When it comes to pure talent, impact on the court, scoring ability, and success - Michael Jordan is often regarded as the very best player ever. But Kobe Bryant has basically mimicked Jordan’s career while LeBron James has been doing extraordinary things for 17 years in the league. As such, it is often difficult to choose the best player between the three of them by looking at pure stats.
One argument that needs to come up is how many great teams did each of these players defeat in the playoffs. 60-win teams are often regarded as great teams, and are expected to be title contenders or at least go deep into the playoffs. Clearly, the player who won the most games against 60-win teams will have a strong argument for being the best overall player. Similarly, 50-win teams are very good teams that will no doubt compete in the playoffs and can defeat any team on any night.
It is time to determine which player won the most playoff series against both 60-win and 50-win teams. Some of these stats may be shocking, but it also may open your eyes as to how to view the greatness of these incredibly talented players.
60-Win Teams In The Playoffs
Michael Jordan: 7-2
1986/1987: Lost 0-3 against Boston Celtics (67-15) in 1st Round
1988/1989: Lost 2-4 against Detroit Pistons (63-19) in ECF
1992/1993: Won 4-2 against New York Knicks (60-22) in ECF
1992/1993: Won 4-2 against Phoenix Suns (62-20) in Finals
1995/1996: Won 4-0 against Orlando Magic (60-22) in ECF
1995/1996: Won 4-2 against Seattle Sonics (64-18) in Finals
1996/1997: Won 4-1 against Miami Heat (61-21) in ECF
1996/1997: Won 4-2 against Utah Jazz (64-18) in Finals
1997/1998: Won 4-2 against Utah Jazz (62-20) in Finals
Clearly, MJ beat the most 60-win teams in the playoffs. This is no surprise since Jordan ran into the Bad Boy Pistons, a dominant Celtics crew led by Larry Bird, the Patrick Ewing-led New York Knicks, and the supremely talented Utah Jazz led by Malone and Stockton.
Michael Jordan has beaten some all-time great teams during his career, and these teams would have likely won NBA titles if MJ and the Bulls did not knock them out of the postseason. This stat is quite shocking, that Jordan has more than doubled the number of wins that both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have over 60-win teams in the playoffs.
MJ was always known as a winner of the highest level, and this stat does nothing but prove this. Once Michael Jordan got a strong crew behind him, with the likes of Scottie Pippen and later Dennis Rodman, he basically ran riot over the entire NBA for years. As it stands, Michael Jordan has won 7 out of 9 series against all-time great NBA teams.
LeBron James: 3-4
2007/2008: Lost 2-4 against Boston Celtics (66-16) in 2nd Round
2010/2011: Won 4-1 against Chicago Bulls (62-20) in ECF
2013/2014: Lost 1-4 against San Antonio Spurs (62-20) in Finals
2014/2015: Won 4-0 against Atlanta Hawks (60-22) in ECF
2014/2015: Lost 2-4 against Golden State Warriors (67-15) in Finals
2015/2016: Won 4-3 against Golden State Warriors (73-9) in Finals
2016/2017: Lost 1-4 against Golden State Warriors (67-15) in Finals
LeBron James most recently ran into the Golden State Warriors juggernauts the past few years, and that increases both his number of losses by two and wins by one. In perhaps the most impressive career achievement in LeBron’s career, he managed to overcome a 3-1 deficit and defeat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors team led by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
However, he still has a losing record to 60-win teams including two against the Kevin Durant-led Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, and Boston Celtics. The loss against San Antonio was by a record margin, and LeBron’s Heat was simply overwhelmed at the time. His loss against the Celtics was not on him by any means as he simply could not match up with the Celtics superteam led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
James hopes to climb the ranking a bit higher and hopefully get closer to Jordan’s 7 wins in the postseason. Still, 3 wins out of 7 isn’t inherently bad, and he will aim to at least get a respectable .500 win percentage before he hangs it up.
Kobe Bryant: 2-5
1996/1997: Lost 1-4 against Utah Jazz (64-18) in 2nd Round
1997/1998: Won 4-1 against Seattle Sonics (61-21) in 2nd Round
1997/1998: Lost 0-4 against Utah Jazz (62-20) in WCF
2001/2002: Won 4-3 against Sacramento Kings (61-21) in WCF
2002/2003: Lost 2-4 against San Antonio Spurs (60-22) in 2nd Round
2006/2007: Lost 1-4 against Phoenix Suns (61-21) in 1st Round
2007/2008: Lost 2-4 against Boston Celtics (66-16) in Finals
When it comes to records against 60-win teams, Bryant has the worst record. This mainly has to do with the fact that Bryant ran into more 50-win teams than anything else, but he still does not have a .500 record against 60-win teams. The most painful loss in Bryant’s career was the 07-08 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics simply had their number, as they had a powerful team led by an excellent coach.
Bryant also lost to a great Phoenix Suns team after he dragged the Lakers to the playoffs, although no one expected him to beat the Suns on his own. Similarly, the 02-03 Lakers were outmatched by San Antonio and crashed out of the playoffs in just the second round at the time.
Overall, Kobe Bryant had to accept the fact that he managed only 2 wins out of 7 against 60-win teams in the postseason. Luckily for him, he beat the most 50-win teams by a very impressive margin.
50-Win Teams In The Playoffs
Kobe Bryant: 25-10
1997-98: Won 4-1 against Seattle SuperSonics (61-21) in 2nd Round
1999-00: Won 4-1 against Phoenix Suns (53-29) in 2nd Round
1999-00: Won 4-3 against Portland Trail Blazers (59-23) in WCF
1999-00: Won 4-2 against Indiana Pacers (56-26) in NBA Finals
2000-01: Won 3-0 against Portland Trail Blazers (50-32) in 1st Round
2000-01: Won 4-0 against Sacramento Kings (55-27) in 2nd Round
2000-01: Won 4-0 against San Antonio Spurs (58-24) in WCF
2000-01: Won 4-1 against Philadelphia 76ers (56-26) in NBA Finals
2001-02: Won 4-1 against San Antonio Spurs (58-24) in 2nd Round
2001-02: Won 4-3 against Sacramento Kings (61-21) in WCF
2001-02: Won 4-0 against New Jersey Nets (52-30) in NBA Finals
2002-03: Won 4-2 against Minnesota Timberwolves (51-31) in 1st Round
2003-04: Won 4-2 against San Antonio Spurs (57-25) in 2nd Round
2003-04: Won 4-2 against Minnesota Timberwolves (58-24) in WCF
2003-04: Lost 4-1 against Detroit Pistons (54-28) in NBA Finals
2007-08: Won 4-0 against Denver Nuggets (50-32) in 1st Round
2007-08: Won 4-2 against Utah Jazz (54-28) in 2nd Round
2007-08: Won 4-1 against San Antonio Spurs (56-26) in WCF
2007-08: Lost 4-2 against Boston Celtics (66-16) in NBA Finals
2008-09: Won 4-3 against Houston Rockets (53-29) in 2nd Round
2008-09: Won 4-2 against Denver Nuggets (54-28) in WCF
2008-09: Won 4-1 against Orlando Magic (59-23) in NBA Finals
2009-10: Won 4-2 against Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32) in 1st Round
2009-10: Won 4-0 against Utah Jazz (53-29) in 2nd Round
2009-10: Won 4-2 against Phoenix Suns (54-28) in WCF
2009-10: Won 4-3 against Boston Celtics (50-32) in NBA Finals
Kobe clearly won the most games against 50-win teams, some of them which could very well be 60-win teams in almost any decade. Bryant always had a killer instinct in his approach to the game, and he often came up big against excellent teams.
He managed to outlast the likes of a 59-win Orlando Magic team that featured a prime Dwight Howard and array of three-point specialists. Kobe’s Lakers also outlasted the likes of Indiana and Portland in the 1999-2000 season, coming up big in clutch moments and knocking off two teams that could have easily been NBA champions if not for the Lakers.
Kobe’s battles with the legendary San Antonio Spurs dynasty led by Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are also very impressive. The Spurs would have won a couple more titles if not for Kobe Bryant, and Bryant often had the Spurs number when they played in the playoffs. Clearly, the amount of 50-win games he won is shockingly impressive.
Michael Jordan: 20-7
1988-1989: Won 3-2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25) in 1st Round
1988-1989: Won 4-2 against the New York Knicks (52-30) in 2nd Round
1989-1990: Won 4-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers (53-29) in 2nd Round
1990-1991: Won 4-0 against the Detroit Pistons (50-32) in ECF
1990-1991: Won 4-1 against the Los Angeles Lakers (58-24) in NBA Finals
1991-1992: Won 4-3 against the New York Knicks (51-31) in 2nd Round
1991-1992: Won 4-2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25) in ECF
1991-1992: Won 4-2 against the Portland Trail Blazers (57-25) in NBA Finals
1992-1993: Won 4-0 against the Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28) in 2nd Round
1992-1993: Won 4-2 against the New York Knicks (60-22) in ECF
1992-1993: Won 4-2 against the Phoenix Suns (62-20) in NBA Finals
1994-1995: Won 3-1 against the Charlotte Hornets (50-32) in 1st Round
1995-1996: Won 4-0 against the Orlando Magic (60-22) in ECF
1995-1996: Won 4-2 against the Seattle SuperSonics (64-18) in NBA Finals
1996-1997: Won 4-1 against the Atlanta Hawks (56-26) in 2nd Round
1996-1997: Won 4-1 against the Miami Heat (61-21) in ECF
1996-1997: Won 4-2 against the Utah Jazz (64-18) in NBA Finals
1997-1998: Won 4-1 against the Charlotte Hornets (51-31) in 2nd Round
1997-1998: Won 4-3 against the Indiana Pacers (58-24) in ECF
1997-1998: Won 4-2 against the Utah Jazz (62-20) in NBA Finals
MJ comes closest to Kobe, winning 20 out of 27 games against 50-win teams. That is a very impressive winning percentage, and this only adds to the evidence that MJ basically ran the league for almost his entire career. MJ did his work against great teams in the postseason and trails Kobe Bryant by only 5 wins.
It is impressive that Jordan only lost 7 times against 50 win teams, and these losses were expected.
When Jordan was favored, he usually got the job done and never allowed himself to underperform. That is truly the mark of why many consider Jordan to be the best ever since he never let up and let anyone off the hook. In many ways, his record might be the most impressive considering the fact he only lost 7 games.
LeBron James: 10-9
(*Excluding lockout-shortened season)
2006-2007: Won 4-2 against Detroit Pistons (53-29) in ECF
2006-2007: Lost 4-0 against San Antonio Spurs (58-24) in NBA Finals
2010-2011: Won 4-1 against Boston Celtics (56-26) in 2nd Round
2010-2011: Won 4-2 against Chicago Bulls (62-20) in ECF
2010-2011: Lost 4-2 against Dallas Mavericks (57-25) in NBA Finals
2012-2013: Won 4-3 against San Antonio Spurs (58-24) in NBA Finals
2013-2014: Won 4-2 against Indiana Pacers (56-26) in ECF
2013-2014: Lost 4-1 against San Antonio Spurs (62-20) in NBA Finals
2014-2015: Won 4-2 against Chicago Bulls (50-32) in 2nd Round
2014-2015: Won 4-0 against Atlanta Hawks (60-22) in ECF
2014-2015: Lost 4-2 against Golden State Warriors (67-15) in NBA Finals
2015-2016: Won 4-2 against Toronto Raptors (56-26) in ECF
2015-2016: Won 4-3 against Golden State Warriors (73-9) in NBA Finals
2016-2017: Won 4-0 against Toronto Raptors (51-31) in 2nd Round
2016-2017: Won 4-1 against Boston Celtics (53-29) in ECF
2016-2017: Lost 4-1 against Golden State Warriors (67-15) in NBA Finals
2017-2018: Won 4-0 against Toronto Raptors (59-23) in 2nd Round
2017-2018: Won 4-3 against Boston Celtics (55-27) in ECF
2017-2018: Lost 4-0 against Golden State Warriors (58-24) in NBA Finals
It is shocking how many 50-win teams LeBron has actually beaten in the postseason. While LeBron James is a force of nature who can seemingly carry any team he wants to the Finals, he might have been helped tremendously by playing in the East.
With only 20 games against 50-win teams, LeBron James has managed to win 10. This record is surprising since James is so dominant in the regular season. In fact, LeBron is most probably the best regular-season player ever. But does this mean that James is the NBA’s version of Peyton Manning and not Tom Brady?
It depends on who you ask, but James clearly pales in comparison to the amount of 50-win teams that Michael Jordan and especially Kobe Bryant has beaten. Luckily for James, he still has time to get closer to MJ in wins and hopefully make this less of a landslide.