There seems to be a lot of debate this season on whether or not LeBron can catch Michael Jordan in the debate of who will be considered the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). There are some people out there who consider Wilt Chamberlain or a couple of other guys in the conversation, but for the most part, NBA fans at-large seem to think that MJ can never be caught. Some of that has to do with his killer instinct or his score-first mentality when his team was in trouble, but most people point to his 6-0 NBA Finals record with 6 MVP’s. They believe that because he was his team’s best player in each championship round, and he never lost on the big stage, he is the ultimate champion.
Most of the people who closely followed the NBA in the 1980’s and 1990’s believe that was the time when the NBA was at its peak, and Jordan obviously ruled that era. They believe it was harder to win because the game was more physical and players didn’t leave in free agency to create “super-teams”. It took MJ awhile to make his way past good teams like the Celtics, Pistons, and Knicks, but once he broke through, he was unstoppable.
That combined with the fact that his Gatorade and Nike endorsements made him the face of every popular ad campaign made him a larger-than-life, legendary figure. There are kids collecting his shoes and wearing his clothes today that never saw him play, and they all think he is the greatest because that’s what their dad, uncle, grandpa, or coach told them.
I’m not here to tell you that LeBron is the GOAT or that he has currently passed MJ, but I definitely think he has enough time left in his career that it is a very good possibility. With LeBron passing Jordan on the all-time playoff scoring list last series, I think there are a lot more people being swayed in that direction. Yes, Jordan was 6-0 in the NBA Finals, but there is more to look at than just that. One could argue that LeBron has already made it there 8 times and isn’t even done with his career yet. Should he be punished for making it farther than Jordan more often just because he didn’t win? Aren’t we just giving Jordan credit for losing earlier in the playoffs?
Jordan didn’t often face the toughest players of his era in the NBA Finals. He played Magic once in the championship when he was on his way out and went against Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Clyde Drexler. He avoided having to face Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, or David Robinson in a championship, and he lost out to guys like Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars trying to get there. Some could say his biggest accomplishments involved getting through the East which everyone claims is really easy for LeBron because of his lesser competition. LeBron’s played the greatest players and coaches of his era in the championship round when facing guys like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, and more.
The other case to be made about LeBron’s current 3-4 NBA Finals record is that fact that his team has only been favored twice, and several times he has dragged a far-inferior team all the way there when he had no business doing so. The primary example of that was the 2007 Cavs which was a roster of nobodies. Jordan’s teams were favored most of the time, while LeBron’s squads were hugely overmatched.
The biggest push in LeBron’s favor is the fact that he brought his team back from a 3-1 deficit last season to beat a Golden State team that had a record-breaking 73-win regular season. LeBron also led every player in the series in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks. Talk about domination. We also don’t know how many more times he we make it back to the championship, but winning the East for seven straight seasons is pretty impressive.
Jordan apologists will say that the game has changed, and they are right. However, the changes can pose advantages and disadvantages for both players. Players in Jordan’s era were more physical on people driving to the hoop, but he never had to deal with the types of spread out three-point shooting teams that LeBron faces. Teams in that era never had that many shooters that could get streaky and stretch out leads as quickly as they can now.
People arguing for Jordan will also say he never left to join a “super-team” to win championships, but he didn’t have to because he had a great supporting cast right where he was at.He played for Phil Jackson, who most people believe is the greatest coach in the history of sports. Jackson also won 5 more titles without Jordan. He also played alongside hall of famers like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. He also played with guys like Horace Grant, John Paxson, Toni Kukoc, and BJ Armstrong. Jordan even had his own sharpshooter, Steve Kerr.
LeBron has played with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, but he has also had to play against other “super-teams” like Golden State’s from a year ago with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Not to mention the fact that they added Kevin Durant to the mix this year. LeBron also took a team all the way to the championship round when the other starters were Eric Snow, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. MJ never took a crew like that to that level. LeBron was also able to win two games in the 2015 NBA Finals without Love and Irving.
Whichever side you come out on in the debate, there is a good argument to be made. I just think there is more to it than saying, “Jordan won six titles and never lost a championship. End of discussion.” If LeBron is able to win the 2017 Championship and bring another trophy to Cleveland, I think he will definitely have a legitimate argument for being the GOAT. He will have beaten a team that is considered to be one of the best ever in back-to-back seasons, and he will have done it after they added a top-five NBA player to their roster in the offseason to try to stop him. He will have also brought back-to-back championships to a city that had a 52-year title drought. Those are two mountains that Jordan never climbed.