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GOAT Talk: Is the Debate Over?

LeBron James, the GOAT, holding Finals MVP and Larry O'Brien trophies.
Photo by NBC Sports

The GOAT Stands

Stop and think for a second, what constitutes, “the greatest basketball player of all time” or GOAT? Is it a two-way athlete that is just as good on offense as they are on defense? Is it a player who has won the most? Is it the most all around player? Let me tell you why LeBron James is the best basketball player to ever walk the face of the earth.

Statistics

We all know the debate of who is the best basketball ever. It’s always been between two players, LeBron James and Michael Jordan, with the occasional toss in of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant or Wilt Chamberlain. We also know that men and women both lie, but numbers don’t, so let me begin.

LeBron James Career (Totals)Michael Jordan Career (Totals)
1,265 games played (31st)1,072 games played
34, 241 Points (3rd)32,292 points (5th)
9,346 assists (8th)6,655 assists (46th)
9,405 rebounds (48th)7,824 rebounds
2,015 steals (13th)2,514 steals (3rd)
957 blocks 893 blocks
50.4% FG49.7% FG
34.4% 3pt FG32.7% 3pt FG
PlayoffsPlayoffs
260 games played (1st)179 games played
7,491 points (1st)5,987 points (2nd)
1,871 assists (2nd)1,022 assists (11th)
2,348 rebounds (6th)1,152 rebounds (36th)
445 steals (1st)376 steals (3rd)
250 blocks (11th)158 blocks (33rd)
49.6% FG48.7% FG
33.5% 3pt FG33.2% 3pt FG
Parentheses represent if the player is top 50 in the stat category

Listed above are the two GOATS in NBA history with their career and playoff totals in eight major categories: Games played, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and three point percentage. As you can see, LeBron James only loses in ONE of these categories, and that is in career steals.

Now, I already know what you’re thinking, LeBron has played more games than Michael Jordan, how does this constitute a GOAT? While this is true, it does not tell the entire story. If we were worried about games played relating to stats, why is Kareem, the number one point leader in NBA history, not taken into the consideration? Where he has also played the second most games in NBA history at 1,560 games. Let’s continue.

Within the table above, I included what position each of these two players is ranked all time in each statistic (if they are top 50). LeBron beats Jordan in every statistical category other than career steals, but LeBron isn’t only the greatest career player of all time, he’s the greatest playoff player of all time. Again, keep in mind we are not discussing longevity or records yet. Just statistics.

James is the highest scorer in playoff history with 7,491 career playoff points, he’s number two in assists behind Magic Johnson and he’s top 10 in rebounds, a stat that includes Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Let that sink in.

A common argument I hear is that LeBron is the best “all-around” player in basketball, but not “the best” player in basketball. If you look at the stats, he’s both. I know I’m sounding repetitive, but what else can I say about stats?

Who Needs Who?

Who needed who more? Did the Chicago Bulls need Jordan more than the Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat needed LeBron? Let’s dive into this question.

Michael Jordan

Chicago Bulls Records:

From 1985-1998, the Bulls made the playoffs every single year, whether Jordan played or not. Let’s just say that Jordan missed two years of play within these years. He missed the ’93-’94 season because he was playing baseball, and he only played 17 games the next season (’94-’95) due to his late return from baseball.

Let’s focus on the year the Bulls didn’t see MJ at all, 1993-1994. Chicago still finished their regular season 55-27, third in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls were able to sweep their first round opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers and lose in seven against the number two seed New York Knicks, who went on to play in the finals.

LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers Records:

LeBron SIGNIFICANTLY raised his teams records when joining. Let’s start with his Cleveland days. The year before The King came into the league, the Cavs had a whopping record of 17-65, after? In LeBron’s rookie year? 35-47. Yes, he failed to bring them to the playoffs, but he’s an 19 year old kid, fresh out of high school. The next year he brought them seven more wins, but still missed the playoffs. Starting in 2005-’06, LeBron brings the Cavs to back to back 50 win seasons, something the Cavs hadn’t seen since 1993.

LeBron left Cleveland in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. Their record after the move? 19-63. They will miss the playoffs for four straight years until The King returns in 2014.

After LeBron leaves Cleveland the second time, they go right back to back to back 19 win seasons.

Miami Heat Records:

Before LeBron joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it was just Wade running the show in Miami. The year before James’ arrival, the Heat put together a 43-39 season. LeBron and Bosh adding to the unit bumped them up by 11 wins. After James’ departure in 2014, the Heat fell out of playoff contention, where they alternated playoff runs for the years following.

Los Angeles Lakers Records:

In LeBron’s first year with the Lakers, he missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. James also missed 27 games due to an injury, in which his team still won two more games than the previous year’s Laker team. I think we all know what happened in his second year with the Lakers, and if you don’t, here’s something to help you:

Playoff Runs

As you know, MJ is famously known as the GOAT for going 6-0 in the finals. This means Jordan went to the finals 6 times out of 15. Another argument I hear quite often is that LeBron fans “celebrate losing” which, the same argument can be made for Jordan, depending on how the information is received.

Jordan lost against the Boston Celtics his rookie and sophomore season in the first round of the playoffs. Nothing against MJ, he played like a god in ’86, averaging 43.7 ppg. He then lost to the Celtics again in his third year in the league.

For the next three years of his career, Jordan couldn’t get passed the Detroit “Bad Boy” Pistons, where they manhandled Jordan’s Bulls in the first year, then went to seven games in the next two years.

LeBron has been to the finals 10 times in 17 years. It’s hard enough to get to the finals, but can you imagine going eight years in a row? Oh wait, LeBron did that too.

Notable Finals Competition

Both of these incredible athletes faced some intense competition in their years. Here are just a few of the notable players these two faced off against. This is finals competition only. Not overall playoff competition.

Michael Jordan:

Magic Johnson
James Worthy
Vlade Divac
Clyde Drexler
Terry Porter
Jerome Kersey
Charles Barkley
Kevin Johnson
Dan Majerie
Shawn Kemp
Gary Payton
Detlef Schrempf
Karl Malone
John Stockton
Jeff Hornacek

LeBron James

Tony Parker
Tim Duncan
Manu Ginobili
Dirk Nowitzki
Jason Terry
Shawn Marion
Jason Kidd
Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook
James Harden
Kawhi Leonard
Stephen Curry
Andre Iguodala
Klay Thompson
Draymond Green
Jimmy Butler

Additional Comments

To end this discussion, I’m not saying Michael Jordan is not a legend. He’s the second best basketball player to play the game. He did things for the game that others before him couldn’t do. The same that LeBron did. This is a very brief overview of my arguments for LeBron James being the GOAT, so feel free to talk to me about your own opinions.

Follow @PZer0Music on Twitter to have some GOAT Talk and debate the greatest basketball players ever.

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One thought on “GOAT Talk: Is the Debate Over?

  1. one other way to look at it is to remove MJs career stats and playoff stats from Lebrons and see what is left, PPG would be fairly low, but rebounds and assists would be phenomenal

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