The ESPN documentary series “The Last Dance” showed a younger generation of NBA fans that Michael Jordan is more than a guy selling retro sneakers. For those who witnessed Jordan’s greatness over the course of two-three rounds with the Bulls, it reinforced the belief that he is the greatest player to ever hit the court.
A current star complicated this GOAT conversation (the biggest ever), of course. There’s an argument to be made to put LeBron James above Jordan, and James’ case only got stronger after leading the Lakers past the Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals.
Bill Bender of Sporting News has a helpful guide with the most important talking points if you’re ready to discuss MJ vs. LeBron, but we’re just here to provide you with the facts you need to justify your choice. Don’t be the person who shouts “six rings” without a backup plan.
Here is an overview of the state of the GOAT debate …
(All statistics are up to date as of March 19, 2021)
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: regular season stats
Jordan is superior in the scoring department, but James catches rebounds and distributes assists at a higher rate. While both players are known for their tenacious defense on the wing, Jordan has finished first in the league in interceptions three times in his career. James has yet to win a flying title.
In terms of longevity, James has a clear advantage. The gap between the totals will widen as long as James remains healthy, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down at 36.
|83.5||Free throw %||73.4|
|5 633||Help||9 665|
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: advanced regular season stats
It all depends on the category you choose when it comes to advanced stats. VORP and Win Shares favor James, but PER and Box Plus / Minus go to Jordan.
Pick a side, nerds! (It’s a term of affection.)
|27.9||Player Effectiveness Rating||27.4|
|116.1||Value versus replacement||137.0|
|9.2||Plus / minus box||8.9|
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: playoff stats
The playoff stats reflect what Jordan and James produce during the regular season. Despite James’ increased use and effectiveness beyond the arc over the course of his career, it should be noted that he shoots roughly the same percentage as Jordan from 3 points.
Oh, and the lazy tale claiming James is shrinking in big games – his postseason lines are often more impressive than his performances in the regular season. It is not a smart way to argue against him.
|Jordan||Playoffs per game||James|
|82.8||Free throw %||74.1|
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: advanced playoff stats
Jordan is the all-time playoff leader in PER and Box Plus / Minus, and he has the highest use percentage. But James dominates everyone in VORP and Win Shares.
So yeah, these guys are pretty good.
|28.6||Player Effectiveness Rating||28.4|
|24.7||Value versus replacement||33.2|
|11.1||Plus / minus box||10.2|
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: honors and awards
And here’s the big one. Jordan fans have championships in their back pockets. MJ had a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals and never needed a Game 7 to win these series.
James went 4-6 in his 10 NBA Finals appearances, but he also controlled the Eastern Conference with the Cavaliers and Heat for almost an entire decade.
|6||MVP of the final||4|