Is LeBron better than Jordan?

OPINION: LeBron James has the record for points scored, most points scored in the playoffs, four rings and a lengthy career as one of the league’s elites.

The NBA’s tectonic plates are shifting below all of us at this very moment. The GOAT debate is shifting. For so long, it has been Michael Jordan vs LeBron James, and most people gave Jordan a distinct edge. A recent survey of current NBA players found 58% think Jordan is the greatest. There’s 33% who say it’s James. But I wonder what everyone will say in a few weeks.

Those of us who are old enough to have lived through Jordan’s two threepeats, one of the most incredible feats in sports history, are clear that it’s Jordan, but things are changing. Just the other day I got a text from a peer: “Bro, I’m starting to think maybe Bron is better than Jordan.” I texted him back a GIF saying, “You’re insane,” but he’s not. This season is James’ 20th. He’s 38, and, amazingly, he’s still one of the league’s very best. Most importantly, he’s in contention for yet another ring. He’s a surreal player. I’m Team Jordan all day, but if James wins a ring this year, he’ll move very, very close to Jordan status, by which I mean, he will be very, very close to being the GOAT.

It’s partly about James’ numbers. He’s got the record for points scored. That’s a record that may never be broken. He’s also got the record for most points scored in the playoffs. And right now he’s got four rings. But it’s also about the length of time that he’s been one of the league’s elite players. He was one of the best as a rookie, and he’s still one of the best as a veteran. It’s unbelievable to see someone be so great for so long. And there’s no doubt that, with his strength and his basketball IQ, he could have thrived in Jordan’s era when the game was much more physical.

That said, I watched Jordan dominate the NBA for years, and I think his best seasons were better than James’ best. Even though he didn’t dominate for as long as James, Jordan’s zenith was higher than the kid from Akron, Ohio. Even though James is extremely thoughtful about getting his teammates involved, Jordan had a way of taking over the entire flow of the game and controlling it like it was all written for him. 

I remember him in Utah, at the end of game six, as he neared his final championship. Jordan stole from Karl Malone and then calmly smoothed down the court and knocked down a short jump shot to take the lead. It felt pre-ordained or like a Hollywood script, and the thing is, we had seen that sort of moment so many times. In Jordan’s best years, it was like the NBA was the antagonist in a movie where Jordan proves once again that the hero has the right stuff. So often it was a team goes hard at Jordan, Jordan fights back, Jordan finds a way to win. It’s the Hero’s Journey in shorts. Jordan played the game with main character energy long before that was a term.

Also, Jordan was the embodiment of mental toughness. When the game was close, you could count on him to step up with courage and conviction and fearlessness. He didn’t always hit the game winner, but he hit it so often that he became synonymous with winning. 

We can talk about stats, but there’s only one that really matters here – six. That’s the number of rings Jordan won as the undisputed leader of the team. But it’s the way Jordan controlled the entire game that makes me say he’s the greatest. That said, James’ long resume of brilliance makes for a powerful argument. If he can fight through it all and win again this year, when he’s 38, that would be his greatest achievement ever.  

I just came by to say it’s still Jordan all day. But James is knocking on the door.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography “Nothing Compares 2 U “and the ebook “The Ivy League Counterfeiter. “Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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