The five-week Michael Jordan “Last Dance” show ended last Sunday. It seems as if every sports fan in America watched it. After all, the nation is dying for sports. The documentary has led to renewed talk of just who is the greatest NBA player of all time.
If you spend any time listening to sports talk radio, the 10-hour MJ lovefest has led many to think that any headway LeBron James was making toward being the G.O.A.T is now gone.
Though I have always leaned toward Jordan (and still do), some basic research has led me to believe that James’ career is as good as Jordan’s now.
Thing is, James, at the age of 35, is not done. Jordan, at 35, was done. MJ retired after the 1998 Bulls championship, rather than seek a new challenge. (I am going to ignore Jordan’s clumsy Washington Wizards return at age 38.)
Back to King James. Before the NBA season halted on March 11, many believed the James’ Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) were headed to The Finals. That would make 10 Finals appearances for James, four more than Jordan.
If the NBA season resumes and LeBron’s Lakers make it to the Finals, bringing the once-dead Lakers to a title would be a remarkable achievement for James.
It’s also impressive that James would have done it with three different teams and five different head coaches (Mike Brown, Eric Spoelstra, David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Frank Vogel).
Jordan won his six titles with one coach, probably the best-ever in Phil Jackson. In fact, Jordan retired after the Utah title in ’98 because Jackson wasn’t going to coach him any longer.
Statistically, the Jordan-James matchup is similar.
Jordan’s career scoring average was 30.1 points to James’ 27.1, but James always has been the better facilitator and rebounder.
James has an assist average of 7.4, compared to Jordan’s 5.3. James holds the rebounding edge, 7.4 to 6.2. James’ field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage are slightly higher than Jordan’s, too (50.4-49.7 and 34.4-32.7).
Another argument in James’ favor, however, is what happened when he left the premises. Twice, James bolted the Cavaliers and they crashed. When James left Miami, the Heat went cold.
Jordan’s brief retirement for baseball didn’t crush the Bulls. They kept chugging along and almost made the 1994 NBA Finals. James never took a break but broke a 52-year sports-championship curse in his native Northeast Ohio. One could say that advancing to eight straight Finals, four with Miami, four with Cleveland, has not been appreciated enough.
I am sticking with Jordan. But James still has a few years to go and his legacy is still growing.