On Thursday night, LeBron James solidified himself as one of the greatest basketball players of all time by winning his second championship ring. The 28-year-old continued his dominance in elimination games with 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Miami Heat’s Game Seven victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
The combination of James’s individual achievements and his team’s success has led many to compare him to Michael Jordan. In James’s first season with the Heat, Scottie Pippen made headlines by calling him the “greatest player to ever play the game.” The claim seemed questionable, at best, when James disappeared in Miami’s 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. After the past two years, however, the statement seems to have more merit.
After Miami’s 2013 NBA Finals win, Magic Johnson, widely considered a top five player in NBA history, said James could surpass Jordan as the best ever. The 28-year-old joined Bill Russell and Jordan as the only players to win back-to-back NBA Finals and MVP awards.
Through each player’s first 10 seasons in the league, their numbers are very comparable. Jordan had a little more playoff success, winning three titles, three NBA Finals MVP’s and three regular season MVP’s. James has won two rings and two Finals MVP’s but he has one more regular season MVP than Jordan did at this point, as well as one more appearance in the Finals.
Statistically, the two are essentially even. James has never been the scorer Jordan was, considering the Chicago Bulls star won the scoring title every year from 1987-1993. James, though, has averaged at least seven rebounds and seven assists in six different seasons, a feat that Jordan only accomplished once.
Some may argue that James’s titles have been easier to come by after forming "The Big Three" with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Considering that Jordan played with a Hall of Famer in Scottie Pippen, and interior defenders like Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant, it might be difficult to suggest James has a distinct advantage.
With so much of James’s career left to be played, the debate will likely continue for years to come. If he’s able to win several more titles and MVP awards, he could, one day, be considered the best player to ever put on an NBA uniform. One or two early playoff exits, on the other hand, might eliminate him from the discussion.
Through the first half of his career, James has been under more scrutiny than any player in recent memory. His stats, individual accolades and championships, though, undoubtedly put him among the elite stars to ever play in the NBA.