Why LeBron Is Better Than Jordan

If Michael Jordan was superhuman, then LeBron James must be ultrahuman

Few of us allow ourselves to accept LeBron James in the same light as we view Michael Jordan. Instead we allow rosy retrospection to fog the memory we have of Jordan, and unfairly compare his cemented legacy against LeBron's developing career. We forget that LeBron won his first championship a year younger than Jordan. And we forget that Jordan wasn't winning championships during the first part of his career. Then we foolishly measure current LeBron against "when all was said and done" Jordan. Remembering MJ through revisionist history. 

Revisionist History is in Play When Reflecting on Jordan 

So what is my first assertion in arguing that LeBron is better? The fact that Jordan's game fits under the umbrella of LeBron's repertoire. LeBron is the dominating scorer that Jordan was. LeBron is the lock-down defender that Jordan was. LeBron is the explosive player that Jordan was. But outside of those facets, LeBron is more complete. And I'll get to that. 

But first... 

Is it fair to compare Jordan's entire career against what LeBron has done by 28? No. But we do it anyway. We compare how Jordan made us feel versus the media perception of LeBron. We succumb to the exemplary example of great marketing that was Jumpman. And then when we finally begin to talk about their "game," we float the "6 rings argument" to the top of the message board. 

But what if LeBron and Jordan arrived to the NBA coincidentally? What if LeBron and Jordan had signed nearly identical shoe deals at the same time? And what if we were comparing 28 year old LeBron to 28 year old MJ, and were doing this right now? 

That would throw out the "6 rings" argument, as well as the direction of the comparison. If LeBron and Jordan's careers were chronologically parallel, then we might be comparing Jordan to LeBron . 

LeBron Does the "Little Things" Better 

LeBron shoots the 3-ball better than Jordan did, and can guard an additional position (Phil Jackson claims Jordan can guard 3, but LeBron can guard 4). James dishes the ball better than Jordan -- perhaps even better than Magic -- and if need be, could pump his scoring average to Jordan-esque numbers if it made the Heat better. How do I know he can do this? Just look at the instances when James has taken complete control over a game: 

1. Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals when he carried Cleveland on his back by scoring 29 of their final 30 points in a win over the then-relevant Pistons. 

2. Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals when he erupted for 45 points against the Celtics in an elimination game. 

3. Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals where Miami once again had their back against the wall down 2-1 only to have James drop 40 and keep fellow power forward David West in check. 

4. Game 3 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Hawks where James took flight and tallied 47 points on 15-25 shooting. 

James also went off herehere, and here. All games that rival some of Jordan's greatest; all accomplished before, or as James was entering his prime. 

LeBron as a Physical Presence, More Influential Than Jordan 

Jordan exploded to the rim, but LeBron explodes from above the rim. His dunks are rarely contested, and we really can't say the same thing -- and say it with as much confidence -- when we talk about Jordan. Especially when LeBron achieves a portion of these uncontested dunks from half-court sets. 

It's evident that LeBron is much more physically imposing (6'8" 250 versus Jordan's reported 6'6" 216 lb. frame), but what's really eye-opening, is that guys back down from LeBron when he soars toward the basket. Against players that have all become more physically imposing in their own right. 

The biggest issue in comparing the two, is that LeBron and Jordan really aren't the same type of player. Jordan was primarily a slasher and scorer (that could play great D), and LeBron is concisely defined as a pacing facilitator, scoring when he needs to, but also dishing the ball efficiently and effectively (a la Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, and John Stockton). 

Yes, Jordan had the ultimate killer instinct. Yes, Jordan was a quote-unqoute killer. And yes, he probably had a bigger self-imposed chip on his shoulder than LeBron. But physically, he can't touch LeBron. LeBron is carries the weight of Karl Malone, but is as quick as any guard in the NBA. A Power Forward that appears to be a Jordan/Magic hybrid... or maybe a massive Oscar Robertson. A special combination of talent and size that is leading us to the point where we should probably start saying "LeBron is LeBron, and there is nobody else like him." 

LeBron is More Valuable Than Jordan 

Sorry McHale and Bird, but your corn silo physiques wouldn't cut it in today's NBA. The league has evolved. Like I said, players are bigger, faster, and stronger. And LeBron is bigger, faster, and stronger than all of them. And this is a big part of what makes him such a valuable commodity. He's guarded power forwards like David West, and he's shut down speedy guards like Derrick Rose in the Playoffs. Even though Jordan had some great defensive performances in his own right, he also had the likes of Gary Payton and John Starks guarding him on the other side of the ball, since he was only guard sized. Covered by guys I couldn't conceive guarding LeBron on the low block, or even impeding his path to the basket from the perimeter. 

And then there's these two kernels: 

Jordan leaves a 57-win Bulls team in 1992-93, and they became a 55-win Bulls team in 1993-94. 

LeBron leaves a 61-win Cavs team in 2009-10, and they became a 19-win Cavs team in 2010-11. 

This really says a lot. In 2010, the Cavs didn't lose too much talent other than LeBron (Ilgauskas, a Buick-endorsing Shaq, a rumor-riddled Delonte West, and Danny Green). And suddenly, they're a 19-win team that suffered through a 26 game losing streak that included a 55-point loss to the Lakers. 

Oh and One More Thing... 

To mention even more is to also mention how NBA defenses have evolved. LeBron has adapted well to this evolution, to the point it looks like he's a man playing amongst and against boys. As 1-dimensional MVP caliber players go the way of Kobe Bryant nearing retirement, in 2013's NBA, it's plausible to say that Jordan would have a tougher time putting up the same numbers without keeping defenses honest with the viable threat of efficiently finding open options. Against zone schemes like those of Thibodeau and Popovich, you have to force defenses to spread the floor and forfeit their spacing. And this is what LeBron James and the Heat do better than any team in the league right now. 

LeBron James is a more complete basketball player than Jordan, and a decade from now, I think more of us will agree. 

But this is Professional Sports, and we like to have our heroes cemented in lore. Deep down we're afraid of change. Deep down, we don't want to give up on how Michael Jordan made us feel when we watched him. Jordan did something seminal and influential, and it embedded deeply in our culture. He had the first mega shoe deal. He had his own brand. Hell, he even starred in Space Jam... He hit dramatic shots, showed fire, grit, and tenacity. He was the first of his kind. And even though LeBron is a different mold of player, we implicitly know he's a threat. He's too good for his own good, and he's the right man in the wrong era. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent that arrived before Jordan's statute of limitations had expired. Making us fear that we're diluting the meaning of "greatest of all time." 

All of which is a lucky problem to have. Two players that nearly overlap in both tenure and talent. Striking debates that are theoretical at best and hypothetical at worst. 

Regardless of the position we hold on this topic, let's at least watch as much of LeBron James as we can. Because once he's gone, he's gone (unless he ironically pulls an MJ), and all we'll have left is highlight clips that have no nostalgic attachment. And we'll have to once again revise the basketball history books through hindsight, eventually realizing what a shame it was to miss out on being a witness to the most capable heir to His Airness. 

Didn't agree with this Opine? How about this piece? Or this? Or.... This.