LOS ANGELES (AFP) – As the first player to lead three different teams to National Basketball Association (NBA) titles, LeBron James has revived the question of whether he or Michael Jordan is the league’s greatest-ever superstar.
“I don’t know,” James said. “I’m going to let you guys talk about it.”
James captured his fourth NBA title in his 10th Finals appearance when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat 106-93 on Sunday to close out the series 4-2.
James was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player for the fourth time. The only player with more finals MVP awards is Jordan with six.
Jordan won six titles in six NBA Finals appearances for the Chicago Bulls during the 1990s, taking most of two seasons off between two three-peats to pursue a baseball career after his father’s death.
Jordan’s game evolved over time, the high-leaping playmaker who could single-handedly dominate foes giving way to a veteran who could get the most from every teammate and help carry the load during his second title trilogy.
Taking full advantage of the era of big money and free agency that Jordan largely created, James maximised his money and turned multiple teams into champions, his role evolving over the years as did his supporting cast.
Where James is clearly king is off the court. His education initiatives and social activism are a far cry from Jordan’s infamous comment that “Republicans buy sneakers too”, when asked why he was not more politically active.
If mere titles alone decided the greatest NBA player, dominant 1960s Boston big man Bill Russell would own the tag with 11, more than Jordan and James combined, in 13 seasons.
However, it was Jordan who took the NBA global by leading the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” to Barcelona gold, with James responding to a sub-par bronze effort in 2004 by sparking US gold medal runs in 2008 and 2012.
James is only the fourth player in history to reach 10 career NBA Finals. Only Russell and teammate Sam Jones have played more, but James is only 4-6 in the Finals.
Does the purity of Jordan’s six-for-six feat beat the longevity and diversity of James’s success? Does it even matter? Can’t each be king of his era?
“The best and most ‘complete’ player I have seen in my lifetime is @KingJames on and off the floor,” long-time Jordan nemesis Isiah Thomas tweeted Thursday.
“He passed the eye test and the numbers confirm what my eyes have seen in every statistical category. #GOAT let it be known!”
Thomas is hardly a neutral observer, the bad blood between himself and Jordan clear to see in the Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” that became a global TV hit during the coronavirus shutdown this year.
Kendrick Perkins, a 2015 teammate of James in Cleveland who won an NBA crown with Boston in 2008, cast his vote in the debate with LeBron also.
“My separator from Bron and everybody else is PRESSURE,” he tweeted. “Goat expectations from day 1 at 18 years old, carry the city from day (1), comparisons to legends from day 1. All expectations EXCEEDED!”
James has won his latest title at 35, the same age when Jordan won his last crown. But James is just getting started with the Lakers.
“This never gets old,” he said.
After teen prodigy James was the 2003 NBA Draft top pick, he led Cleveland to the NBA Finals at age 22, his high-leaping, slam dunk, Jordan-esque moves unable to stop the Cavs from being swept by San Antonio in 2007.
After dumping the Cavs in 2010 for Miami, James led the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles as part of the “Big Three” with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
James returned to Cleveland in 2014 and with a rebuilt roster brought a title to his home region in 2016, denying a 73-win Golden State team a run of four consecutive titles. His Cavs made the finals four years in a row but only won once.
James is the all-time play-off scoring leader, has played a record 260 play-off games, and ranks third on the NBA all-time scoring list. He’s a 16-time NBA All-Star and a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player while Jordan is a 14-time NBA All-Star and a five-time NBA MVP.
While Jordan was no activist, he was a pioneer off the court, from sealing landmark deals with Nike and others to pushing the global growth of the game. His efforts helped build a foundation from which James could be more outspoken.
James and his More Than A Vote initiative helped register voters and recruited 10,000 election poll workers. He has been a vocal critic of US President Donald Trump and supported racial justice policies in the wake of George Floyd’s death last May.
“I do my part on continuing to create change, continuing to educate, continuing to enlighten communities all over the world that listen to me,” James said.
“You control what you can and what you can’t, sometimes as much as it hurts, you just try not to worry about it.”