By Mark Luglio and Matt Lisoski (Seven)
As Lebron James prepares to continue his monstrous 15th NBA season into his 13th consecutive NBA Playoffs, I think now is as good a time as any to show praise to his Highness. Being that the G.O.A.T. and the King are now equal in their number of seasons played, I seek to finally end the debate and prove that the King has slaughtered the goat. In this discussion, every devout sports fan has their opinion and reasons for it, and I assume that this is the audience I am writing for; so here’s mine.
At just 33 years old, LBJ’s statistics alone can end the debate. Averaging just three points per game less than MJ’s legendary 30 PPG, he also does far more than simply put rubber a ball through an iron hoop. Through his career he has assisted and rebounded at a far superior rate than Jordan ever did. Though they differ greatly not only in play style, but also in their physiques, stats are stats. In an attempt to justify who the best basketball player ever is, how can anyone ignore plain numbers that represent mastery in the three most important fundamentals of the game: scoring, passing, and rebounding? With these three categories in mind, no one in their right mind can say that Jordan is statistically superior to James. To further drive the dagger of Lebron’s dominant stats into the heart of a goat, I’ll mention win shares, the truth telling statistic made famous by baseball statistics pioneer Bill James. Put as simply as I can, it’s a number that represents credit for team success to the individual players on the team. After 15 seasons of racking up win shares, with presumably several more to come, Lebron totals 219 (5 more than Jordan). Wouldn’t it make sense to say that the best player ever is one who contributes the most amount of wins for his team? Logic says yes-score one for the King.
To be fair to the Jordan faithful, I must at least mention their seemingly only remaining anecdote they can use to justify their faith in MJ: 6 rings. In 15 seasons, Jordan managed a perfect 6-0 record on the world’s biggest basketball stage while Lebron currently holds a fairly disappointing 3-5 record. Again, in an attempt to be fair, stats are stats; Jordan will always have this over Lebron. However, I maintain that it is an injustice to judge any athlete’s legacy off of how they fare in a best-of-seven series that determines who wins a trophy. There are 82 games in a season followed by a wall of three high quality teams that must be conquered to even make it to the Finals. But if performance in a best-of-seven series is the stage we choose to assess a player on, then so be it; let’s look at the playoffs in general, because after all, to win the Finals you have to win 3 series before it. James boasts an incredible 8 trips to the NBA Finals out of his 12 playoff appearances, with Jordan making it to a comparatively mediocre 6 NBA Finals in his 13 playoff appearances. Michael’s first of his 6 Finals appearances came at age 27, half a decade later in life than Lebron’s first trip. With Lebron currently playing the best basketball of his career, we can sure expect to see many more playoff appearances and perhaps a few more trips to the finals. LBJ is clearly the playoff conqueror; and that is one of the many reasons why he has his throne. In conclusion, if we collectively agree that the best player ever is the player who can best demolish another playoff quality team in a complete series, unluckily for MJ, this one has to go to the King.
Every superhero, even the goats and the kings, has a kryptonite. For Jordan in his pre-modern NBA, it feels simple enough, Larry Bird and his Celtics was his enemy and he couldn’t defeat that enemy in the playoffs. In terms of Lebron, I don’t think the question is who is his enemy, it’s what is his enemy? Ironically enough, it’s an enemy he created himself, the elusive idea of the super team that came about following The Decision. However, unlike MJ, Lebron has time and again shown us that he can defeat his archenemy. The Big 3 Celtics featuring The Truth, the star-studded Thunder who will most likely soon have bred 3 MVP award winners in Westbrook, Durant, and Harden (based off of my confidence that he will win it this year), the Duncan-Pop dynasty Spurs, and last but certainly not least, the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. All of these once upon a time unstoppable forces have at one point or another bent the knee for the true King.
What else is there to say? Lebron’s statistics, playoffs tendencies, and essential flourishment through adversity have already surpassed that of Jordan at equal stages in their careers; and that’s without mentioning that we are still awaiting several great years in this James Era. In my last attempt to be fair and seem as impartial as someone with this strong of an opinion can, I concede that Michael Jordan is, and probably always will be, the perfect NBA Finals player. To the goat I’ll give the rings, but the King deserves his throne.
*statistics provided by www.basketball-reference.com
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