by Wyatt Bose ’23
Yes, THAT JUST HAPPENED. But does it change anything?
After he broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record Tuesday night, LeBron James took his typical passive-aggressive approach to his postgame interview on TNT. When asked whether breaking the record solidifies his case as the greatest player of all time, LeBron said initially, “I’m going to let everybody else decide who that is, or just talk about it… but it’s great barbershop talk.”
In the same breath, however, after some encouragement from Shaquille O’Neil, James admitted, “I’m going to take myself against anybody that’s ever played this game… I always feel like I’m the best to ever play this game, but there are so many other great ones, and I’m happy to just be a part of their journey.”
This leaves the question: Jordan or Lebron, who is the greatest NBA player of all time?
When you’re the best, and everyone knows you’re the best, you don’t feel the need to tell everyone you’re the best. When you’re chasing the best, you have to make your case for why you’re better than the guy you’re chasing, but if you’ve surpassed “THAT guy,” why acknowledge that a GOAT debate even exists? Here’s why: LeBron knows good and well that he is not THAT guy, for that title belongs to THE guy, Michael Jordan. LeBron James knows he’s great, but he’s no MJ.
You see, THAT guy, the ultimate cold-blooded killer and the greatest to ever lace ‘em up, need not say one word about a debate, for his competitors spoke louder than most. On April 20, 1986, in Game 2 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, Jordan, a sophomore at the time, dropped 63 points on a Boston team that went on to win the NBA Finals that year. After the game, some guy named Larry Bird, who won the 1986 Finals MVP, pronounced MJ as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Has anyone ever said LeBron is God disguised as Lebron James? Maybe he’s told himself that in the mirror, but otherwise, I don’t think so.
While there’s no GOAT comparison to be made, in honor of LeBron’s recent achievement, I’ll make one anyway.
Michael Jordan won 10 Scoring Titles to Lebron’s 1, led the league in steals 3 times to LeBron’s zero, and most importantly went 6-0 in the NBA Finals with 6 Finals MVPs to LeBron’s 4-6 record with 4 MVPs. I could stop here, but if you look closely at some of LeBron’s Finals victories, you could make the case his record would read 2-8 if he didn’t catch two of the most fortunate breaks in NBA history.
In the 2013 Finals – a series LeBron played very well in, averaging 25.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 7 APG – the King (of Long Beach at the time) brought the Miami Heat back from a ten-point deficit to cut the Spurs’ lead to three points in the fourth quarter of Game 6.
However, in an elimination game for Miami, with 11.5 seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter, all would be forgotten after the self-proclaimed “Chosen One” launched a three-pointer to tie the game – a “Le-Brick” heard round the world that would be rendered obsolete in a matter of seconds, thanks to Ray Allen.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, the greatest power forward of all time was watching from the sideline, as Chris Bosh snatched LeBron’s predictable miss and dished the ball out to the near corner, the “short corner” as they call it, to one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, Ray Allen. Allen, who shoots it purer than anyone I’ve ever seen, took two shuffles behind the three-point stripe, had the wherewithal to check his feet, and ripped a laser beam of a line drive shot with the weight of the entire arena on his shoulders. A shot that still stands today as the greatest clutch shot of all time, Allen did something LeBron has failed to do far too often in his career – close games in the brightest of moments. If Ray Allen misses that shot with 5.2 seconds remaining in the game, and the Heat’s season for that matter, LeBron would be 3-7 in the NBA Finals.
Furthermore, in the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron and the Cavaliers found themselves in a 3-1 deficit ahead of Game 5 in Golden State, as the so-called “greatest comeback of all time” was just about to be born. The herculean effort was not fueled by LeBron, but rather first by a Draymond Green suspension in Game 5 for his kicking antics in Game 4. Green, the leader and enforcer of a young Golden State locker room, was a massive loss for a team that won 73 games in the regular season. Shocking to no one, the Cavs won Game 5 handily by 15 points as the series transitioned back to Cleveland. After a must-win Game 6 victory, a win they owed to Cleveland fans after losing Game 4 at home, the Cavs headed back to Golden State for one of the most memorable Finals games in NBA history.
In the fourth quarter of Game 7 with the score tied 89-89, after a scoreless stretch for both teams for about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, Tyronn Lue called for Kyrie Irving – not LeBron, who just left a push-shot floater woefully short. Irving, who had had enough of the “brick-fest” displayed by both teams, decided it was time for some Uncle Drew magic. Kyrie told LeBron to get out of his way and give him the damn ball, as he, doing his best Ray Allen impersonation, put the entire city of Cleveland on his back with a step-back heartbreaker over little Steph Curry. Then, after Curry hurled a desperation three-point shot that missed everything but the backboard, the Warriors fouled LeBron, forcing the King to step-up to the free throw line and make 1/2 FREE throws to ice the game. Shaking in his size 15 “Nike Lebron” shoes, the Chosen One became the Stifled One as he missed the first free throw, hitting back iron with forceful impact. Thankfully, LeBron rattled in the second free throw. Ultimately, though, without the Draymond Green suspension and Kyrie’s all-time clutch go-ahead three-point shot, LeBron could be 2-8 in the NBA Finals.
Speaking of clutch, there was this other guy who played in Chicago who knew something about taking and making clutch shots – in fact, he was the guy who LeBron looked up to and took inspiration from when choosing to wear #23. In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the second greatest clutch shot of all time was born. Down 86-85 with 21.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, before he silenced the crowd in Utah, Michael Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone in the post to prevent a layup that would have put the Jazz up three points.
Jordan took the game into his own hands, isolating one-on-one with Jazz guard Bryon Russell, as he prepared a size-up move. Jordan took one dribble, then a crossover through the legs into a subtle step-back as he aligned his feet, directed his attention from the falling Russell to the basketball hoop, and held his pose as he drained the go-ahead jump shot to secure his 6th Finals Championship. Jordan’s 45-point all-time great closeout performance single handedly won the 1998 NBA Finals, as he shot the life out of everyone in Salt Lake City, Utah that night.
A 14x All-Star, 11x All-NBA, 9x 1st team All-Defense, the 1987-1988 Defensive Player of the Year, and the 1984-1985 Rookie of the Year, it was and will always be Jordan who headlines the GOAT debate. For a career, Jordan averaged 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 5.3 APG in the regular season and 33.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 6.0 APG in the NBA Finals.
In terms of level of competition, something delusional LeBron supporters like to argue was nonexistent in the Jordan era, Jordan had to dethrone several all-time great teams in the Eastern Conference. To list some, Jordan went toe-to-toe with the “Bad Boy” Pistons, Reggie Miller’s Pacers, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley’s Knicks, and Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway’s Magic – just to reach the Finals. Furthermore, once he made the Finals, Jordan faced teams including Magic Johnson’s Lakers, Charles Barkley’s Suns, and Karl Malone and John Stockton’s Jazz.
In the end, Jordan’s 6-0 Finals record and complete dominance in the 1990’s are unparalleled to anything LeBron has accomplished, including his most recent accolade as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.