He dominates on the court to a degree we haven't seen since MJ in the 90s, and he has transcended sports in a way that very few athletes ever do.
Those parallels have led people to ask one big, fat juicy question: Is LeBron better than Michael Jordan?
Right now, that answer is a resounding NO!
When you look at the numbers, and you consider how good Jordan was for so long, the answer is no, no, no. Not even close.
So a more reasonable question is this:
Can LeBron eventually pass Jordan as the best player ever when all is said and done? Is it even in the realm of possibility?
When you ask that question, it's much more difficult to dismiss LeBron. While he isn't close to MJ in terms of legacy yet, LeBron has shown that his high points are just as high as Jordan's. It'll take years and years of sustained dominance and title-winning. But yes, LeBron can be better than Jordan one day.
First of all, let's just see why MJ is so far ahead of LeBron in the overall discussion. Here are their career stats:
- MJ: 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 50% shooting, 33% three-point shooting. 6 championships, 5 MVPs, 10 scoring titles
- LeBron: 27.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.9 apg, 49% shooting, 33% three-point shooting. 1 championship, 3 MVPs, 1 scoring title
You can see how far LeBron has to go here. He is neck-and-neck with Jordan when it comes to the traditional per-game stats, but in terms of titles and sustained excellence, it's all MJ.
For LeBron to catch Jordan, he'd need to continue his current dominance for ~five more years, win at least four more titles, and remain the best player in the world into his mid-30s.
LeBron's career can be better than Jordan's. It's possible. But it will require LeBron to be this good for many, many more years.
Ultimately, LeBron is at a disadvantage in overall legacy because he came into the league out of high school.
As you can see from this breakdown of their first 10 years in the league, the first half of MJ's career was better than LeBron's:
- MJ: 32.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.9 apg, 51% shooting, 30% three-point shooting. 3 championships, 3 MVPs, 7 scoring titles
- LeBron: 27.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.9 apg, 49% shooting, 33% three-point shooting. 1 championship, 3 MVPs, 1 scoring titles
MJ came into the league as a full-grown man at age 21. LeBron, on the other hand, skipped college and spent his first three years in Cleveland learning how to play NBA basketball on the fly.
Jordan was an elite player from Day One. LeBron was merely a great player from Day One. As a result, LeBron's overall stats will be watered down by those first few years of non-dominance.
But, as we said, LeBron can pass Jordan.
Just take a look at each player's best season ever (LeBron's stats as of 3/29):
- MJ (1990-91): 31.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.7 steals per game, 54% shooting, 31% three-point shooting, 85% free-throw shooting. Won the NBA championship, MVP, Finals MVP, scoring title
- LeBron (2012-13)*: 26.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 7.3 apg, 1.7 steals per game, 56% shooting, 39% three-point shooting, 75% free-throw shooting. The rest is to be determined
If LeBron wins a the title and the Heat finish with 60+ wins, you can argue that he had a better all-around season than Jordan ever had.
LeBron has played basketball differently than we've ever seen it played this year. He doesn't have a position, which really means he can play any position. Offensively, he can post up, hit threes, drive to the basket, and be his team's primary distributor. Defensively, he can guard a bulky power forward one possession and Rajon Rondo the next possession.
MJ, while a more lethal scorer and skillful player, was not the hybridized, physical freak that LeBron is.
LeBron will never be able to score like Jordan did, but at this exact point in his career, LeBron James can do things Michael Jordan could never do. The 2012-13 version of LeBron is a better rebounder, better passer, and more efficient (albeit less dominant) all-around offensive player.
And that's the essence of why LeBron can be the best player ever: He can do anything he wants on the court, and that destroys our traditional expectations of his potential.
He can catch Jordan. But he needs to be just as good as he is this year for the next five years.
Think about that a second...
LeBron is having perhaps the best individual NBA seasons of the last 20 years. But to accumulate the hardware and stats necessary to pass Jordan as the Greatest Of All Time, he needs to do it five more times!
He needs to average 27-7-7, win four titles, and continue to be better than Kevin Durant for the next half-decade.
Those expectations are almost laughable, but that's what it will take to pass Jordan.
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