The recent ESPN documentary called “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ sixth championship season in 1998 has restarted the debate about who is the greatest basketball player of all time.
Is it Michael Jordan or LeBron James?
For some the answer is to look at the number of National Basketball Association (NBA) championships each of the players has won. Jordan won six, and James has won three.
But if the number of championship rings settled the question, the greatest player of all time would be Bill Russell. In his 13 seasons in the NBA (1956 to 1968), Russell led the Boston Celtics to an amazing 11 titles.
Russell, however, is not generally considered the greatest player of all time. While the 6-foot-10-inch center was a fabulous rebounder and incredible defensive player, Russell was not a big offensive threat.
The greatest-of-all-time debate often settles on Jordan and James because of their all-around talents. The two superstars can do it all on the court.
Take a look at their statistics.
But James is a better rebounder and playmaker than Jordan. James has averaged 7.4 rebounds a game and 7.4 assists, while Jordan averaged 6.2 and 5.3 in those categories.
James is such an amazing passer that he has led his team in total assists in every season during his 17-year NBA career. At 35 years old, James was leading the league with more than 10 assists a game when the coronavirus pandemic closed down the NBA.
That’s why if I had to choose between these two players, I would choose James. Basketball is a team game. James has the rare ability to make his teammates better.
Sometimes fans think Jordan won those six NBA championships by himself. Scottie Pippen, Jordan’s teammate for all six titles, helped a lot. For example, Pippen averaged 21.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists during the Bulls’ first championship playoff run in 1991.
The Bulls team was so good that when Jordan took off the 1993-1994 season to play baseball, Chicago won only two fewer games during the regular season.
James, on the other hand, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 at the age of 22. The other top players on that team? Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejão. Not exactly Scottie Pippen.
Asking me to pick between Jordan and James is like asking me to choose between chocolate chip cookie dough and mocha chip ice cream. They are both great.
But if I have to choose, I’ll pick LeBron James. And mocha chip.