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MJ vs LeBron : A Different Breakdown

Written by Bruce Walton Jr aka Chunta Ankh

First, I’d like to say rest in peace to the legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna aka Gigi. With how crazy 2020 has been, the situation still feels unreal. His loss definitely made me realize my own mortality. Kobe’s dedication to the game was unmatched. The “Kobe Stare” alone spoke that in volumes. The constant day-to-day hustle would make some believe that he wasn’t already at the top of his game. That’s what made him special. His fire. His fearlessness. Kobe accepted all challenges and never shied away from anything. Most importantly, he made people better around he. He pushed people. Even during rough times in his career, he continued to play a maximal effort and continued to be a mentor on and off the court. Thank you for your contributions to the sport and to the people. You will be missed!

Okay, before we get into the topic I’d like to tell you my background as a basketball fan. I want to tell you my favorites and who I grew up on. I can remember watching the Super Sonics, Pacers, and Utah series. I remember how excited my dad was. Literally jumping up and down. The thing that stuck out the most was the infamous shot that Jordan made on Byron Russell. I remember as a kid wondering if that was cheating. The push off. After gauging my dads reaction I rationalized that it wasn’t cheating. I told myself that when you want to win that bad you push the limits. literally. You try everything you can. The whole “succeed as much as you want to breath” mentality. My respect for Jordan grew. Looking back, I wondered how much influence Michael had on the game. Did he get the “Jordan calls”? One thing I can say is Jordan played in the era I loved. A less sensitive era. A era where you could actually beat your opponent up a little bit.It makes you wonder who would be good now a day’s if things were the same. Not to mention this was an era of true big men and less 3-point heavy.

As I matured and developed my own mind, I started to search for people who I admired. Im from Daytona Beach,Fl. So obviously I started off being a Vince Carter fan. I was also a fan of Penny and Shaq. While watching Vince in Toronto I discovered Tracy McGrady. Tracy and Vince played on Toronto together but Vince sort of out shined him. Regardless, I still noticed Tracy and became a huge fan. This led me to follow Tracy to Orlando and then to Houston.

Tracy McGrady’s 13 Points in 33 Seconds to come back on San Antonio Spurs

Houston had a bunch of good runs. Just to name a few, these are some of the teammates Tracy had during his time. Yao Ming, Meta World Peace, Rafer Alston (skip to my lou), Shane Battier (the Kobe Stopper), Steve Francis, Patrick Beverly, Trevor Ariza, and many more.

During Tracy’s time there, the Rockets struggled to get past the 2nd round. I feel like the best chance they had to make the finals was their 2005 series where they were eliminate by the Mavericks. We later found out that ex-referee Tim Donaghy was arrested for rigging that series, along with a few others. After this, Tracy struggled to stay healthy. I decided to become a loyal Houston fan even after his departure. I’ve been a Houston fan ever since. I wanted you to know my background so you can know there is no bias in me in any way towards this debate. It’s all logic, numbers and being a fan of basketball.

I have a number break down for this debate but first lets tackle some of the main topics that are floating around in this debate. The difference in era’s, their teammates, the people they had to face, rings, and more. While doing research I ran across an article by written by Jess Unk. He helped provide a lot of those numbers and I want to give him full credit. The purpose of this article was only to add to my unique tally system but I figured why not add all figures so there is nothing left in the air.

First, lets talk about the era’s. It would appear that Jordan played in a tougher era. It was a gladiator sport. Blood wasn’t uncommon. His competition was Reggie & the Pacers, Bad Boy’s Detroit, Shawne Kemp & Gary Payton (Sonics), The end of Magic’s career, Mail Man & Stockton (Utah), Shaq & Penny (Orlando), Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bougues and Alonzon Mourning (Hornets), Charles Barkley & Charles Oakley, Tim Hardaway, John Starks & Patrick Ewing (Knicks), I mean the list goes on and on. Not only were these guys super competitive but they were very physical. This is one disadvantage Jordan had.

Yet, on paper, Jordan actually played in a weaker era while LeBron played in a weaker conference. In retro spec, the league had expanded during Jordan’s era. A total of 6 teams were added. Hornets in ’88 first playoff appearance in ‘93, Heat in ’88 and first playoff appearance in ’92, Magic in ’89 and first playoff appearance in ’94, Timberwolves in ’89 and first playoff appearance in ‘97, Raptors in ’95 and first playoff appearance in 2000, and Grizzlies in ’95 and first playoff appearance in 2004. Jordan played in a leagued that had got saturated with a bunch of new talent from players, coaches, and owners. Not very much experience.

Here’s a list of Hall of Famers Jordan faced vs LeBron faced. This includes future potential Hall-of-Famers.

Jordan – Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Gary Peyton, John Stockton 2x, and Karl Malone 2x. Jordan played against 9 Hall of Famers during his championship runs

LeBron – Tim Duncan 3x, Tony Parker 3x, Manu Ginobili 3x, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Kevin Durant 3x, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard 2x, Steph Curry 4x, Klay Thompson 4x, Draymond Green 4x. LeBron has faced 30 Hall-of-Famers during his championship runs.

LeBron, however, was believed to have played in a weaker conference. In the 14 seasons LeBron played on the East the West had more total wins in 13 of those seasons. On the contrary, the East has won 8 out of 16 championships since LeBron has played.

On the flip side, you can also say that playing a a tough era was an advantage for Jordan. Actually being able to be physical. In LeBron’s era, you can’t even sneeze on a person without it being a foul. This has changed the game as we know it. The true big man is disappearing and the three-point game is steadily growing. Along with that, you have the flopping. LeBron gets a lot of criticism for this. In my opinion, I think it’s just high basketball IQ. He took a change in the game and had enough awareness to make it work for him. It takes high basketball IQ to premeditate or to react to something, in real time, to exaggerate a foul. Or to exaggerate contact so the ref can make the proper call. Whether people like it or not, that’s a skill.

Back to the physical side. LeBron is huge guy. He is 6’8 250 lbs and was rumored to have gotten up to between 275-280 lbs. Compared to Jordan being 6’6 216 lbs. LeBron could have definitely thrown his weight around on defense if he played in Jordan’s era. If you want to gauge his toughness that’s up for debate. This is one of the things thats hard to judge being that you wouldn’t know how each player would have done had they played in the other’s era. I will admit, most people believe Jordan would have done crazy numbers in LeBron’s era.

Next, we’re going to talk about teammates. It would seem that Jordan had the better teammates. Think of it this way. Imagine if LeBron had Rodman, Pippen, and Steve Kerr on one team at any given time. It wouldn’t even be fair. LeBron definitely had a tougher road when it came to help in his early career. He played 7 years in Cleveland with little to no help. He even took that team to the finals. Afterwards, he played with Dewayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Although great teammates, Wade was slightly past his prime. He wasn’t the same Wade that won with Shaq. He had suffered injuries. I liked his second Cleveland team 2nd Cleveland team was definitely his best team. JR Smith, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Krover at one point, Shumpert, etc. Though they were champions, even doing the infamous 3-1 comeback against a team with the best record ever, I still think this team had no chance against the Prime Bulls. Rodman’s relentless rebounding, Pippen’s dominance on both sides of the court, along with Jordan’s dominance on both sides of the court would have given the Cav’s and the Heat major problems. Some would say his Heat team was the better team, it’s all opinion.

Yet, on paper, LeBron actually played with the better teammates. Jordan only played with 1 All-Star (Scottie Pippen 6x) while LeBron played with 6 All-Stars (Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, Kyrie Irving 2x, Chris Bosh 4x, Dwayne Wade 4x). Jordan played with 2 Hall Of Famers (Pippen & Rodman) while LeBron played with 3 (Shaq, Wade, and Bosh). A lot of people would argue that this is a skewed outlook but we can’t go against solid facts.

This can be looked at in different ways. Like did they play with these people in their primes? Did every teammate deserve the credits? You can decide.

When we get into numbers, it gets a little tricky. We have to be transparent about it, though. People want you to consider that Jordan went to college when LeBron didn’t. This changes the longevity of the player and the time you get to achieve certain numbers. Also, Jordan left twice. One time to play baseball and another time, we found out later, was a premature retirement. Some say it was because his father passed and he wanted to pursue baseball like his father wanted. Some rumored he was told to get away for awhile because of gambling issues. These were all speculations and we never will really know.

I must say that these things aren’t LeBron’s fault so you can’t really hold it against him. You have to credit LeBron for taking care of his body and staying dedicated for as long as he did with little to no issues. I also believe Jordan had less to prove, so it was easier for him to leave when he felt like it. LeBron had a bigger chip on his shoulder. They kept dangling the “no ring” issue above his head. Jordan’s beginnings were quiet and under the radar. He had the chance to become who he was without being judged. LeBron came in with huge expectations, being a high school phenom. People don’t mention that Jordan was swept in the first round of his first three playoff trips. When LeBron went to get the ring he got the “Oh, he switched out” talk and the “He needed help” talk.

As far as loyalty goes, I’m not sure if it can be compared. LeBron switched teams but some may argue that Jordan switching sports was bad. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because of the situation surrounding it. He stayed loyal to the Bulls and we have to honor that. We won’t count the Wizards because the circumstances were totally different. The “needed help” argument is kind of ridiculous. Most champions, besides people like Olajuwon & Houston, the first Curry/Warriors reign (before KD), and maybe the Pistons who only acquired Rasheed Wallace, built teams. Even the Bulls recruited their arch nemesis Dennis Rodman in order to win more championships. LeBron was far from the first to do it. The only difference was they made a big deal out of it with “The Decision”. Back in Jordan’s era it was called “trying to win”.

As far as actual numbers, that is tricky also. Although, Jordan leads some categories LeBron has a better variety of leading numbers. This makes LeBron the better overall player. Jordan seems to be the better scorer and defender statistically. LeBron seems to be a more efficient scorer and a better passer. LeBron also is better at the 3pt line while Jordan was the better at the free throw line.

Percentages

Jordan – PPG 30.1 | RPG 6.2 | APG 5.3 | FGP 4.7 | 3pt% 32.7 | FT% 83.5 | PER 27.9 | SPG 2.3 | BPG .8 | Turnovers 2.7

LeBron – PPG -27.1 | RPG 7.4 | APG 7.4 | FGP 50.4 | 3pt% 34.3 | FT% 73.5 | PER 27.5 | SPG 1.6 | BPG .8 | Turnovers 3.5

Now, let’s talk about finals record. This is where I use my unique pointing system. I’ve never seen this broken down the way I broke this down. The reason why no one broke it down this way is because their logic is “nothing matters unless you win it all”. It’s clear that Jordan has the better finals record. You can’t take that way from him. Yet, on average, was Jordan the better winner? Jordan gets the credit because people say “Well, every time Jordan went to the finals, he won”. My counter point was “Are you counting the times he never even got to the finals?” This has to count for something. If you’re going to count it this way you have to consider that LeBron made it to 8 straight finals. I don’t think people understand how difficult that is to do. Let alone being to 9 total finals over a 16 year career. Thats %56.6 percent of his career making it to the top show. If you don’t count his injury season that number is %60. Micheal made it to the finals 6 out of 15 seasons. Thats %40 of his career. If you minus the Baseball year that’s %42.1. To take it even further, if you minus his baseball and Wizards seasons that number would be %50. Granted, the point is to win it all. You still have to put in account the average winning seasons and playoff advancements. So, yes Jordan won every time he got there but didn’t accumulate more advancements than LeBron.

I understand why people say Jordan is the G.O.A.T. It’s not just about numbers. It’s his reign, his dominance, his presence. His free throw dunk. His “Air Jordan” feats and spectacular finishes. These types of things made him a moral champion. A people’s champion. My only problem with this is people negate logic to defend this notion. Even go as far as trashing LeBron. It makes me feel like people aren’t fans of the sport but more so fans of teams or individuals. Another thing I can’t understand is the rate LeBron, as an individual, when it comes to finals losses but never mention the times others never even made the finals. Lets give an example.

Curry‘s finals record is 3 out of 4 appearances (%75). He’s made it to the finals 4 out of 11 seasons (%36). Tim Duncan won 5 out of 6 appearances (%83). He made the finals 6 out of 19 seasons (%31.5), Kobe finals record 5 out of 7 (%71.4) and appeared 7 out of 20 seasons (%35), Wade 3 out of 5 appearances (%60). and appeared 5 out of 16 seasons (%31.25) . LeBron has the lowest finals record with %37.5. Yet, he spent %50 of his career in the finals. If he makes it this year that number will be %52.9.

To conclude, Jordan has a better finals record and more rings but that doesn’t make him the better winner. If you tally when each player was eliminated from or made the playoffs overall, LeBron is superior.

Based on the number of teams admitted to the playoffs, if you are knocked out in the first round, you could be ranked at 16th at worst and ninth at best. That ranking goes up to eighth and fifth during the second round. If eliminated during the Conference Finals, you could be ranked fourth at worst or third at best. Losing in the Finals obviously means you are the second best team in the league. Below is a listing of the rounds LeBron and Jordan were eliminated in during the playoffs.

Jesse Unk – HowTheyPlay.com

“So while Jordan has a higher percentage of being the absolute best, he also had a higher percentage of being one of the worst teams in the playoffs. LeBron has a much more consistent stream of winning throughout his career, even if it wasn’t winning the championship.” – Jesse Unk

I found a unique tally system. I created a point system based on making the playoffs, how far they made it, making the finals, and winning the finals.

(image above reflects 2017)

This is how I break down the numbers to tally, on average, who won more. This will be based off wether they made the playoffs, how deep they went into the playoffs, and did they win it all. I take those numbers and divide it by the number of completed seasons. This number will give me a average of how much a person actually won through out their career.

Point Chart

Miss Playoffs0 points Semi Conference2 points Finals4 points

Make playoffs1 Point Conference Finals3 Points Win Finals5 Points

I tally the accumulated points for that season and give you a number. If you win the finals, the 5 points is considered a bonus to the 4 points you get for making the finals. So 4 plus 1 bonus point. You don’t get 4 plus 5.

Once I tally each season I will add them all up and get a number. I will then dived that number into the number of seasons the person played and get an average number. This will tel me their win average over their career when it comes to playoffs. I’ll start with Jordan.

Jordan (15 seasons)

Season 1 – Made Playoffs (1) – Swept by MIL – 1 point

Season 2 – Made Playoffs (1) – Swept by BOS – 1 point

Season 3 – Made Playoffs (1) – Swept by BOS – 1 point

Season 4 – Made Playoffs (1) , 2nd Rnd (2) | L (1-4 DET)- 3 Pts

Season 5 – Made playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2), 3rd Rnd (3) | L (1-4 DET) – 6 Pts

Season 6 – Made Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2), 3rd Rnd (3) | L (3-4 DET) – 6 Pts

S 7 – Made Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2), 3rd Rnd (3), Champ (5) | (4-1 LAL) – 11 Pts

S 8 – (Repeat) | (4-2 POR) – 11 Pts

S 9 – (Repeat) | (4-2 PHO) – 11 Pts

S 10 – (Return after baseball #45) Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2) | L (2-4 ORL) – 3 Pts

S 11 – Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2), 3rd Rnd (3), Champ (5) | (4-2 SEA) – 11 Pts

S 12 – (Repeat) | (4-2 UTAH) – 11 Pts

S 13 – (Repeat) | (4-2 UTAH) – 11 Pts

S 14 – (Wizards return) – Missed Playoffs – 0 Pts

S 15 – (Repeat) – 0 Pts

TOTALS

Accumulated Points – 87 Pts

Total Season Win Average (total points divided by 15 seasons) – 5.8 Pts

If You Take Away The Baseball Season

Accumulated Points – 84 Pts

Win Average – 6 Pts

If You Take Away The Wizards Seasons

Accumulated Points – 87 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 6.69 Pts

If You Take Away Both Baseball and Wizards Seasons

Accumulated Pts – 84 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 7 Pts

I did all possible out comes so no one can poke holes in this. Also, I did this to leave some things up for debate. Things that should or should not be considered. Okay, Now Lebron’s Numbers

LeBron (16 season – 17th in progress (won’t count) )

S 1 – Missed Playoffs – 0 Pts

S2 – (Repeat) – 0 Pts

S3 – Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2) | L (3-4 DET) – 3 Pts

S4 – Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2), 3rd Rnd (3), Finals (4) | L (Swept by SAS) – 10 Pts

S5 – Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2) | L (3-4 BOS) – 3 Pts

S6 – Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2), 3rd Rnd (3) | L (2-4 ORL) – 6 Pts

S7 – Playoffs (1), 2nd Rnd (2) | L (2-4 BOS) – 3 Pts

LeBron would go on to 8 Straight Finals

S8 – Finals L (2-4 DAL) – 10 Pts

S9 – Champs W (4-1 OKC) – 11 Pts

S10 – Champs W (4-3 SAS) – 11 Pts

S 11 – Finals L (1-4 SAS) – 10 Pts

S 12 – Finals L (2-4 GSW) – 10 Pts

S 13 – Champs W (4-3 GSW) – 11 Pts

S 14 – Finals L (1-4 GSW) – 10 Pts

S 15 – Finals L (Swept by GSW) – 10 Pts

S 16 – Missed Playoffs – 0 Pts

TOTALS

Accumulate Points – 108 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 6.75 Pts

If You Take Away His Injury Season In LA

Accumulated Points – 108 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 7.2 Pts

Numbers Depending On The Outcomes of the Current Season

If Rockets eliminate them

Accumulate Points – 111 Pts | Win Average – 6.5 Pts (w/o Injury season) – 6.9 Pts

3 Rd

Accumulated Points – 114 Pts | Win Average – 6.7 Pts (w/o Injury Season) – 7.1 Pts

Finals

Accumulated Points – 118 Pts | Win Average – 6.9 Pts (w/o Injury Season) – 7.3 Pts

Champion

Accumulated Points – 119 Pts | Win Average – 7 Pts (w/o Injury Season) – 7.4 Pts

Tale of the Tape

Jordan LeBron

Accumulated Points – 87 Pts 108 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 5.8 Pts 6.75 Pts

Without Baseball Season

Accumulated Points – 84 Pts 108 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 6 Pts 6.75 Pts

Without Wizards Seasons

Accumulated Pts – 87 Pts 108 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 6.69 Pts 6.75 Pts

Without Baseball, Wizard’s, or LeBron’s Injury Season

Accumulated Points – 84 Pts 108 Pts

Total Season Win Average – 7 Pts 7.2 Pts

Before I give you my summary of the chart I’d like to address the “clutch” factor. When most general fans think of being clutch, they think of making the big shot. In actuality, being clutch is much more. Being clutch is your numbers increasing when your team is against the wall. Times when your team is facing elimination. Or when your team are put in a position to eliminate a team. Here are some of those numbers.

LeBron vs. Jordan Clutch Statistics

 Field Goal %Free Throw %Total ReboundsTotal AssistsTotal StealsTotal BlocksTurnoversPointsWin/Loss
Michael Jordan Career49.7%83.5%6.25.32.3.82.730.1 
Jordan Eliminating Opponents40.7% (-9%)84.6% (+1.1%)4.8 (-1.4)3.2 (-2.1)1.5 (-.8).2 (-.6)1.9 (-.8)29.8 (-.3)30-10
Jordan Facing Elimination48.1% (-1.6%)77.8% (-5.7%)7.9 (+1.7)7 (+1.7)1.6 (-.7)1.3 (+.5)4.2 (+1.5)32.8 (+2.7)5-7
LeBron James Career50.4%73.9%7.47.21.6.83.527.2 
LeBron Eliminating Opponents52.9% (+2.5%)70.6% (-3.3%)8.7 (+1.3)7.6 (+.4)1.8 (+.2)1.4 (+.6)3.9 (+.4)28.8 (+1.6)35-10
LeBron Facing Elimination53.9% (+3.5%)66% (-7.9%)13 (+5.6)9 (+1.8)2.4 (+.8)1.8 (+1)2.2 (-1.7)36.4 (+9.2)14-10

As you can see, LeBron went above his career averages when faced with decision changing games. While Jordan, for the most part, declined. LeBron, Though heavily criticized for not taking big shots, improved his numbers throughout the games, which just as important if not more important.

Summary

I want to address the obvious. Things I know people will say. Things such as “It doesn’t work that way. You don’t get credit for losing. It’s either win it all or nothing”. Which I would have to disagree on. First reason being is because you use LeBron’s Finals record instead of just saying he won 3 championships. You can’t pick and chose win losses matter. If we are going to use losses lets use them all. See who really is the better winner. Second, in my opinion, if none of these things mattered then there wouldn’t be a playoffs. They would simply take the top teams from the East and the West after the regular season and let them go straight to the championship. Each series is individualized. Different strategy to win based on the opponent. Different levels. Its totally different being the 8th seed playing against the 1st seed. Contrary to being the 5th seed playing the 4th seed. The roads are different.

Even if you still take this away from LeBron. You say “Sorry, these numbers mean nothing if you don’t win it all”. I say, cool. Let’s take away the team accomplishments and judge them as individuals. No LeBron hater would dare to look at those numbers. LeBron has surpassed almost every total stat number.

Jordan’s has something that LeBron can never take from him. He changed the game like no other. He became a staple.Im surprised they never considered making him the new logo. What Jordan did for the game is beyond numbers. I think this is why people fight for Jordan so hard in the G.O.A.T debate. I understand. Though, I still don’t understand why you have to disrespect LeBron to do so. Be a fan of the sport. Be healthy for the sport with legitimate sports dialect.

I’M NOT A LEBRON FANATIC! I’m simply a fan of the sport. Which I can’t say for most. Some people seem to be more fans of individuals and teams. This is why I feel they have built up so much anger for LeBron. He has shattered so many legacies. I did this article because I was frankly tired of the LeBron disrespect. The man has accomplished so much. If you ask my opinion, LeBron is the G.O.A.T. The reason I call him the G.O.A.T has more to do with his off court contributions. His courage to speak on racial injustices. Building a school. His representation as a honorable family man. No scandals. Even after being told “Shut up and dribble” he continued to be a voice. To me, that’s worth more than anything on this list. This is just my opinion but I feel MJ took a safer route. I feel like he is in a lot deeper than LeBron so he takes more of a political route. What ever contributions he made, he did it discreetly. He decided to stay quiet. LeBron risked it all and I have to honor that.

Any way, this was fun. Who do you think is the G.O.A.T.?

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