As the NBA Playoffs continues its arduous march to the Finals, a hot topic has surfaced in the periphery. In the midst of what may turn into his greatest individual playoff performance as of yet, the LeBron James versus Michael Jordan comparison has become the most talked about subject surrounding the NBA.
Everyone from sports show commentators, some NBA legends and social media sources have weighed in with their own distinguished and sometimes controversial opinions. It is my belief that the real argument lies between whether or not this debate is even valid to begin with.
First of all, the original debate stemming from 2003-04 was whether James could or would be better than Earvin Magic Johnson. This dispute was a little more fathomable for simple fact that these two athletes theoretically played a similar style of basketball.
Some where in the time line of his career, the question transformed into whether he, James, was greater than his Airness himself. In order to understand this shift in comparison, one must delve into what drives this debate and what makes it unique to all others.
Considering that the league has never had the combination of skill, size and athleticism that Mr. James brings to the table, a never-ending litany of comparisons of every great player of the past and present time has insued. Let’s focus on Jordan and Johnson in order to reveal the true spectrum of James’ attributes.
Regarding the Johnson debate, there is no question that their respective approaches to the game have strong similarities. Both of the aforementioned are leaders and playmakers for their teams. When it comes to their numbers, they are for the most part about the same. Where they differ is in the cumulative assist statistic.
For example, Magic has a higher career assist average at 11.2 to 7.2 comparatively. However, every other stat that you could use in order to evaluate their similarities is pretty close. Their playoffs’ assists are considerably different leaning towards Mr. Johnson at 2,346 total playoff assists to 1,577 (and growing) with an assist to turnover ratio of 3.37 to James’ 1.96, but that’s what makes this interesting. We all know that James’ teams rely on him to shoulder more of the scoring burden than Johnson’s teams ever did. This could be what led to a change in comparisons.
As it relates to Jordan, the comparison takes on an entirely different approach. The most likely debate should focus around their scoring in my opinion but their skills and physical attributes can be considered as well.
As far as scoring is concerned, Jordan has a better career average at 30.1 and 33.4 in the playoffs to 27.2 and 28.7 but the rest of the numbers with regards to shooting are again pretty close. Surprisingly, for all the ridicule about his shooting, James has a higher field goal percentage at .540 to Jordan’s .509. Yet again, “Mr. James” plays a different role for his team and shoulders more of the playmaking duties including rebounding than did his Airness. Are you starting to see my point?
Defensively is more of the same. James is more of a back line defender similar to Johnson where Jordan was more of a perimeter press up type of defender. Jordan leads the three players with 2,514 total career steals while James and Johnson accumulated 1.865 (and growing) and 1,724 respectively.
The anomaly lies in the fact that while James is more of a back line rotation defender with 888 (and growing) career total blocked shots, Jordan is right there with 893 himself. This variation points out the fact, as with Johnson, that LeBron’s versatility is more depended on by his teams while Jordan’s defined dominance in scoring and defense contributed to his team’s success.
In describing the parallels and contrast between the three greats, here is the distinctive scenario. If Jordan and Johnson represent the full spectrum of playing styles when it comes to the guard position, James lies comfortably in the middle. The fact that he continues to be compared to greatness seems to be an underlying theme with regards to his career. Behold and bear witness.