While many will tell you that Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or someone else is the greatest of all time in the NBA, it’s time to settle this debate once and for all.
For this debate, we are going to list the top three names that are brought up in these conversations. Micheal Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.
We will review three categories: statistics, winning, and impact.
The Case For LeBron
James will have the edge in terms of statistical accolades by the time his career is all said and done. His 33,918 points, 9,298 rebounds, and 9,235 assists rank him among the top players in NBA history. What’s even more impressive? His eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances, which is watered down due to his 3-6 overall record in the Finals.
As a society, we tend to be swayed by the moment, by the living and the breathing. Whatever is happening live and immediately leads us to dismiss anything or anyone that happened before ESPN. This, among other things, is the reason why LeBron has momentum. He is right now. He is today. He is right in front of us.
James also has the luxury (depending on how you look at it) to play during the social media era. Anything and everything he does will be noticed by millions of people every day. Jordan and Kobe Bryant didn’t have that to the same degree James has.
Let’s list the honors, in order of weight: Twelve-time All-NBA first team, three Finals MVPs, three NBA titles (one in Cleveland, which should count double), four Kia MVPs, nine Finals trips in 15 seasons (including eight straight), 15 All-Star Games and five All-Defensive first-team honors.
His ability to lift mediocre teams consistently is unmatched by anyone. The Cavaliers were poorly run through much of his time in Cleveland and that, oddly enough, worked in his favor from an optics standpoint. His 2007 Finals team was arguably the weakest finalist ever, as the Cavs’ Finals starters were a combination of Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, Daniel Gibson, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Future generations of the game have been influenced by LeBron James, but he was not always the only player to be compared to his Airness himself, enter into the conversation, Kobe Bryant.
The Case For Kobe Bryant
The late Bryant idolized and molded his game after Jordan, to be “like Mike” mixed with the Mamba Mentality made Bryant an unreal threat that the NBA hasn’t seen before.
Scott Brooks worded it perfectly when he said “Everybody is a fan of Kobe and now they have LeBron. Now they have another guy who could arguably be the greatest player ever,” Brooks said. His 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds, and 6,306 assists might not be as high as James’, but he transcended the game more than James ever will. To put this into perspective, we have to turn back the clock.
Who remembers his commercials of dunking over shark pools, and jumping over moving Ferrari’s? Whenever you throw trash away do you yell “LeBron?” No, you yell “Kobe.” Bryant has inspired players from Kemba Walker all the way to Trae Young.
Numerous players wore his two jersey numbers until his tragic passing.
Also, his post-career show and podcast were successful. He took on working with future players and pushing them to develop their game even more. He always had a vision for everyone he knew and he pushed them harder. He pushed them to go further than even they thought they were capable of. That is transcendence.
He is the only player in NBA history to have two numbers retired. Let that sink in for a second. He has two jerseys retired by one team. While we will never get to hear those inspiring words at his hall of fame ceremony, just know all of his passion stems down to his “Dear Basketball” Oscar-winning short film.
James won in stats, and Bryant was the inspiring celeb to bring popularity to the NBA, but Michael Jordan had both.
The Case For Micheal Jordan
Jordan was the first NBA player to rise higher than the game, to tap into those parts of society that didn’t follow sports or athletes, to become a cultural icon. Not to the extent of Muhammad Ali, but beyond anyone else of Jordan’s generation, by far. He was a player who never gave away a performance, you simply had to earn a bad night from him.
Jordan spent 18 months of his prime playing minor league baseball, allowing Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to win back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and ’95.
Let’s list the honors, in order of weight: six NBA titles (while going six-for-six in The Finals), six Finals MVPs, five regular-season MVPs, 10 All-NBA first teams, 10 scoring titles, 14 All-Star Games, nine All-Defensive first-team honors and one Defensive Player of the Year Award. His career 32,292 points, 6,672 rebounds, and 5,633 assists all seemed daunting for any generational talent to come after.
The signature moments: His God-disguised-as-Michael-Jordan 63-point barrage on the Celtics in the first round of 1986. The “Shrug Game” in the 1992 Finals. The “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals. The legacy-calling, Bryon Russell-falling shot against Utah in The 1998 Finals (which was preceded by the most underrated play in championship history: stealing the ball off Karl Malone). Setting up Steve Kerr for the Finals clincher in 1997. The reverse-flip against the Lakers in the 1991 Finals (Marv Albert voice: “Oh, a spec-tacular move, by Michael Jordan!”). And, of course, the jumper over the fingertips of Craig Ehlo and the Cavs in 1989, among others.
Plus, who didn’t want to be like Mike or have a space jam Jordan jersey growing up, he transcended the game into a pop culture icon that made his brand explode more than his career earnings ever would. Kids loved Micheal Jordan and still do! He will forever be the first associated person to the NBA and that still doesn’t exceed the magnitude he has over basketball as a sport.
The winner is….. Michael Jordan
Let’s face it, Nobody will beat Jordan from this spot unless they had superpowers. He is the almighty king, and His Airness will never be dethroned as the greatest basketball player of all time.