LeBron vs. Jordan: Who is the GOAT?

LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan

One has six NBA championships, has played in the All-Star game 14 times, and earned the most valuable player award five times. The other has four titles in 10 total appearances in the finals, has appeared in 16 All-Star games, and has six MVP awards.

The first player scored 32,982 points over his career, good for an average of 30.1 points per game, tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the highest scoring average in history. The other, still active, is north of 38,000 points and counting, shortly to overcome Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the most prolific scorer in the history of the NBA. Player one has more steals; player two has substantially more rebounds and assists.

The debate will stand the test of time: LeBron vs. Jordan. Who is the greatest of all time? As with so much in life, that depends on your perspective. Fanatics who saw Michael Jordan in his prime believe there’s no contest; while LeBron James, by many measures, has had a statistically superior career.

We’re not here to take sides — only to fuel the debate a little by providing data and perspective that could support either player as being the GOAT. The great thing is that at Fanatics, we’re here to support the passions of fans in all sports and all leagues with officially licensed sports apparel, sports collectibles, and memorabilia. More on that later. For now, here’s some perspective on LeBron vs. Jordan.

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LeBron James and Michael Jordan

Before diving into our comparison, let’s first set the context and look at the backgrounds of both players. Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn but moved with his family at the age of 5 to North Carolina. As the legend has it, Jordan had late growth spurts and, as a result, was cut from his high school’s varsity team as a sophomore as the coach felt he was too short. After growing 4 inches, he became the team’s best player, earning a scholarship to the University of North Carolina. The Tar Heels won the NCAA championship when Jordan was a freshman, and he declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore year. The Chicago Bulls made Jordan the third pick in 1984.

LeBron James took a bit of a different route. He entered the NBA directly out of high school, which he attended in Akron, Ohio. The Cleveland Cavaliers took James with the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft. Both men were named Rookie of the Year in their first seasons in the NBA.

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Championship Rings

The LeBron vs. Jordan debate usually begins with the ultimate measure of athletes and coaches: the number of championships a player has won. It is, after all, the reason why the games are played in the first place: to win. Many use the number of championships as a proxy for greatness. It suggests a player was able to make those around him better as well.

Michael Jordan went six for six on trips to the finals. He won six championships with the Chicago Bulls in his 15 seasons in the NBA, twice winning three straight. The Bulls took home the trophy in the 1991, 1992, and 1993 seasons as well as in 1996, 1997, and 1998. What makes the feat special is that Jordan retired after the 1993 title, missing the 1994 and 1995 campaigns before thrilling his fans and the world with his 1996 comeback.

During this run, Jordan and the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz twice for the title, along with the Seattle SuperSonics, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trailblazers, and the Phoenix Suns. Jordan was named MVP and averaged more than 30 points per game in each of the series’ triumphs. Jordan played in 179 playoff games in his career, averaging 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. He is the most prolific scorer in NBA playoff history.

In championships alone, Jordan tops LeBron, who has won the ultimate prize just four times compared to Jordan’s six. For LeBron, that comparison tells only part of the story. LeBron has played in 10 NBA championship series in his 19 seasons in the league with three franchises: the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Between 2011 and 2018, LeBron played in eight straight NBA finals.

LeBron won championships with the Heat in 2012 and 2013, the Cavaliers in 2016, and the Lakers in 2020 and received the playoff MVP each time. He lost with the Cavs in 2007, 2015, 2017, and 2018, and the Heat in 2011 and 2014. Over his career, LeBron has played in 266 playoff games, averaging 28.7 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists per game. In the unsuccessful Cavs run in 2018, LeBron nearly averaged a triple-double.

With so many variables impacting the game, and the role of supporting players, it’s hard to award the edge to Jordan on championships alone. Both men have sustained a period of unreal excellence that’s to be admired and may never be repeated.


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Playing the Statistical Game

Another frame for comparison in the LeBron vs. Jordan debate is how the two men line up statistically. Again, the numbers tell the story, but perhaps only part of the story.

As noted earlier, LeBron is rapidly approaching a historic milestone as the leading scorer in the history of the NBA. He has racked up 38,230 career points as of January 25, 2023, second only to the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired atop the scoring list in 1989 with 38,387 career points. LeBron had played about 1,404 games as of January 2023, compared to Jabbar’s 1,560.

MJ stepped away from the game in 2003 with 32,292 points, which is good for fifth on the all-time list. So LeBron’s the better scorer, right? Not so fast. Jordan recorded his points in 1,072 games for a career average of 30.1 points per game, tied for the highest in career history with Wilt Chamberlain, another famous Laker. LeBron’s career scoring average is 27.2 points per game, good for fourth all-time, just slightly ahead of the great Jerry West — yet another legendary Laker.

How players perform against their peers may also help gauge the GOAT. One significant disparity is in scoring titles. Michael led the league in scoring 10 times, versus only once for LeBron. Of course, other variables can account for the difference, such as the level of competition and competency of the supporting cast.

As you can see, scoring numbers only sometimes capture the whole story in assessing LeBron vs. Jordan. Both players filled the basket at an astounding rate, leading their teams to great success at a historic level.

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Awards and More

Often greatness becomes a reflection of comparison against players of a particular era and can be judged via the types of recognition players can put into their trophy cabinets. Here are some more numbers to consider in your evaluation of LeBron vs. Jordan in gauging their greatness.

MJ was named NBA Most Valuable Player five times, in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, and 1998, showing incredible consistency and excellence. He averaged more than 30 points per game in four of those five seasons. The statistical best of those five seasons was the 1988 campaign, when he averaged 35 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game.

By comparison, LeBron James has had four NBA MVP seasons, twice winning the award back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 and then his championship years of 2012 and 2013. His MVP seasons were also incredibly consistent, averaging a low of 26.7 points per game to a high of 29.7 points per game.

Jordan made the NBA All-Star team in 14 seasons during his career, winning the MVP award in three of those games— 1988, 1996, and 1998— while LeBron, whose career is more prolonged, has made 18 NBA All-Star games. He also won three MVP awards, in 2006, 2008, and 2018.

The length of their careers also accounts for differences in the number of All-NBA First Team selections: Jordan made the first team 10 times, while LeBron has earned the honor 18 times. Both players were named Rookie of the Year in their debut season.

They say the defense wins games in the NBA, so there may be clear-cut distinctions on the defensive end. Jordan made the all-defensive NBA First Team nine times during his career, including one year when he was named defensive player of the year, versus only six for LeBron.

Jordan was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996, while LeBron made the 75th-anniversary team in 2021. Drawing a clear-cut distinction between the two, LeBron vs. Jordan, suddenly looks like a bit of a coin flip.

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At Fanatics, our goal is to help LeBron fans, Jordan fans, and all types of fans express their passions in their own unique ways. We offer officially licensed sports apparel with representatives of all leagues, as well as sports collectibles and memorabilia. Our selection changes often, so make sure you check back for the latest offerings, which can include retro and more modern looks.



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