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Sports Authority

Adams: Jordan is easily better than LeBron

| Monday, January 20, 2020

It’s been a question in the making since Sports Illustrated dubbed LeBron “The Chosen One” when he was a junior in high school, since SLAM had him and (gasp) Sebastian Telfair on their cover saying they were “about to take over the world.” The latter was half right.

In any case, LeBron turned into the biggest household sports name in the world. He joined the ranks of legends that are known on a one-name basis: Kobe, Shaq, Tiger, Messi, Pelé, Montana, Manning, Gretzky … and Jordan. The debate rages over who’s the greatest of all time (henceforth referred to as “the GOAT”), Jordan or LeBron?

In brief, it’s Jordan. Easily.

Those in LeBron’s camp love to shower praise on the King as they throw on their bandwagon LeBron Lakers jerseys and throwback St. Vincent-St. Mary unis. And to be fair, they have a point. LeBron is fourth all-time in points scored, one spot ahead of MJ, and he’s arguably the most unstoppable player ever with his combination of size, athleticism and well-rounded skills (as evidenced by his fifth-place ranking in career triple doubles).

Looking at the numbers, LeBron has averaged more than seven assists and rebounds per game for his career, compared to 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists for Jordan. Jordan is the superior scorer though, averaging an NBA record 30.1 points per game for his career and scoring over 30 per game in eight seasons compared to LeBron’s two. And Jordan was a MUCH better defender, regardless of LeBron’s game seven block on Iguodala.

Jordan, as opposed to LeBron, wasn’t heralded as the savior. Everyone’s probably heard the stories of how Jordan was cut from his high school varsity team (although he did go on to dominate on the junior varsity). Then, of course, Jordan was selected third in the ’84 draft behind Hakeem Olajuwon and (gasp) Sam Bowie (shout-out to the Kentucky alum).

Back then, the prevailing belief was that you needed a big man to build a championship contender around. And, to be fair, Bowie’s career was underwhelming due to injury and Olajuwon won two ‘ships (when Jordan was out of the league).

However, Jordan’s lack of buzz at a young age, compared to LeBron, was a blessing for Jordan. He used that as motivation to become an unstoppable force. He worked and worked and worked to overcome all the obstacles in his path.

First, Jordan had to overcome the Boston Celtics with the greatest front-court (Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale) of all time. He hung 63 in the playoffs on their franchise-best 1985-86 team, and even though his team lost, he eventually learned to start trusting his teammates more.

With Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in tow, after a few tries, Jordan finally managed to overcome the back-to-back champs in the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” team. Then, in his first Finals appearance, he led the Bulls to four-straight wins against Magic Johnson’s Lakers and their first franchise championship.

Jordan won three straight championships, then tried baseball because basketball was too easy, only to come back a year-and-a-half later and hang 55 on the Knicks in the Garden three weeks into his return. He then got another three-peat, shutting down the vaunted Seattle Supersonics and the model-of-consistency Utah Jazz twice.

Oh, and on his final shot in game six of ’98, there was no push off.

LeBron never faced real opposition, and it’s been apparent. Jordan came into the NBA during its golden age, while LeBron came in during arguably its worst state since the NBA-ABA merger.

Who was the toughest opponent LeBron faced during his first stint with the Cavaliers? He put the team on his back in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons and got them to a matchup with the Spurs, who swept them.

Then, with Shaquille O’Neal on his team and the best record in the NBA in 2010, he couldn’t get past the Boston Celtics.

Then he left for Miami, and honestly, I don’t blame him. Sure, it’s a bit of a cop-out, but he could only get so far in Cleveland behind an incompetent organization that wasn’t getting him any quality help any time soon. But at the Big 3’s welcoming party in Miami, he promised “not six, not seven, not eight” championships … and he got them two.

He couldn’t beat the Mavericks in 2011 after going down 3-2, then the next year he got down 3-2 and barely got past the Boston Celtics (even with Ray Allen flipping to his team) and beat the Thunder for his first championship (they did have Ibaka, Westbrook, Durant and Harden, so kudos).

Then it took him seven games to finish off the Indiana Pacers (no Bird-led Celtics or Bad Boys) in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, and he went down 3-2 again to the Spurs before Ray Allen saved his butt with a legendary clutch three.

In 2014, LeBron couldn’t get over cramps in the finals and lost to the Spurs in five. Jordan fought through the flu to beat the Jazz in game five.

And notice that I’ve singled out LeBron instead of his teams because each one is LeBron’s team, and it’s on him to help them succeed.

Then he ditched Miami and went back to the Cavs. Even though Wade and Bosh may not have been as good as Pippen and Grant/Dennis Rodman, they were pretty comparable.

I’ll give LeBron a pass against the Warriors in 2015 when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt, but even when winning in 2016, LeBron was yet again on the brink of destruction down 3-1.

And I know the Warriors got Durant, but “the King” couldn’t do anything with Irving AND Love against them? No excuses.

Five MVPs beats four. Six rings beats three. 6-0 in the Finals beats 3-5. And the icing on the cake? When we talk about the best person in any field, what do we say?

“He’s the Michael Jordan of [blank].”

Why? ‘Cause everybody wants to be like Mike. ‘Nuff said.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

Contact Hayden