael Jordan. Okay, I get it. Jordan is the GOAT of winning ‘ships. But I think that LeBron’s body of work, combined with the fact that he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, propels him into that lead spot. Again, Jordan never lost a Finals, but he only went to six of them. LeBron has already lost four, but he’s now been to eight of them, including seven straight.
For your perusal, here are a couple of charts, screen-shotted from basketball-reference.com as of 5/26/17:
Per Game Totals:
Playoffs Per Game:
Okay, I get you might have to squint to see some of those, but here are some of the stats I found most intriguing.
- LeBron scored more playoff points in more games, but on far fewer shots. This, of course, is completely a product of the times, with the ascension of the three-point shot. For comparison, as of Game 5 of the Boston series, LeBron has shot 319-971 from three point range in his playoff career, whereas Jordan shot 148-446 from deep in his postseason games. LeBron has taken 4,379 attempted field goals so far in the playoffs, compared to Jordan’s career 4,497.
- Jordan holds a slight edge in career PER, edging out LeBron by .3 decimal points, but LeBron has him beat both in tradition stats (7.0 assists for LeBron to Jordan’s 5.3 per game; 7.3 total rebounds for LBJ to Jordan’s 6.2 per game) as well as some advanced metrics as well (LeBron passed Jordan this year to become the NBA’s all-time leader in VORP — Value Above Replacement Player — with a career mark of 115.9 to Jordan’s 104.4). Here’s the top 15, fyi:
- Sure, Michael Jordan never lost a Finals series, but he had frickin’ Scottie Pippen on his team the whole time. He didn’t win until he had a clear #2 running alongside him. LeBron has lost four Finals (soon to lose a fifth, booyah!), but here’s a short list of some of the dudes on a few of those teams: Anderson Varejao, Larry Hughes, Mario Chalmers. Yes, I get it that he lost two Finals with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh alongside him, but the only Finals loss that really stains his resume is the first one in Miami, when Dallas knocked them off. Yes, that’s inexcusable. But, I think the larger elements of his career still outweigh that loss.
- Jordan played 41,011 minutes over the course of his two stints with Chicago (more on this in a minute) and his unremarkable run with the Washington Wizards. LeBron James has already played 41,272 minutes. He is not slowing down. This is crazy. Total games played: 1,061 for LeBron, 1,072 for Jordan.
- People knock LeBron for leaving Cleveland the first time, and for chasing a ring with his buddies Wade and Bosh, but let us not forget that Jordan
was forced out because David Stern caught him gambling on his own gamesretired briefly to pursue a baseball career (???) only to return, win three more championships, retire in a blaze of glory after this shot, only to un-retire again for a second time and spend some strange years on a bad Washington squad.
Okay, I’m leaving bullet-point land for a second, because I want to expound upon this.
How different would Jordan’s career have been if he lived and operated in a world with smart phones, cameras everywhere, and TMZ?
Seriously, read this ($100k bet on a game of rock-paper-scissors), this (betting $100k on a game of golf), this (Jordan actually drunk, not sick, for legendary “flu game”), this (being spotted at an Atlantic City casino at 2:30am the night before a playoff game all the way back in NYC), and most explosively, this (because of his gambling addiction, and betting on games, was he actually forced out of the NBA for those two years he played baseball?).
Now, imagine, any of that happening in today’s 24/7 s—t storm of media, camera phones, and an insatiable appetite for destruction. The dude would be a bigger tragedy than this Russia scandal. It’d be everywhere.
Jordan was a borderline sociopath. He wanted to dominate people. He did dominate people. Everything he did, he accomplished because of his unparalleled desire to f’ing ruin dudes. Seriously, he was the Cersei Lannister of the NBA for all of the 90’s.
They were also great friends who went golfing together in the middle of the championship series.
According to Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach:
“The day before game 4 of the Bulls Suns finals with the Bulls leading the series 2-1. Michael and Charles Barkley went golfing. They played 48 holes of golf. And Michael bought Charles a $20,000 diamond earring. Johnny asked MJ, ‘what did you do all that for?’ Michael responded, ‘he won’t get in my way the rest of the series, what’s $20,000 to me? Charles thinks we’re great friends. I hate that fat f—.’ Jordan dropped 55 in game 4 and Barkley never touched him once.”
So, here’s where I jump in and say none of this should matter in the context of on-court dominance, but it is a testament to LeBron’s greatness that he has never — not once, not even a hint of something — been involved in off-court drama. I mean, if you discount his dumb “Decision” on live TV. But seriously, that mistake seems like nothing compared to some of the craziness attributed to Jordan.
Again, Jordan was the most competitive dude of all time, both on the court and off. He redefined the concept of a superstar, both in the NBA and just in life itself. We’ve never seen anyone quite as flamboyant with his destruction, or as famous. But, given all this, I still feel like LeBron is a more complete player.
Plus, he’s not even done. LeBron is 32 years old. He could play for another eight years and it wouldn’t surprise me. By the end of his career, he could own every single important statistical record. I mean, look, he’s only trailing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by 9,600 points. He’s averaged 27.1 points per game in his career. Let’s say that dips over time to 22 points per game. At 22 points per game, it would take him 436.36 games to pass Kareem. Let’s assume he plays another five years, plus playing at least 10 postseason games per year. Even just with the regular season, that’s theoretically 410 games to catch Kareem. With 10 postseason games per year, over five years, that’s 460 games, assuming he played all 82 in the regular season. Of course, he’ll take more and more time off as he gets older, but he could, theoretically, pass Kareem. It’s totally in play.
So, even if you disagree that he’s not quite yet better than Jordan, how much longer can you hold up that opinion? If he never wins another title, but keeps playing at or around his current level for another five years, would that do it for you? If he somehow beats the Warriors again this year, would that do it for you? Or are you #TeamMichael forever and for always, no matter what?
For me, I’m taking a deep breath and taking the plunge finally.
LeBron James is the greatest basketball player we’ve ever seen.
Now, I hope the Warriors go out and sweep him.