Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Who’s the greatest?

Minnehaha’s best basketball minds give their opinion

If you were asked right now to picture the greatest basketball player ever, who comes to mind? Now, if you were asked what factors led you to this decision, would you be able to explain? Pundits have argued for years about who is the best at basketball, and two names are often recurring: LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Those in Gen-Z often point to James’s team-first style of play and his great passing ability, while anyone in their mid-thirties or older praises Jordan’s ability to score while putting fear into the hearts of his opponents. How do you compare such great players? Let’s break it down. 

In 15 seasons Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists while making 49.7% of his shots. James has played 17 seasons averaging 27.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists and shooting 50.4% from the field. On the surface it appears that Jordan is the better scorer, while James is better at rebounding and passing. However, Jordan does have  five MVPs, which is one more than James. Also, Jordan has won six championships – two more than James – while playing two fewer seasons. 

“Jordan was easily the best defender and the best offensive player when he was playing. Could you say that about LeBron?” exclaims Nathan Stromberg, Minnehaha’s art teacher and an avid basketball fan. Michael Jordan won Defensive Player of the Year in 1988. He also has a total of nine all-defensive teams to his name, three more than LeBron. 

Isaiah Davis, a senior and basketball player at Minnehaha, considers defense to be crucial in the debate.

“Defense can be debated,” he said, “but LeBron can guard more positions because he is bigger and stronger.” 

James stands at six feet and eight inches tall, while Jordan’s height is six feet and six inches. James weighs 250 pounds, beating out Jordan by 52 pounds. Rolyns Aligbe, a sophomore basketball player, thinks that Jordan’s dominance was incredible. 

“[Jordan’s] dominance was unmatched,” Aligbe said. “He was easily the best scorer of all time, and one of the greatest defenders of all time. If he didn’t retire for two years he could have [had] eight [Finals wins} and zero [Finals loses]”.

 There is no doubt that both players have revolutionized basketball, but who had a larger impact on the sport? Jordan not only made basketball more popular in America, but he made basketball more popular throughout the world. In 1992 Jordan joined the iconic “Dream Team.” This team was special because it was the first time NBA players were allowed to play in the Olympics. Jordan was the face of the team and played in front of millions of people in Barcelona, Spain. This brought huge attention to the NBA and the game of basketball worldwide. He also signed with Nike 1984, when it had revenues of more than $900 million. Nowadays we know Nike as one of the premier sports brands. By 2019, Nike’s revenues had grown to about $39 billion. Jordan helped Nike become successful by wearing his own shoes, the Nike Air Jordan Ones.

Though Michael Jordan’s impact on the game of basketball can’t be overstated, LeBron James is having a major impact on the game as well. James is proving how important training is to becoming successful. According to Forbes, James is said to spend $1.5 million per year on keeping his body in shape. He is teaching generations of athletes how to invest in themselves and their bodies in order to play better. So who is better? James’s storied career isn’t finished yet, but perhaps there may be a clearer answer once his body of work is complete. 

Lance Johnson, Minnehaha Academy’s head boys’ basketball coach, enjoys the debate.

“It’s fun,” he said. “That’s the only reason why people do it. It’s just fun sports talk.”

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