Jordan Soars Over James
The “King” may have overtaken “His Airness” in total career points, but Jordan’s legacy towers over James’
LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on the NBA’s career scoring list on Wednesday night. While it was a milestone moment for the league and the player who has argued that he is the greatest of all time (GOAT), it wasn’t necessarily transcendent. That’s simply because, in this case, moving ahead of Jordan in a statistical category didn’t move James ahead of who many argue is basketball’s true GOAT.
James’ feat moved him to fourth all-time in scoring in NBA and ABA history. He currently has 32,311 points and trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kobe Bryant (33,643). Jordan dropped to fifth with 32,292 career points.
Looking at this list, many would argue that Jordan is the best player on this list, with some pulling for Abdul-Jabbar, no matter the point total. Their argument is made stronger when you consider Jordan retired from playing basketball in the middle of his career to chase his dream of playing professional baseball. He was averaging 32.6 points a game when he left the hardwood for the diamond and there is no reason to think he wouldn’t have had that type of production over the two seasons he played baseball.
While points are important, they are just a piece of what makes a player the greatest.
And arguing who is the greatest of all time (GOAT) is a subjective matter. As the idiom goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While there are objective statistical markers, comparing players from different eras makes it difficult to compare athletes on a level field.
It’s a matter of opinion fueled by different beliefs of what makes one player’s attributes, accomplishments and circumstances superior to another’s. It makes for fun discussions and sometimes heated arguments. When it comes to Jordan and James, the difference maker for most basketball fans is how the players developed over their careers.
LeBron is a great player. He’s been a phenomenon since he was in high school, where he picked up the moniker “King” James. He was able to skip college and jump straight to the NBA, where he has been a force since his first tip off. He’s had a fantastic career winning three championships. He’s even done amazing things in regard to helping others receive an education off of the court. But let’s pump the breaks on calling him the greatest.
Detractors will always point out that James had to leave his original team, Cleveland, and announce it via an ESPN special called “The Decision,” and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on a “superteam” in Miami before he won his first championship. They repeated as champions, but the win by a stacked team seemed hollow. He should get credit for returning to Cleveland and winning a championship with the Cavaliers, that included a dramatic comeback from a three-games-to one deficit against the power house Golden State Warriors. A couple of years later, he bounced to Los Angeles hoping to become the nucleus for another superteam.
By comparison, Jordan was in his seventh season with the Bulls before he won his first championship. Through the late 80s, Chicago slugged it out with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons and lost several playoff series before the Bulls were able to steadily improve and dominate the league with back-to-back-to-back championships in 1991, 1992, and 1993. Jordan retired to play baseball and missed the entire 1993-94 NBA season and most of 1994-95 before returning to the Chicago Bulls for the final 17 games of the season. He then added and three straight titles in 1996, 1997, and 1998 to cement his claim to basketball immortality. It may have been a different era, but Jordan’s championships felt more organic, dare I say it, earned and deserved.
They are different on defense, too. If Jordan had only scored half the points he did, he would still be recognized for his defensive efforts. He was one of the best of his era. The same can’t be said for LBJ.
Another difference between the two is how they carry themselves publicly. After James led the Cavs to the 2016 championship against Golden State, he argued that he was “the greatest player of all time.”
In 2009, when Chicago-based journalist Michael Wilbon asked Jordan if he was the GOAT, the legend said, ““If you ask me, I would never say that I am the greatest player. That’s because I never played against all the people that represented the league prior to Michael Jordan.”
Jordan, likely, believes he is the GOAT, but his humility in his response is endearing and personable. That’s got a lot to do with him becoming a marketing behemoth central to ongoing advertising campaigns for Nike and Gatorade.
James should be congratulated for his milestone. But just because he has more points than Jordan doesn’t mean he is the better player. That’s rare air that only Mike has a claim to.
NBA & ABA Career Point Leaders
Rank Player Points
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 38,387
2. Karl Malone* 36,928
3. Kobe Bryant 33,643
4. LeBron James 32,311
5. Michael Jordan* 32,292
6. Wilt Chamberlain* 31,419
7. Dirk Nowitzki 31,364
8. Julius Erving* 30,026
9. Moses Malone* 29,580
10. Shaquille O'Neal* 28,596
* Hall of Fame member