LeBron vs Jordan and the “Greatest of all time” debates across sports

Are they necessary?

Stefan Collins

The Lakers win their sweet 17th

Incase you haven’t heard by now; the Los Angeles Lakers claimed their 17th World Championship. On October 11th, in game six of the series, NBA Finals MVP LeBron James, dynamic team-mate Anthony Davis and Co finally closed out the series against James’ former team, the Miami Heat. I would like to give a huge congratulations to the Lakers and their fans.

The Lakers 17th title was notable in the sports world for several reasons. Firstly, because the Lakers officially tied the Boston Celtics for most NBA Finals victories all time. A remarkable achievement.

Secondly, because there is also reason to believe that the Lakers will overtake the Celtics in the coming years. This is due to their star player, LeBron James eluding father time. Throughout the 2020 season, especially in the Disney World bubble, LeBron has looked as dominant as ever, claiming his fourth career title and becoming the first player to ever win the finals with three different franchises.

Thirdly, because the Lakers captured their first title since the late Kobe Bryant lead 2010 team, and the tribute they played to him.

Finally, because the NBA provided a blueprint to sports leagues around the world for how to successfully play and finish a season during COVID times.

However, all of this has been overshadowed by the discussion topic that was beaten to death long before the 2020 finals series. “Who is the greatest NBA player of all time, LeBron James, or Michael Jordan?” I understand as sports fans we are all obsessed rankings and it is perfectly fine to have your own opinion. But recently debates like this seem to make fans hate greatness (More on this later). The only correct answer when asked this question is “We don’t know because they played in completely different eras, with different rules in place, against different competition.” This answer doesn’t just apply to the Lebron vs Jordan debate. It applies to all sports.

There is a clear football GOAT though. Right?

No. In the NFL, Tom Brady is considered by many to be the “Greatest of all time” or the “GOAT.” I am obviously not one of those people. You’ll be aware of this if you read any of my articles regarding Brady and Bill Belichick. Brady might technically be the most accomplished player to ever play his position, but he played in an era that makes passing the ball easier than it has ever been. He also played in a system that allowed player such as himself and in 2008, Matt Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since High School, to locate open receivers and consistently connect on high percentage throws. If you were to transport Brady back to the 1980’s and put him in the same position as Dan Marino or John Elway, would he be as good as those two and vice versa? Keep in mind Marino and Elway played with rules that made it harder to pass the ball, without Belichick’s system, and far fewer safety precautions in place. I know what I think, and you know what I think but that is merely my opinion. The only correct answer is “We don’t know who is better because they played in completely different eras.” Just like it is in Basketball. You can only truly compare the players of their eras because we don’t know for a fact how they would adjust.

How about Baseball?

In Major League Baseball, most fans accept that Babe Ruth is the greatest player of all time, even though most of us are far too young to remember him. Ruth played at his peak in the 1920’s. I personally think Barry Bonds (who I grew up watching) was a better player than Ruth. I think this because he played in an era where the game was a lot faster and the competition was fiercer. Many baseball fans would treat that statement as blasphemy. However, picture Bonds playing in his prime in the 1920’s (Ignore the racial barriers for this fictional scenario) and imagine Ruth playing in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Which one would be better? You know what I think but the only correct answer is ,“we don’t know because they played in completely different eras.” Maybe Ruth really was that good. Maybe he would adjust perfectly to hitting 100mph fastballs and playing against competition that didn’t chain smoke cigarettes in the dugout, who knows? Just like maybe Jordan may have been better playing against LeBron’s finals opponents and maybe LeBron would have done fine playing against the more physical 80’s and 90’s era with the late 20th century rules.

 Jordan vs LeBron: Double Standards

Back to the NBA. Throughout his career, LeBron James may have been the most disrespected and hated athlete of my lifetime. Simply because a lot of people consider him to be better than Jordan. There are many LeBron haters and Jordan fan boys in the sports world, but none worse than the host of Fox sports’ “Undisputed”, Mr. Skip Bayless (Who I will use as the example for all LeBron haters.) If you’ve ever watched “Undisputed”, especially around the time ESPN’s “The Last Dance” was aired, Bayless constantly brought up the fact that he was columnist for the Bulls in the late 90’s. Bayless knew Jordan personally. Going off the stories he told he probably followed him around like one of Nikki Sixx’s groupies.

On October 12th, an article by Amulya Shekar, from The Sports Rush, titled “‘Michael Jordan is still the GOAT, not LeBron James’: Skip Bayless weighs in on the Lakers star winning 4th NBA title.”  Shekar opened the article with “It’s a bad day for LeBron haters, and especially for Skip Bayless. He posted a series of tweets diminishing James’s 4th ring and topped it off by saying MJ is better than LeBron.” The tweets mentioned consisted of Bayless ranting about how easy Lebron and the Lakers had it in the 2020 series and how it is nothing compared to Jordan’s post season schedule in 1991. Capped off with the tweet:

“MJ>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>lebron” – @RealSkipBayless

While I don’t disagree with Bayless about the “Show-Time” Lakers and the “Bad-Boy” Pistons being tougher to beat than ’20 Rockets, Nuggets, and Heat, that shouldn’t diminish a fantastic post season performance. Afterall, you can only beat who is put in front of you. LeBron put up 179 points in the finals, rightfully earning his fourth finals MVP. Impressive stats regardless of the competition level. But if you want to play that game, Jordan played in five other finals and the Bulls opposition was not as spectacular as some of LeBron’s. The Tim Duncan and Tony Parker Spurs, and the Steph Curry and Kevin Durant Warriors, were incredible. The players I mentioned were arguably stronger and more athletic than any player from the 90’s (Other than Jordan of course) and featured some of the most technically sound shooters in history. LeBron’s teams (Heat and Cavaliers) beat the Spurs and Warriors that I mentioned, in the finals. Nobody knows for certain, but I would put my money on those teams beating all six of the Bulls finals opponents (Even with the rules that made the 90’s era tougher). That includes the 1991 “Show-Time” Lakers that Bayless mentioned.

Shekar also stated,His [Bayless’s] comment was sure as ever, with him maintaining that Michael Jordan was still the GOAT. With six titles and six finals MVP to his name [compared to James’s 4-6 finals record], Michael Jordan sits comfortably at the summit of basketball greatness.” What I would take from that is, in the years 1985, 86, and 87, before the Bulls acquired Scottie Pippen (sometimes referred to the Robin to M.J.’s Batman) the Bulls did not experience a winning regular season record and did not win a single playoff series. Jordan also played for the Wizards in 2002 and 2003 without his excellent supporting cast. In total his career winning percentage without Pippen was 43.6%. In the season’s that LeBron is often criticized for due to his teams losing the finals series, his teams did well enough to win the Eastern conference title. So why doesn’t Jordan get the same criticism for the losing records he had without Pippen? Do not treat this as me bashing Michael Jordan because it isn’t. He was the best player of his era and was arguably better than LeBron at his peak. These stats are there simply to show the double standard in place in this debate.

You can still think that Jordan is better than LeBron and appreciate that LeBron James is the best player of the first quarter of the 21st century. There is no need to hate on one player because of your personal all-time rankings regardless of your opinion. Appreciate greatness whilst you can and salute the Lakers for an incredible season.




Shekar. A. The Sports Rush. “’Michael Jordan is still the GOAT, not LeBron James’: Skip Bayless weighs in on the Lakers star winning 4th NBA title.” Retrieved from: https://thesportsrush.com/nba-news-michael-jordan-is-still-the-goat-not-lebron-james-skip-bayless-weighs-in-on-lakers-star-winning-4th-nba-title/