The debate about who is the greatest of all time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James has been ongoing for nearly a decade. There are those who feel that no one will ever come close to matching the incredible run that Michael Jordan had during his peak in the NBA.
Whereas others feel that not only has LeBron James done that, but he has eclipsed Michael during the length of his career. Jordan has the statistical edge in some categories, whereas LeBron holds the advantage over Jordan in other categories.
But the category that matters most to fans is championships. And Jordan is ahead of LeBron with 6 championships, compared to LeBron's 4. Moreover, Jordan is also undefeated in the Finals with a 6-0 record, whereas LeBron has a losing record in the Finals with 4-6.
A lot of people look back at Jordan's run in the NBA with nostalgia goggles. They fail to take into consideration the times Jordan came up short.
Until this year, LeBron James had never been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, whereas Jordan had suffered a first-round exit multiple times, even getting swept by Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics twice.
On top of that, people criticize LeBron James for leaving Cleveland and joining the Miami Heat, calling him a quitter and saying that he took an easy path to a championship. They do have some valid points, given that LeBron eclipses MJ when it comes to All-Star teammates.
But they never talk about how LeBron didn't have a single reliable second option in Cleveland and left because the franchise didn't get him another teammate that can aid him.
In 2013, NBA analyst Colin Cowherd went into detail about the claims of Jordan being better than LeBron James. He called out fans and analysts for having a double standard and practicing revisionist history when it comes to MJ, pointing out the aid MJ had in Chicago compared to LeBron in Cleveland and Miami.
“Here’s the thing. A lot of you are 20-year-old guys. You didn’t watch Jordan. You have no idea, you just hear about Jordan. You literally think Michael made every shot he ever took. Michael Jordan missed 26 game winning shots. Michael Jordan had bad home gomes closeout games, even in the playoffs, even in the finals. Go look at his last game in the Finals against Phoenix or Seattle when he shot 23%. My problem with Michael Jordan is we have revisionist history, that he never lost a game. There was this talk about LeBron James that he doesn’t have the will to win. Well Michael Jordan didn’t win for 8 years He won as a freshman in college. Then didn’t win until like his 6th year in the NBA… He couldn’t win, he couldn’t beat Detroit… ‘Well the NBA was so great then’. Look it up, there were 7 atrocious teams then, there are 7 atrocious teams now. There were about 15-16 good teams… That’s what there was in the Jordan era. It’s a little more diluted now, but you’ve got higher-end talent.”
“But here’s the thing about Jordan that I always laugh at. ‘Well, LeBron, he got help’. If you’re a 20-year-old guy, never call a radio station ever again if your take is ‘LeBron had better help’. Michael Jordan had the best head coach in the league, Phil Jackson. The best rebounder in NBA history, Dennis Rodman. The best defensive player in the league, Scottie Pippen. The best shooter Steve Kerr, and the best Euro at the time, Toni Kukoc. LeBron has the best what?... Bosh isn’t the best at anything, he’s a finesse 4. D-Wade in the last 2 playoff runs has never been at a 100%. LeBron is overwhelmingly doing more himself. Jordan never had to worry about Rodman giving him 0 rebounds. Bosh scored 0 points in Game 7. He never had to worry about Steve Kerr, Rodman, Pippen giving him a 0… What does Miami have besides LeBron that is considered the best? Nothing… Jordan’s teams were unbelievable. I would argue the 95 Bulls were the best defensive team in league history. Ron Harper could D, he was a great defensive player. Pippen was great, Jordan was great, Rodman was great. Those teams defensively were unbelievable. They suffocated great offenses.”
“ ‘Jordan didn’t have to leave…’ Yeah, he went to Chicago. One guy went to Cleveland. A lot easier to get people to Chicago. Rodman wasn’t drafted by the Bulls. They got him from San Antonio… Wasn’t the first team Ron Harper played on. Michael couldn’t win with Doug Collins, Stan Albeck. LeBron inherited Erik Spoelstra, who an hour before last year’s Game 6 or 7, you wanted fired. You didn’t know who Erik Spoelstra was… He’s had a finesse 4, Ray Allen 8 years past his prime and D-Wade in both his title runs, about 80%.”
“Don’t tell me Jordan didn’t have help. Jordan’s supporting cast was unbelievable. And the only people who don’t get that are 20 year olds who never saw those Bulls teams play… You talk about a team of specialists. That team had specialists. Miami is the worst rebounding team in the league. LeBron is often their best rebounder. They never asked Jordan to be the best rebounder. LeBron’s their best facilitator. They never asked Jordan to do that. They’re asking LeBron to do everything… Give me a break on that. LeBron is being asked to do so much, it’s almost ridiculous."
Cowherd's points are as valid now as they were then. Since this long dissection of MJ's Bulls run, LeBron has been to the NBA Finals 6 more times and won 2 more NBA championships. And this season, James and the Lakers are considered one of the favorites to win the championship.
But there will be people who continue to hold Jordan in higher regard, for a multitude of reasons. One of them being that MJ won his first 3 championships with just one All-Star teammate in Scottie Pippen, way less than most superstars in the history of the NBA.
This debate will perhaps never end. But Cowherd did a good job in debunking a lot of the myths about MJ's run in the NBA.