With the Miami Heat making their third straight NBA Finals appearance after dispatching the Indiana Pacers Monday night, the debate as to whether or not LeBron James is—or will become—the greatest player in NBA history is bound to be brought up. If you survey the majority of NBA fans on the topic, the consensus for who is the greatest player of all-time is usually Michael Jordan and rightfully so. However, if you believe LeBron will one day be the greatest NBA player in history, you are sadly mistaken
You can look at overall statistical comparisons or you can look at how each player has transcended the game of basketball and at the end of the day, Jordan still trumps LeBron. However, there is one statistic or category that I will point to that, I believe, proves Jordan is the greatest of all-time and will remain the greatest of all-time and that statistic is championships. Jordan won six championships and, at this point, LeBron has only won one; however it isn’t just the total number of championships that Jordan won that will outweigh LeBron’s, but the manner in which Jordan won his compared to LeBron.
Jordan was the centerpiece of all of the Chicago Bulls NBA titles during the 1990s and he was the player that the franchise built around. Sure, Jordan had good complementary pieces in Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman during his championship runs, but Jordan made those players around him better and few would have had the careers that they did without Jordan’s influence and presence. Pippen was the Robin to Jordan’s Batman and he made Jordan’s ability to stay in Chicago much easier, but the fact still remains that Jordan stayed in Chicago and was committed to being built around and winning in Chicago; LeBron on the other-hand, had to leave Cleveland and join up with other stars in order to win his championships.
The argument will always be said that LeBron could have never won a title in Cleveland and the premise to that argument is flawed. LeBron had the pieces in place and the commitment from management to compete every single season that he was in Cleveland, but he was the one player who had to elevate his game and make the players around him better in order to take the next step and actually win the title like Jordan had to do. LeBron was a shadow of the player he is now when he was with Cleveland and as he continued to improve his own game, the players brought in and drafted would have grown with him resulting in championships.
Instead, LeBron chose the easy way out of his inability to win a championship and decided to team up with two other stars in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh is Miami. Instead of being the building block of a franchise and leading them to a title, LeBron chose to become one of three building blocks in Miami. That alone is what separates Jordan and LeBron. Had Jordan left Chicago for Boston or Detroit, he could have won many more titles, but his legacy and fame would have never reached the levels that it did because he stayed in one place and remained the player the franchise built around.
Had LeBron stayed in Cleveland and won championships, he could one day surpass Jordan as the greatest of all-time. For now, LeBron remains the greatest athlete of all-time and his all-around game still does not rival that of Jordan’s. LeBron does get to the rim better than anyone in history, but he won’t be able to do that forever and as he ages, he will need to redefine his game. Jordan could also get to the rim at will early on in his career, but the fact that he was such a strong and accomplished shooter off the dribble made his transition into the later years of his career much easier with little drop-off.
One of the best comparisons done on this topic was by Tony Manfred of Businessinsider.com and if you read his article—which can be accessed here—you will see that LeBron has a long ways to go if he wants to even statistically compare with Jordan. However, it is the choices that LeBron has made in his career and the manner in which he won his championships that will ultimately doom him in the all-time great comparison conversation.
Sorry LeBron, but second best is all you’ll ever be.