The “King From Akron” is the greatest to ever pick up a basketball

Sam Kassan, Staff Writer

With the very strange 2019-2020 NBA season that came to a close in mid-October, the Lakers were crowned as the champions, taking home their seventeenth Finals win.  The team, led by LeBron James, overcame the unforeseen obstacles of COVID-19 and rose above the rest of the league to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.  James added another ring and Finals MVP to his lengthy novel of accolades in a historic season that, without a doubt, secured his spot as the greatest basketball player of all time.

In order to prove LeBron’s superiority to the great Michael Jordan, which is by no means an easy task, it is important to recognize and refute arguments made by Jordan fans.  One of their valid mentioned points is LeBron’s infamous 3-6 (now 4-6) finals record compared to Jordan’s 6-0 Finals dominance.  LeBron was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first pick of the 2003 NBA draft, at merely 18 years old.  He immediately demonstrated his readiness for the league and his ability to lead the team.  At the age of 22, LeBron led the Cavs (with no other all stars) to their first finals in franchise history.  They got swept by the Spurs, but LeBron did not shy away from the competition.  The next time LeBron would play in the finals was against the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, his worst finals performance by a long shot.  His total meltdown in that series was inexcusable, but one bad performance is not enough to discredit an entire argument, especially one as strong as LeBron’s.  His next four finals losses can either be credited to superteams, such as Kawhi Leonard’s Spurs, or the addition of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors already a finals-caliber team, Or to injuries to fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love when he was forced to go head to head against the Splash Brothers.  In each of these losses, LeBron put up great numbers, averaging close to or well beyond a 30 point triple-double.  

Another refutable claim constantly brought up by Jordan fans is the fact that LeBron has jumped between many teams.  This is simply due to the drastically different era of free agency there was  when Jordan played.  In this new era of the NBA, players prioritize getting a ring over than sticking with the team that drafted them.  For someone like LeBron, he had no other choice if he wanted to achieve anything in his career.  With competition like the 73-9 Warriors, the Celtics Big Three, and the fine-tuned Spurs, it was simply impossible for anyone to make a legitimate run at the finals without the assistance of a few other stars.  Staying with Cleveland instead of departing for South Beach would’ve handicapped on LeBron’s career.

After discussing some of the negatives in LeBron’s resume, it is time to review the positives.  To start, LeBron led the Cavaliers to several playoff appearances during his first stint with Cleveland, an impressive task considering his lackluster supporting cast.  Before Scottie Pippen entered the scene, the farthest Jordan got was a few first round exits at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.  

“One reason that I think LeBron is better than MJ is because LeBron can excel even with far worse players.  Jordan struggled to get past the first round without help, whereas LeBron took his team of scrubs to five playoffs and one finals appearance,” said junior Davis Choi.  

When Jordan retired for the first time in 1993, the Bulls did not miss him all that much, finishing the season with a 55-27 record and making a deep playoff run.  However, Cleveland felt the impact of LeBron’s departure much more during the 2010-2011 season.  They completely flipped their record around, going from a 60 win season to not even putting up 20.      

Another major reason LeBron is a better player than Michael Jordan are his stats.  LeBron is ahead of Jordan in a multitude of stats, including rebounds, assists, overall field goal percentage, All-NBA first team selections, All-Star appearances and more.  It is important to note that LeBron has played in many more games than Jordan, with MJ having attended college and taking almost two years off to pursue a career in baseball.  Regardless, LeBron still averages substantially more stats, besides points, than Jordan, as he holds a three point advantage.  This isn’t surprising at all, as Jordan was a pure scorer while LeBron’s greatest on court strength is his excellent IQ and playmaking abilities.  

In addition, James and Jordan played in two very different eras, facing different levels of competition.  Jordan’s era may have been tougher and more physical, but LeBron easily has played against more talented players.  

“The fact that LeBron was able to reach the finals 10 times and manage to get 4 rings against the competition he faced is incredible to me.  The modern era of players is far more skilled than anyone Jordan went up against, and he would get blown out of the water in LeBron’s position,” said sophomore James Chondrogiannis.  

The complexities that LeBron is up against were simply unheard of during Jordan’s era.  Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics were nearing the end of their glory days as Jordan’s was emerging, and, while Jordan undoubtedly faced many great teams, none of them compare to some of the teams that gave LeBron his six finals losses.    

Moreover, LeBron’s longevity is yet another reason why he deserves to be labeled the greatest of all time.  After 17 years, which is a huge accomplishment alone, LeBron shows no signs of slowing down, finishing as the obvious MVP runner-up and averaging nearly a triple double during both the season and throughout the postseason.

The final reason that LeBron is the greatest of all time aren’t  his skills or on-court prowess.  His leadership and desire to do good in the world is what really boosts LeBron to the top of the pedestal.  LeBron and Jordan took two very different approaches to leading a team and improving the other players.  LeBron has been a supportive, helpful teammate while Jordan resorted to bullying and yelling.  While Jordan’s methods may have been effective in instilling a desire in his teammates to improve, there are always other ways to go about something than making people feel bad.  

“In my opinion, I think LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time due to his unmatched leadership.  He has the ability to make all the players around him better, something that Jordan could never do,” said sophomore Alex Almahmoud.  

Furthermore, LeBron is constantly on the headlines for his charitable deeds, and for his consistent activism for African Americans in this country.  Just this year, LeBron and other prominent black celebrities founded the “More Than a Vote” organization, aimed at educating the population to fight back against systemic racism and voter suppression.  On the other hand, Jordan received a ton of backlash after refusing to endorse Harvey Gantt, a black mayor running against Jesse Helms, an openly racist white senator in his home state of North Carolina.  His reason for not endorsing Gantt was simple: he didn’t want Helms’ supporters to stop buying his merchandise.  This may not be the most significant point in the GOAT argument, but it is important to look at the player a whole.  It’s not just about what players do on the court that count.

Therefore, LeBron has proved time and time again that he is worthy of GOAT status, and his recent finals win all but him cemented that spot.  However, whether anyone argues either side is irrelevant.  The most important thing is not to prove the superiority of one or the other, but to recognize both of their greatness.   The fact of the matter is that LeBron James and Michael Jordan are two of the greatest athletes to ever step on a court, and we should appreciate both of them instead of tearing either of them down.  The impact and legacy of the two of them will last long after they are gone, and they will continue to inspire youth of today to be great.