Basketball’s GOAT Debate: MJ Or LeBron?
This is a debate that I have resisted making for years. That's because, for most of my adult life, there hasn't been a question as to who is basketball's GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). It was Michael Jordan.
Well, that conversation is a lot more debatable then it was 10-15 years ago. That's because LeBron James has entered the conversation, at least in my mind. And I'm not a LeBron lover (like most Millenials are), nor a hater (like Skip Bayless is).
King James became the NBA's all-time leading scorer in the regular season on Tuesday night when he scored 38 points in the Los Angeles Lakers 133-130 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron passed the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (both pictured above after LeBron broke the record) to top the all-time scoring list.
And justifiably so, lots of praise rained down on James once he broke the record. From NBA commissioner Adam Silver to millions of fans praising him on social media.
But who is the best ever? Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or somebody else? Let's examine, starting with James:
WHY LEBRON IS THE GOAT
We have never seen a player like him. At 6-9, 260 lbs., he's built like a football linebacker but has the skills that fit all five positions. He's the best combination of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson that we've ever seen. And the most physically gifted plater ever. He's a better passer than MJ, and a better scorer than Magic was. LeBron has also been an excellent defender for most of his career, too.
And for the most part, he has lived up to the insane hype that was bestowed on him when he was a high school star in Akron, Ohio. Which is almost impossible to do.
His ten NBA Finals appearances are among the most ever (same as Kareem). And he should be congratulated for lasting 20 seasons in the NBA (the same length as Kareem's legendary career). And at 38 years of age, he's not done yet. He has two years left on his Lakers contract and he's also said publicly that he wants to end his career by playing with his son, Bronny, who's a McDonald's HS All-American as a senior this season. That's if Bronny is good enough to play in the NBA in the first place.
If he stays healthy, he'll become the first player ever to pass 40,000 career points next season. And with apologies to Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Moses Malone, he's the best player ever to go straight from high school to the NBA. He should be congratulated, not criticized for that.
WHY JORDAN IS THE GOAT
His dominance of the sport in the 1990's is almost unparallelled. He took what Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving and other did in the 1980's to the next level in the 90's.
He was perhaps the most famous athlete in the world during his heydey. And the first athlete to seriously cash in on product endorsements in the United States.
As for on the court, he's the greatest shooting guard in basketball history. At 6-6 and 200 lbs, he is the most dominant scorer I've ever seen. The main reason he doesn't hold the NBA scoring record that LeBron now holds is because he had two retirements before he quit for good in 2003. He missed the entire 1993-94 season and most of the 1994-95 season before coming back to the Chicago Bulls. And then after his second retirement in 1998, he returned after a three-year hiatus to play two seasons with the Washington Wizards, the team he had an ownership stake in.
Had he played from the 1984-85 season (his rookie year) through his final season (2002-03) with no retirements, he certainly would've scored more than the 32,292 points than he did. 40,000 career points was very possible for MJ.
And even though he got preferential treatment from the league and its referees, MJ was 6 for 6 in the NBA Finals. King James is "only" 4 for 10 in the Finals. And Jordan never faced a 7th game in the Finals.
And the issues LeBron has had with the Lakers not making the playoffs in recent years? And the losses in the Finals? MJ wouldn't have allowed that to happen. He would've assaulted his own teammates if they weren't playing up to snuff in either games or practice. Jordan is/was a better leader, a better clutch player, and mentally tougher than LeBron, IMO.
This covers lots of all-time greats. Magic, Kareem, Hakeem, Larry, Dr. J, Russell, Wilt, Tim Duncan, Shaq, and Kobe just to name a few. You can make a case for any of them.
More recently, what about Steph or KD?? Giannis Antetekomnpo is unreal. So is Luka Doncic, as is two-time defending NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are all-time greats now. In 10-15 years, the other guys I mentioned may join them.
I still take Jordan as the best ever for reasons I stated above. But the point is, now that LeBron James holds the all-time NBA scoring record, he at least has to be in the GOAT debate.
Just like Serena Williams with women's tennis, any argument going forward about the greatest basketball player of all-time must include LeBron James in that argument. King James deserves that much respect now. He has earned it.