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A Fan’s Perspective: Is LeBron James the best ever to play in the NBA?

There’s no question that the NBA has been flooded with young talent in the last decade. Many of the league’s top draft picks have been either straight out of high school or only completed their freshman season at college. Some of the most notable players to enter the NBA during this time include Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and most recently, Andrew Wiggins.

However, there’s no doubt that the NBA’s biggest star lies in the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James.

James, despite missing out on the Most Valuable Player Award for the 2013-14 season and losing in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, is hands down the best player in the NBA. Drafted first overall in 2003 out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, James quickly broke into the league with Cleveland. He led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals, in which they lost 4-0 to San Antonio, but won two MVP awards in his time in Cleveland.

James would leave Cleveland in 2010 for the Miami Heat, where he led them to four straight NBA Finals appearances, winning two and being voted the Series MVP in both Finals wins. His accomplishments include four league MVP Awards, two NBA titles and 10 consecutive All-Star game appearances. Although LeBron might be considered the best player in basketball right now, he has his fair share of doubters when the title of greatest basketball player of all time is thrown into the picture.

By the conclusion of LeBron’s career, he will have cracked the top-five list of all-time players. However, the top spot on the NBA all-time list has to belong to Michael Jordan.

Jordan was drafted third overall in 1984 after playing all four college seasons at the University of North Carolina, winning one national championship during his time as a Tar Heel. His NBA achievements are stellar — including 14 All-Star game appearances, six NBA titles and Finals MVP awards, which consist of two separate three-peats, and he is in the NBA Hall of Fame.

So why is Jordan better than James? For starters, Jordan never lost an NBA Finals in which he played, going six-for-six. Michael Jordan also has his name appear high on the list of almost every offensive category. Jordan is fourth all-time in field goals made, fifth in free throws made, third in career points and first in points per game. In addition to his prowess on offense, his defensive tenacity is also apparent, being the fifth all-time in steals per game and third in career steals.

It cannot be denied that both Jordan and James had big supporting casts during their championship runs. For MJ, he had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper. LeBron had Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. With both players having star-studded talent around them, what is the big difference?

The answer: basketball itself. The teams and players were radically different and better in the 1990s than in the modern game. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fair share of talent in the NBA today in players such Kobe Bryant, Durant, Tim Duncan and Chris Paul. Not bad at all, but when compared with Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, et al., the competition and physicality displayed in ‘90s basketball was much greater than what the current game can present.

The question of “which one is better?” is difficult to answer because the game has changed so much. The only way to figure out which player is truly better is to put each player into the other’s era. Michael Jordan would be downright dominant in 2014 and would likely be the favorite to win the MVP and NBA Finals every year. LeBron, albeit very skilled, would be good, but not nearly as good as today if he played in the 1990s. He could still play to the same skill set, but would find it hard to amass the same numbers he achieves today.

There is no doubting LeBron’s ability, as he is definitely the best player in the NBA today. Nevertheless, Michael Jordan thwarts LeBron in almost every facet of the game. MJ is a two-way player, can be counted on to play in every game of the year and is a born winner wherever he plays. Whether LeBron can top Michael is still left to be seen, but the final years of LeBron’s career will be interesting to see if he can accomplish this feat.

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3 Comments

  1. I think that lebron James will this year 201-2020 mr map and mr chamiponships and I thnk the mr lebron James is better then the loser Spurs and and Houston rocket and micheal Jordan and will bolw your mind and all the record of the nba finals you can say everything about mr lebron James but mr map and mr championships still will best mr mvp and mr championships in the world like or not like the loser spurs go canvas go go lebron James go !

  2. “The answer: basketball itself. The teams and players were radically different and better in the 1990s than in the modern game.”
    “The question of “which one is better?” is difficult to answer because the game has changed so much.”
    -Inconsistencies I swear. People should just stop playing basketball. The greatest was Bill Russell. He had almost twice the number of championships as MJ. Oh and the Finals MVP is named after him. No one can beat that. Its done, we found the greatest, the sport ends there. Bill Russell played in a much harder NBA. 8 teams, less diluted. Anthony Davis? He’s no Bill Russell. Doesn’t have a single championship and has a losing playoff record. Who cares if he’s only played 3 seasons? His legacy is defined. Russell? Won a championship in his first year. MJ? Took him 7 years to even make the Finals. Back then you could punch a guy in the face, if he played in today’s NBA he would be ejected in the first minute. The last 40 years have been “soft as charmin”, I’d like to see these players use more boxing and less body control/ basketball-related skills. No more efficient defensive schemes like Thibs 2-3 zone defense that helps mitigate more athletic players and favors the “team defense” concept. I want that less efficient “mono-e-mono” defense, straight up. Its not like basketball becoming more and more popular has expanded the talent pool from domestic to worldwide with the cash flow to attract the best athletes in the world as opposed to say a single country. Russell was the greatest. Give up basketball and invent your own sport. No one will come close so don’t try. Everyone wants to believe they witnessed the greatest and that’s what makes them “special” fans to judge basketball through all of time. Shut up and enjoy the game.

  3. This article lost all legitimacy when it stated “Jordan played all four years” in college. He left after his Junior year. If the article is already spitting falsities in the first few paragraphs I can’t respect it.