Whenever we bring Michael Jordan back into the spotlight, the GOAT conversation comes along. MJ turned 58-years old on February 17, and naturally, that was the perfect excuse to talk about his insane career once again.
Kids who didn’t have the chance to see Jordan play always argue in favor of LeBron James as the best basketball player in NBA history. Those who are the 80s and 90s kids have no intention of conceding that spot to James.
That’s why Jordan’s recent birthday is the perfect pretext to breakdown -once again- this rivalry.
Jordan vs. Lebron Regular Season Stats
Every debate starts with regular-season stats. Who was more dominant during the 82-regular season games?
If you want to learn the most important NBA stats, this guide from Safest Betting Sites is a great resource to start.
Now, LeBron James has played more seasons than Michael Jordan ever did. Totals are not the right measurement because James will top MJ just by the mere longevity factor.
To LeBron’s credit, he’s 36 and showing no signs of slowing down. So, let’s hit the averages.
Michael Jordan Per Game Regular Season Stats
Field goal % 49.7
3-point % 32.7
Free throw % 83.5
Michael Jordan is one of the greatest scorers of all time, if not the best. Denying him a lane to the basket was an impossible task in the 80s and 90s. Even if the rules back then allow players to hit and tackle as much as they wanted.
But beyond that well-known notion, there are a couple of things that jump out from his regular-season numbers. He shot 49.7% from the field despite back then; there weren’t advanced stats that might lead him to more efficient shots.
Also, he wasn’t a three-point guy, but that was by design. He shot 32.7% from beyond the arc during his career. Yet, the six three-point made in game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals should tell us Jordan would be a devastating player in this era.
In the 90s, the 3-point wasn’t as big as it is now. Heck, ten years ago, the league didn’t value three-point attempts as we do now. Saying Jordan couldn’t hit from three is one of the biggest misconceptions of the LeBron apologists. Just Imagine MJ in this era, trying and connecting as much as he did when he faced the Portland Trailblazer in the famous shrug game in 1992.
And finally, his steals average is insane. Even by total measurements, Jordan has more than James, even if he played 300 fewer games. That’s just absurd.
LeBron James Per Game Regular Season Stats
Field goal % 50.4
3-point % 34.5
Free throw % 73.4
LeBron, on the other hand, is a more all-around player. James will dip his toes on every single statistical measurement, trying to impact the game from all angles.
James is known for getting his teammates involved early in the game before taking over when it matters. LeBron is exceptionally good at it. In fact, there are games where you might not be paying attention, and he ends up with a triple-double with little effort.
Because he’s bigger, he gets rebounds at a higher rate than Jordan ever did. But his basketball IQ is so high that his passing skills are out of this world. LeBron might be the only player of this era who can play all five positions with no problems.
Averaging 7.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists are opposite stats. We rarely get these numbers bottled up in the same player. James is so unique; he can do it all.
Against him, of course, is his low free-throw percentage. For a player of his quality, averaging a career 73.4 percent is appalling.
Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James Regular Season Advanced Stats
Advanced stats have become a better tool to analyze the players’ impacts over the last ten years. When Jordan played, there wasn’t anything remotely close to it. We just marveled at what our eyes saw.
The most exciting advance stats for this conversation are Player Efficiency Rating, Value Over Replacement, Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares, and True Shooting.
Those not familiar with these stats, keep in mind the PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments and subtracts the negative actions.
The Value Over Replacement measure estimates each player’s overall contribution to the team. Win Shares credits team success to the individuals on the team. True Shooting tells who shoots more efficiently.
Michael Jordan Regular-Season Advanced Stats
Player Efficiency Rating 27.9
Value Over Replacement 116.1
Box Plus/Minus 9.2
Win Shares 214.0
True Shooting % 56.9
Usage % 33.3
LeBron James Regular-Season Advanced Stats
Player Efficiency Rating 27.4
Value Over Replacement 136.1
Box Plus/Minus 8.9
Win Shares 240.0
True Shooting % 58.6
Usage % 31.5
In most advanced stat measurements, LeBron has an advantage over Michael. Perhaps the most significant disparity is the Win Share column, where James is head and shoulders above the competition.
MJ vs. LJ Playoff Stats
You will find out that numbers-wise, Michael Jordan and LeBron James are similar when it comes to postseason stats.
The difference between one and the other is you can remember Jordan’s clutch moments with little effort.
Instead, LeBron’s are probably attached to another player. A critical three-point shot by Ray Allen to avoid a disaster against the San Antonio Spurs. Or a Kyrie Irving’s winning three-pointer against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7.
James does the playoffs work, don’t get me wrong. He has the numbers. But he doesn’t have the same moments as Michael.
Michael Jordan Playoffs Per Game Stats
Field goal % 48.7
3-point % 33.2
Free throw % 82.8
LeBron James Playoffs Per Game Stats
Field goal % 49.6
3-point % 33.5
Free throw % 74.1
Playoffs Advanced Stats
We ride the narrative that MJ is the superior talent in the postseason. The raw numbers above suggest just that, especially in points scored. Jordan has a significant gap in his favor.
But when we hit the playoffs advanced stats, LeBron James has a massive advantage in value over replacement and win shares. Jordan, however, is the all-time playoff leader in PER and Box Plus/Minus.
Michael Jordan Playoffs Advanced Stats
Player Efficiency Rating 28.6
Value Over Replacement 24.7
Box Plus/Minus 11.1
Win Shares 39.8
True Shooting % 56.8
Usage % 35.6
LeBron James Playoffs Advanced Stats
Player Efficiency Rating 28.4
Value Over Replacement 33.2
Box Plus/Minus 10.2
Win Shares 55.3
True Shooting % 58.4
Usage % 32.1
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Accolades and awards
Awards can be misleading, but in this conversation, accolades are necessary. Michael Jordan’s 6-0 NBA finals record is extraordinary and almost the finisher in any discussion. But those six rings also came with 5 MVP awards and 6 Finals MVP.
The funny thing is, we rarely talk about how impressive Jordan was as a defender. He leads James 9-6 in All-Defensive teams. My theory is MJ was so incredible scoring the basket that we overlook everything else. A 10-1 scoring titles advantage tells you everything.
LeBron James can still catch MJ in NBA championships and MVPs. He’s been taking care of his body well enough to keep playing at a high level. James is 4-7 in finals, and he might need to reach .500 to claim the GOAT status without any criticism.
Michael Jordan Accolades
Finals MVPs 6
Scoring titles 10
LeBron James Accolades
Finals MVPs 4
Scoring titles 1
Who’s Better: Michael Jordan Or LeBron James?
LeBron deserves a ton of credit for making this topic a genuine conversation. He had a mountain to climb to have the right to sit at the same table with Jordan. Now he has earned that right.
But to take the GOAT status from MJ, he needs to finish with more rings, even if that’s not the only stat available for us. Six is always going to be more than four.
We forget what’s the ultimate goal of the game. It’s all about winning. Both have shown there are various ways to reach the results. Either by being an all-around talent like James or an absolute killer like Jordan.
Rings aside, if the person’s life I love the most is in jeopardy, and I need one basket to save his/her life, I’m taking Michael Jordan ten out of ten times.
Alonzo Solano is a sports betting writer and journalist for Safest Betting Sites. He covers top sporting events daily, including several Super Bowls, World Cups, and more.