Photo caption: Michael Jordan and LeBron James (credit: Wikimedia)
During our feature story, we will discuss both Jordan and LeBron’s early years (Rookie, College and High School level), NBA careers, individual accolades, how much help each individual received during their playing career, and their economic impact and contributions to the community. Each category represents an edge leaning toward either Jordan or LeBron.
Now remind you, my biases will not only lean more towards Jordan because I grew up in the 80’s and the 90’s era, but the story was actually written following a four-game sweep by the Denver Nuggets over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2023 Western Conference Finals on Monday, May 22. Now the loss may be fresh in the minds of most NBA fans after seeing the Lakers blow a 15 point halftime lead in less than a 12 minute span.
Jordan versus LeBron The Early Years (Rookie, College and High School):
When it comes to building statistics on both players’ careers, you will have to start with Jordan and LeBron’s Rookie season. Although Jordan hit the game winning shot that won the NCAA National Championship for North Carolina as a freshman, LeBron jumped straight from high school and became the number one pick of the 2003 NBA Draft. So for a fair comparison of each player, I started with both James and Jordan Rookie season.
For example, in James’ Rookie season, he averaged 20.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks. He became the first rookie since Jordan to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, according to Bleacher Report.
James also shot 41.7 percent from the field and won Rookie of the Year and made All-Rookie first team, but didn’t make the All-NBA team. “He doesn’t have playoff stats because his team didn’t make the playoffs,” says Bleacher Report.
On the other hand, Jordan averaged 28.2 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals and 0.8 blocks. He became the second rookie in NBA history to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He’s also the only rookie to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
Jordan shot an amazing 51.5 percent from the field and led the league in points. He won the Rookie of the Year award and made the All-NBA second team. In the playoffs, he played 4 games and averaged 29.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the field.
Jordan and LeBron NBA Careers and Individual Accolades:
When it comes to Jordan versus LeBron NBA Career and Accolades, few can match the stats of each player. Jordan, who played 13 season’s in the league, finished his career at the time as the 3rd all-time leading scorer in NBA history and LeBron, who is currently the league all-time leading scorer after playing 20 years, continues to pad his stats due to stacking his team with Hall of Famers and All-Stars. But when it comes to overall play, nobody, I mean nobody could match the competitive play of Jordan.
Jordan was the flashier scorer, who won 10 scoring titles and held the highest career scoring average in NBA history – and the better defender (leading the league in steals three times), while James chose to be a facilitator and playmaker due to his lack of killer instinct to close out games. James’ lack of killer instinct was on display in Game 4 of the 2023 Western Conference Finals after having his lay-up attempt blocked to close out the game against the Denver Nuggets. Although James outnumbered Jordan with 106 career regular-season triple-doubles to 28, Jordan’s decision to choose scoring and winning over passing, has led him to be a 5 time League MVP and 6-Time NBA Champion (who never lost a Finals series) and a 6-0 Finals record to this day. James has a losing Finals record of 4-6 in spite of playing with over 70 plus All-Stars and 15 plus Hall of Famers. Need I say more.
Who Received The Most Help As a Player (Jordan or LeBron)?:
Throughout his NBA career, James, a Los Angeles Laker and former Cleveland Cavalier and Miami Heat star, has played with over 100 different players. Among these teammates, 50 of them earned All-Star berths, with 19 of them playing with Cleveland, Miami and the Lakers. James has currently played with 15 plus Hall of Famers and counting. Jordan has only played with four. Need I say more.
And our final category, Who Has Had The Biggest Economic Impact Through Contributions To The Community?
According to Hoops Maestro, Jordan is the most charitable NBA player in history. He’s also one of the most charitable professional athletes in any sport, alongside noted philanthropists such as Cristiano Ronaldo, John Cena, and Serena Williams. He’s given back significantly over his lifetime, personally and through pursuits such as being the Chairman of the Charlotte Hornets Foundation. In 2016, Jordan became the first NBA player to achieve a net worth above $1 billion. He is the wealthiest player in the history of the NBA, and it’s great to see him give back as much as he does.
We’ll never know the actual list of donations. He donated multi-million dollars in 2018. He gave $4 million to relief efforts in the wake of the damage caused by Hurricane Florence. Jordan’s funded two Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Clinics in Charlotte via a $7 million donation.
Jordan most recently made a record $10 million donation to Make-A-Wish Foundation America in honor of his 60th birthday and has served as a Make-A-Wish Ambassador since 2008. He is a founding donor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and has given more than $5 million to the museum. He donated his entire 2001-02 NBA salary to 9/11-related charities. $7 million all-time hosting a Celebrity Golf charity event…and the list stretches on and on.
Jordan has easily given the most (recorded) donations in the history of the NBA.
LeBron gives publicly and loves to talk about it. He developed a school that helps underprivileged youth and donated to several other organizations. On the other hand, Jordan gives privately, and rarely talks about it.
In conclusion, when it comes to who is the greatest basketball player of all-time, it’s (easily) Jordan. Earning a 4-0 sweep in each category, just like he once did as a player. No more comparisons, so please stop it!
Joseph Phillips is the Sports Editor for the Chicago Crusader Newspaper. He is a Chicago native, who has been a sports writer for over 17 years. He also hosts the SC Media News and Sports Network Q&A radio show on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago.
Op-Ed: After being swept by the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 Western Conference NBA Finals, the Jordan versus LeBron debate is officially over!