Ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, most of the conversation has been centered on their best player, LeBron James. Everybody wants to know where his place in history is. If you are one to listen to sports talk radio or opinion based shows where members of the media give hot takes, then you know there is a lot of debate on this topic, with some even calling LeBron the greatest of all time. It is crazy to think that because he is just 31 years old with plenty of basketball left. A few weeks ago, calling LeBron James the GOAT would have been considered blasphemy to Michael Jordan (the man most consider to be the GOAT) and a few other former players who are worthy to be in that discussion, as well. When talking about a basketball Mt. Rushmore, the one name that everybody mentions (and would be delusional not to) is that of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. With that said, a lot of this article is a comparison to Jordan, but we will also take a look at the big picture of basketball in a historical context to see if LeBron’s greatness is worthy of being considered the GOAT. A big thing to remember is LeBron is far from done, but this argument is based off what he has already accomplished, and not off of projections.
29 NOT: LeBron Played In A Weak Eastern Conference
Getting to the finals is hard, but honestly, had he not gotten to the finals in these past 6 years, it would have been considered a colossal failure. The toughest team he had to go through was the aging and brittle Boston Celtics, where none of their big 3 was even close to their prime anymore, yet managed to push the Heat to 7 games on sheer heart, grit, and toughness. They were without their best LeBron defender, Jeff Green, whom they had traded Kendrick Perkins for, had no bench, and were forced to have Brandon Bass guard LeBron for most of the series. If you look at the other teams he had to go through, none of them had the offensive firepower to keep up with the Miami Heat or the Cavs. The Bulls had no true second option to Derrick Rose. The same could be said about the Pacers with Paul George. The Raptors stumbled their way in the conference finals, and the Hawks were just a joke and got swept and exposed. Because of Michael Jordan, a lot of great teams and players never got to taste a ring. Reggie Miller’s Pacers, Dominique Wilkin’s Hawks, Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, Shaq & Penny’s Magic, along with the “Bad Boy” Pistons were amongst some of the great teams he beat just to get to the finals.
27 GOAT: 6 Straight NBA Finals
No other player in NBA history has ever even gone to 5 straight NBA finals, let alone 6 (unless you count his teammate James Jones who basically just went along for the ride.) Not only has he been a part of 6 straight finals, but he has been the number one option on all six of those teams, and has dominated most of the competition. Even on his worst postseason in 2011 he still averaged 23.7 PTS, 8.4 REBS, and 5.9 ASTS along with 1.2 BLKS AND 1.9 STLS. Jordan supporters will point out that he could have done that as well had he not taken a break to play baseball, but when Jordan came back in 94-95, the Bulls lost in the Playoffs to the Orlando Magic. Getting to the finals is hard to do once, but to do it 6 times in a row is unbelievable, considering all the wear and tear that accumulates on a body from all that basketball.
25 NOT: Who Needs A Game 7 Anyway?
At 31 years of age, LeBron James has already played in more Game 7s than Michael Jordan did in his entire career. LeBron posting a triple double in Game 7 against the Warriors was epic, but Michael Jordan never even needed a Game 7 in any of his 6 NBA Finals to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. In fact, Jordan had only played in 3 Game 7s in his entire career. He won the last two of his career, and the only one he lost was in 1990 playing against the Bad Boy Pistons, despite posting a stat line of 38 PTS, 8 REBS, & 9 ASTS. That was the famous Scottie Pippen “migraine game.” There is a reason why the famous Jay-Z lyric goes, “I'm liable to go Michael, take your pick, Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6.” The GOAT didn’t need a 7th game to finish off his adversaries, which truly demonstrates how dominant Michael Jordan really was.
23 GOAT: The Youngest To Numerus Accomplishments
People are often prisoners of the moment, and they tend to forget that when LeBron first came into the league, he was just a teenager playing against grown men, and even as a teenager he still averaged over 20 PPG. LeBron James is the youngest player ever to win Rookie of the Year, record a triple double (regular season & playoffs), to score 30 and 40 points in a game, average 30 PPG, to be named to All NBA First Team, to win 4 MVPs, to win All Star Game MVP, and to reach every point milestone from 1000 – 26,000. And this is a guy who is thought of mostly as a pass first player. He has been in the spotlight for almost a decade and a half, constantly surrounded by hype, which he has surpassed, and scrutiny, which he has derailed. He is an athletic specimen, whose durability and longevity is about as impressive as anything, considering the amount of punishment he takes.
21 NOT: LeBron James Is Just 3-4 In The NBA Finals
Being a part of 7 NBA finals is definitely an achievement, but to not even have a .500 record and be considered the GOAT may be somewhat of a reach. A huge knock on LeBron throughout his career was that he doesn’t always have the killer instinct, or the clutch gene that so many of the greats possess. While he has largely disproved those in these past finals, the body of work throughout the finals is far from perfect. He is one Ray Allen clutch corner three pointer, and possibly one Draymond Green suspension and/or Andrew Bogut knee injury from being just 1-6 in the finals. I know those are all huge what if’s, but when looking at his final’s record as a whole and not breaking them down one by one, doesn’t the greatest of all time have to win more than he loses in the biggest stage of them all?
19 GOAT: Most Versatile Superstar Ever
LeBron James can do it all on the basketball court. He can play all five positions offensively and defensively, and he can do it all an extremely high level. No other player in NBA history can really say that. A lot of times when comparing great players, especially those from different eras, we compare by position, which is why it is so hard to compare Michael Jordan to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because it is like comparing apples to oranges. LeBron can hold his own against anybody. His career averages of 27, 7, and 7 prove that. You can put LeBron James on any center in the league and with his size and strength he can hold his own, and on the other end the center would be at a huge disadvantage because there isn’t a big man in the league quick enough to stay with LeBron. As great as Jordan was, he had no chance if Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon decided to post him up.
17 NOT: Don’t Forget About The Great Big Men
In today’s NBA great big men are few and far between, but there did used to be a time when big men dominated the league. To call LeBron the GOAT would be doing a disservice to all the great big men in league history. LeBron James is a dominant force in the league right now, but he wasn’t the only guy to ever dominate before. Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, and Shaquille O’Neal all have more championships than LeBron. Wilt Chamberlain has 2 championships and has better statistics than any of those guys, including LeBron James. Those guys all played in different eras (with the exception of Duncan, who by the way is 2-1 against LeBron in the finals), so the game was different back then. However, great players find a way to adjust to the game, and all those guys did so and were dominant in their own fashion, so an argument could be made that they enjoyed more success in their time in the league than LeBron has in his.
15 GOAT: SOCIAL MEDIA ERA
Michael Jordan did not have to play in this day and age where everybody has a camera phone and social media is all the rage. LeBron James is one of the most recognizable people in the world and throughout his career he has managed to keep his nose clean and not be a distraction for his organization. It is not secret that Michael Jordan liked to have a good time. We have all heard the stories of him staying out late, being at the casino in the late hours the night before a game. In this day and age where people get fined and suspended over what they post on twitter, along with all the trolling and scrutiny, it takes a mentally strong individual to be able to block it all out and focus on the tasks at hand. If there was social media back when Jordan was playing, is it really all that unthinkable that Jordan or one of his teammates might do something that could’ve hindered one of their title runs? And yes, I’m looking at you Dennis Rodman. You have to have some real thick skin to deal with all the stuff that is on the internet now. I mean the two guys that we are debating to be the greatest ever, are well known on social media, not for their legendary status, but for their famous crying faces.
13 NOT: HAS LeBRON EVEN PASSED KOBE OR MAGIC?
Most people would agree that Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson are not better than Michael Jordan. So why all of a sudden has LeBron leapfrogged these two great Lakers? Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson both have as many or more finals appearances as LeBron James, and they have a better record in the finals as well. Not to mention, Kobe and Magic both have 5 rings, while LeBron still only has 3. Most LeBron supporters would argue that Kobe had Shaq and Pau Gasol and Magic had Kareem and James Worthy, but exactly how many titles has LeBron won without help? LeBron needed a sure fire hall of famer in Dwyane Wade to get his first title, and he needed a legendary finals performance from Kyrie Irving, who may get to the hall of fame someday, for his last title. Nobody wins championships without help, so last time I checked, 5 is still more than 3.
11 GOAT: NOBODY HAS EVER LED THEIR TEAM BACK FROM A 3-1 DEFICIT IN THE NBA FINALS
What LeBron James did in this year’s NBA finals was nothing short of herculean. That is the reason we are even having this debate right now. His performance throughout the finals may have been the best ever by a single player in the NBA finals. The way he led his team back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors with the weight of the whole city of Cleveland on his back was Boston Red Sox-esque. No team in NBA Finals history had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. It had only happened 10 times ever in NBA Playoffs history. When facing a 3-1 deficit, he responded with back to back 41 point games, and then sealed it with a triple double in Game 7. He had all the pressure from a city’s 52 year championship drought pinned mostly on him, and he answered the bell in historic fashion. As good as Michael Jordan was throughout his career, he never had to overcome those kinds of insurmountable odds. Hats off to the guy, it was one for the ages.
9 NOT: LeBRON LEFT CLEVELAND TO CHASE A RING
Whether Cavaliers fans like to admit it or not, there was a time when their home grown “king” abandoned them for the sunny skies of South Beach. What irked most basketball purists was that he went to Miami, where they already had a champion in Dwyane Wade sitting on the throne over there. Wade had already been there, done that, and when LeBron and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami to form a super team, the plan was for them to win “ not 5, not 6, not 7.” It gave most LeBron haters reason to pile on him. Did Magic ever join Bird? Did Kobe ever join Duncan? Did Jordan ever join Isaiah? The plan was to beat those guys not join them, and all though LeBron got 2 titles in Miami, and did ultimately do right by Cleveland, it does make you wonder if he truly was the GOAT, did he really need to leave?
7 GOAT: LeBRON BEAT AN ALL-TIME GREAT TEAM
No matter what NBA old timer tells you otherwise, the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors were a great team. Michael Jordan never beat any team as good as this year’s Warriors. They changed the way the game was played. They had 73 wins in an 82 game season. They beat a record held by Michael Jordan’s 95-96 Bulls, that most people thought would never be broken. They came back from a 3-1 deficit against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder. They had the unanimous MVP on their team. Despite all the people that are piling on them and trolling them now for losing to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led Cavaliers (like there is any shame in that), they were an amazing one of a kind team. They revolutionized small ball, they dominated the three point line, and they played stellar position-less defense. All year long the big debate was if they were the best team ever, and had Draymond Green not gotten suspended or Andrew Bogut not gotten hurt, or Harrison Barnes hit an open jumper or two that might still be the debate. Not taking anything away from the Cavs, because you play with the hand your dealt, but the team that they beat to win the title probably could have beat a lot of other championship teams that came before them.
5 NOT: THE 2011 NBA FINALS
So many people like to get on Stephen Curry for the way he played in this year’s NBA Finals, but lest they forget that the man that is so revered for his MVP performance in this year’s finals had an even more miserable performance in the 2011 finals. In the 2011 finals against the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron James only averaged 17.8 PPG and had a turnover percentage of 19.5%. Stephen Curry’s turnover percentage in this year’s finals was 18%, and we all remember how careless he was with the basketball. LeBron was the third leading scorer on his own team, got outplayed throughout the series by Jason Terry, had a game where he only scored 8 points, and lost in 6 games to a team that was not nearly as talented as that year’s Miami Heat. It was probably the worst series he had ever played in his life, and it came at the biggest stage, when there was the most pressure on him at that time because that was the first year where they had formed the Big 3 in Miami and everyone had expected them to win.
3 GOAT: LeBRON IS THE BEST EVER IN ELIMINATION GAMES
When LeBron’s back is against the wall, he tends to deliver. He averages approximately 32.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists in games when his team is facing elimination. Most people revere Jordan for being king of the clutch but in elimination games, not even he can stack up to LeBron James. Jordan averaged about 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in elimination games, which is also great, but not better than LeBron. LeBron is also 10-8 in elimination games while MJ is only 6-7. Who can forget the three legendary elimination games he had in the finals this year, or his triple double last year in Game 5 against the Warriors? Even when they lost in Game 6 against the Warriors last year, LeBron recorded 32 points and 18 rebounds. Let’s also not forget his monster 45 point 15 rebound game in Game 6 against the Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
1 NOT: JORDAN WAS UNDEFEATED IN THE NBA FINALS
LeBron supporters like to point out that LeBron is the ultimate team guy. LeBron is a pass first player who always makes the right play and does whatever it takes to help his team win. All that might be true, but did he really help his teammates more than Michael Jordan did? Every time Jordan took his team to the finals they left with the trophy. He was 6-0 in the biggest stage of them all when everybody was watching. He beat Magic’s Lakers, Drexler’s Blazers, Barkley’s Suns, Payton’s Sonics, and Stockton and Malone’s Jazz twice. Those teams all had a lot of Hall of Famers that Jordan’s Bulls left in a trail of dust in their pursuit of excellence. Not saying that LeBron hasn’t faced stiff competition in the finals, because he certainly has, but he hasn’t always come out unscathed either.