Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Michael vs LeBron: The Best Basketball Player Ever?

This familiar debate seems to have picked up once again in light of LeBron winning his first title and his third Olympic medal. He is the best, most versatile basketball player on the planet today, there is no disputing that. This assertion should probably wait until after he retires, but since some are already proclaiming him the King, let's discuss it: Is LeBron James already the best basketball player ever?

But before we even delve into that discussion, let's talk about the player who by acclamation is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

The name alone speaks volumes. When we talk Jordan, we're talking the brightest star and the biggest name in the history of the sport. But is Jordan the out and out best basketball player ever?

What made Jordan so amazing to us? His legendary will to win. Any perceived slight fueled his fire, a flame already fanned by his intense drive to be the very best. Bone fractures and flu-like symptoms be damned, he was going to be the best no matter the cost.

But what puts Jordan into the debate over the best basketball player ever is what stemmed from that otherworldly drive: his virtually unrivaled scoring ability and remarkable defensive prowess. Wilt owns virtually every scoring record imaginable, yet is tied with Jordan(actually, Wilt is marginally under Jordan) for the highest career points per game average in NBA history. In addition, Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times to Wilt's 7. Granted, Wilt's scoring only dipped to a point where Jordan could tie/surpass him because coach Alex Hannum asked him to tailor back his scoring and focus on defense. But facts are facts. Every star player is asked to do more than just score and Jordan was able to average 30 a game for his career just as Wilt did, and led the league in scoring more times than Wilt did.

Defensively, Jordan's achievements say it all. One Defensive Player of the Year award. Guards typically do not win the Defensive Player of the year award, which is what truly makes his award impressive(the only guard to win the award more than once is Sidney Moncrief who won it twice). Jordan thrice led the league in steals and is the all time leader in blocks for a guard. And although he shares it with Kobe, the Glove and KG, Jordan holds the record for the most All-Defensive First Team selections at 9. These accomplishments are proof enough that Jordan is one of the greatest perimeter defenders the game has ever seen. 

So if we talk scoring and defense, Jordan is top 2 all time as a scorer(MJ vs Wilt for the number 1 spot) and is arguably top 3 all time as a perimeter defender(behind the Glove and Sidney Moncrief). That alone makes him one of the best players of all time. But if we're discussing the out and out BEST basketball player ever, we have to include rebounding, passing and all-around versatility as a defender. And if we're honest, Jordan isn't a top 5 rebounder among guards, his assist numbers are negligible for an all time great guard and defense isn't limited to just the perimeter.

All that said and the aforementioned things considered, let's discuss LeBron. To properly understand the freakishly gifted athlete that is LeBron James, you'd have to imagine Jordan's speed, quickness, agility and jumping ability on a player with the size and strength of Karl Malone. Much in the same way Jordan's agility and quickness made it impossible for defenders to stay in front of him, LeBron's speed and strength render staying in front of him pointless. Players like a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James will score at will, and both will score efficiently and dominantly.

Statistically, that statement holds up. LeBron is third on the all time list for points per game behind Michael and Wilt. What makes that particular statistic incredible is the fact that LeBron is a pass first player. A player who would prefer to pass the ball (and he passes a little TOO often for my liking) rather than shoot it holds the third highest points per game average of all time. So although you have to give the edge as a scorer to Michael, you have to take into account that LeBron is a point forward.

When we discuss defense, you're going to have to nitpick a little to give an edge to either player. Though he may never actually win it so long as Dwight Howard is in the league, LeBron is a perennial DPOY candidate because of his ability to guard all five positions effectively. When people say Magic was capable of playing all five positions, they mean from an offensive standpoint. But LeBron can very literally play all five positions on both ends of the court. Now, Jordan was a much more tenacious perimeter defender, but the fact is that LeBron does more as a defender than Jordan ever did or ever could have done. But, again, Jordan locked down the perimeter in a way LeBron never has. So although it could go either way, I'd have to call it even until I can look at LeBron's career in retrospect.

As far as rebounding goes, the edge easily goes to LeBron. Because of his size and versatility, LeBron is a triple double threat each and every single night out on the court. Jordan was good on the boards as a guard, but LeBron is simply just good on the boards. And while no one but Pete Maravich could rival Magic's vision as a passer, LeBron is easily Michael's superior as a facilitator.

Given that basketball is a team sport, you have to consider each and every facet of team play. Jordan excelled in two areas, whereas LeBron excels in them all. Jordan is a better scorer by the numbers and you can argue that Jordan is a better defender, but LeBron is nearly just as good a scorer, nearly just as good of a defender, a better passer and he is better on the boards. Michael epitomized the will to win in a way no one has since Bill Russell, but LeBron epitomizes the spirit of this team sport in a way that no one has since Bill Russell. Both players carry the torch as the best player of their respective eras. As of right now, I believe they're about on the same tier.. BUT.. I will give the edge to LeBron because where Jordan was better, it was marginally.. but where LeBron is better, it's significantly.

But which of the two is the best player of all time?

I'll say....



But who is a better overall player between the two?

Final verdict: LeBron James > Michael Jordan.

(I'll be back to talk about my pick for the best basketball player EVER in another post.. lol)

"May love ever possess you.. may peace come into your life." 

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