OPINION: Congratulations LeBron, but you’re still not the GOAT

Michael Jordan is still the king of basketball

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Rahul Lal

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Jordan Parker

With LeBron James leading the Lakers to their 17th NBA Championship last night, James’ fourth win, the rumblings have never been louder about who the greatest basketball player of all time is. 

While there is no doubt that James is arguably the greatest player of this generation —  with Kobe Bryant still in that conversation —  he is not the GOAT (Greatest of All Time.) Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for Ray Allen and Kyrie Irving, there’d be no GOAT argument for LeBron James.  

In basketball, the GOAT title belongs to the one and only, His Airness, Michael Jordan. 

Many of you reading this might instantly exit the article or begin yelling at the screen but please, stay with me. Let’s take a look at the stats as everyone likes to do.

The stats are nearly a deadlock between James and Jordan. James leads Jordan in some statistical categories such as assists per game and rebounds per game, while Jordan bests James in points per game and steals per game. The two are tied with 0.8 blocks per game. It also shouldn’t go unnoticed that Jordan owns a significantly higher free throw percentage than James. 

However, it’s important that we look beyond the stats to determine this argument. In sports there are few people that have been awarded the honor of the GOAT. Names that come to mind are Tom Brady in the NFL, Serena Williams in Women’s Tennis Association, Roger Federer in Men’s Tennis Association, and as has been previously mentioned, Michael Jordan in the NBA. 

To be crowned the GOAT means that you meet certain criteria: overall statistics, clutch moments, championship victories and dominance over the game. This is why those that tell me “you never watched MJ play” are mistaken. Through the power of highlights and full replays of Bulls games on TV, I’ve watched MJ play with my own eyes. I can definitively tell you that LeBron James does not and never will touch the greatness that MJ exhibited.

I’ve been over the statistics so let’s move on to clutch moments. Over the course of his career, Michael Jordan hit nine of his 18 clutch shot attempts while LeBron James has hit seven of his 16 attempts. For more context, it’s critical that you understand that LeBron has hit some clutch shots, but they weren’t the shots that MJ hit.

How can you forget Jordan rising above Craig Ehlo in the Bull’s 1989 playoff series against the Cavaliers? How can you forget when Jordan completed the sweep of the Cavs in 1993 semifinals when he sunk the decisive shot with seven seconds to go? Lastly, how can you forget MJ hitting the last shot over Byron Russell in the 1998 NBA finals to defeat the Utah Jazz and clinch his sixth NBA championship victory

You can’t forget these because they are iconic shots. An important thing to capture from this is that MJ bet on himself to hit these jumpers. While James was able to hit some clutch shots like the buzzer beater in 2006 against the Washington Wizards, a game winning three in the ECF against the Orlando Magic and the easy in 2013 against the Indiana Pacers, but they weren’t anything that many sports fans remember. Sure, hardcore James fans maybe, but everyone knows Jordan’s legacy in the clutch. It’s just simply unmatched.

Championships are a big part of the GOAT conversation. 

Currently, Michael Jordan is tied for 10th on the list with six championships, and LeBron James is ranked 27th among the plethora of players that have won four titles. It’s very worthy to mention that MJ was a perfect 6-0 in the finals series, while James has gone 4-6. And whether or not people want to mention it, most of James’ finals appearances came in a watered down Eastern Conference, where his best competition were teams that were pretenders rather than contenders such as the Hawks, Pacers and Raptors. 

Lastly, dominance over the game. When Michael Jordan was on the court, you knew who the man was. Whether it was at practice or in the game, he was in full control and he expected the same dedication from you. Simply put, he was a win-at-all-costs guy. Meanwhile, James has excellently padded all of his statistical categories and is one of the best passers and scorers in the game, but he lacks a killer instinct. In the past, he has frequently passed up shots when his team needed him the most in order to give role players a shot to bail him out. Yes, Jordan did pass it out to Kerr and Paxson, but if you look back, those two moments are among the few times that Jordan actually passed the ball in a big moment. When Jordan passed the ball, it was almost as if it was a last resort, not his primary option.

Michael Jordan dunks in the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Opinion writer Jordan Parker says Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time in his latest piece. “Michael Jordan” by Kip-koech is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Picasa)

There is one more thing, however, that I feel separates Jordan from James, and that is his willingness to play defense. Michael Jordan was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times out of 15 seasons played, including being awarded Defensive Player of the Year in 1988, while James has been named to the First Team only five times and once to the Second Team. There have also been times where LeBron has appeared to refuse or avoid playing defense, which really doesn’t look good in the effort part of a resume when you call yourself the greatest.

To be clear, James has had an amazing career in his own right. Kudos to him for nine straight finals appearances. Kudos to him for being the first player in NBA history to average a triple double in the finals. Kudos to him for being one of the leading scorers of all time.

No matter which way you slice it, I’m sure there’s arguments you could make about Jordan. People try to point out the fact that he lost in the first round twice while James has never done so, or the fact that he played with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, Pippen being one of the top 50 players of all-time and Rodman regarded as one of the greatest rebounders ever to play.

At the same time, James has now played with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis, who have all at some point been the top players in the league. Sorry Bron lovers, your argument falls short by a mile.

To think that this man has passed Michael Jordan, or even Kobe Bryant for that matter, is utterly ridiculous and biased. Go back and study the archives and do your research. This is not to discount the greatness of LeBron James because what he has done is simply remarkable, but showing appreciation for a player doesn’t mean label them as better than the greatest player in that sport just because. When it’s all said and done, the NBA will never see someone as great as Michael Jeffery Jordan.