I’ve been accused of being sacrilegious for stating this, and I admit that it is premature, but here it goes anyway: “LeBron James has a good chance at ending up better than Michael Jordan”.
A ridiculous statement, right? Typical sportswriter hyperbole, just trying to shock people and get attention. I would have thought the same thing not so long ago until I put more thought into it. Now I truly believe the above statement.
Now, before you call me the devil incarnate, a few important caveats. Notice I said LeBron has a “good chance” at being better than Jordan. In no way has the King accomplished enough to be considered Jordan’s superior, or even equal. And, like most other thirtysomething hoops junkies, I grew up a MJ fan, so there is no LeBron based bias here. (Plus this story of mine should have cleared that up anyway). And, no, I’m not comparing the two on an aesthetic basis. Both guys are different types of players. What I’m attempting to prove is that while most consider Jordan the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All-Time for those of you not hip), at this point in his career young LeBron isn’t too far behind Air.
Like all good manifestos, I have facts and data to back up my bold proclamation. Since I can’t predict the future (at least 100% accurately), I compared both superstars throughout their first six seasons in the League (MJ from 1985-1990, LeBron from 2004-2009). And when you look at all the data, LeBron holds his own, and arguably even is ahead of Jordan at this point.
First, with the math:
Player’s averages over first six seasons in the NBA:
32.8ppg, 6.3rpg, 6.0apg, 2.8spg, 1.1bpg, 3.3tov
27.5ppg, 7.0rpg, 6.7apg, 1.8spg, 0.9bpg, 3.3tov
Bet those numbers are a lot closer than you’d have expected. And this isn’t just a small sample of data – both guys had played over 400 regular season games in their careers up to this point.
While numbers are helpful, they don’t tell the whole story. How about comparing how they did in the hardware department.
All-Star selections – Jordan 6, LeBron 5
All-NBA selections – Jordan 5 (4 first teams), LeBron 4 (2 first teams)
Rookie of the Year and MVP – Both won each once
All-Defensive selections – Jordan 3 (including Defensive Player of the Year award), LeBron 1
Jordan has him beat, but it is real close.
Since it is a team game, and the purpose of playing is to win championships, and true superstars step it up in the playoffs, lets compare their playoff careers.
Jordan – 24 playoff victories, 5 series won, 0 appearances in the NBA Finals
LeBron – 34 playoff victories, 7 series, 1 appearance in the NBA Finals
To the surprise of many, LeBron has him beat in this category, plus he’ll be adding to his totals once the next round of this year’s playoffs begin. And before you argue that the Eastern Conference was stronger in Jordan’s day, an Eastern Conference team has won the NBA title three out of the past five years, and an Eastern team won the title three out of Jordan’s first six seasons.
So it is not so ridiculous stating that LeBron could be better than Jordan in the end. The man has kept up to the original 23 in most categories and has enjoyed more success than Jordan in the playoffs so far. And if he can win a title this year he will be one year ahead of Jordan, who didn’t win a title until his seventh season in the L (and had one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time riding shotgun with him – LeBron has Mo Williams).
Now comes the hard part for LeBron – trying to keep up with Jordan throughout the rest of his career. That would involve winning six championships, six Finals MVPs and four regular season MVPs. Heady stuff indeed. But if anyone can do it, it would be the 24-year-old James. Ever since Michael hung up his Air Jordans, people have been looking for Air’s heir. The search could be over.