OT - Team LeBron or Team MJ?

Submitted by trueblue262 on May 10th, 2018 at 10:59 AM

Reading up this morning on the GOAT debate over at ESPN, and was just curious to which camp you are all in? It maybe a generation thing, but I think MJ's path to success was more....."un-artficial" 

MJ didn't have "decisions" and hop around to teams to chase championships. He made his teamates better, not his situation better. What do you all think? 

Go Blue!



May 10th, 2018 at 12:35 PM ^

I can't tell if you left off the /s or not, but you are completely wrong on this.

LBJ is a physical specimin.  He is in insane physical shape and he is arguably one of the strongest, most conditioned athletes of all time.  One should not be able to move that well at his size, but he does.  But, that does not equate with being the best basketball player of all time. 

A few counter-points to consider:

1.  Michael Jordan played during an era in which defense was at all all time high in the NBA.  Look at the teams that he had to battle year after year - the early 90's Knicks (Oakley, Mason, Ewing on the inside), the late 80's / early 90's Pistons, etc.  Not only were those teams comprised of players who prided themselves on their defense, they were PHYSICAL!  Look at the average score then vs. the average score now if you don't agree with this point.  And MJ still scored around 30 a game.  Not saying that LBJ wouldn't be a top player back then, but it would be hell of a lot harder than doing it against the matador defenses of the NBA today.

2.  The hand check rule.  Back when MJ played, hand checking was permitted.  Remove that and MJ may have scored 50 a game.

3.  Defense.  Not taking a bit away from LBJ on defense, but MJ had the ability to completely shut down the opposing team's top guard.  Completely.  His defense was on another level.

4.  MJ didn't play on hand-picked "all star teams" (other than the Dream Team) - it was him, Pippen and a who lot of nobodies (who he made look good by regularly drawing double and triple teams - and still scoring).  It's a lot harder to dominate the way that MJ did when the teams know that if they stop you, they stop the whole team.  

I really believe that anyone who is on team LBJ in this debate wasn't old enough to appreciate just how insanely dominant MJ was.  That's not anyone's fault - I see the stats, but I don't appreciate just how dominent Wilt Chamberlain was.  But, as someone who has closely watched both MJ and LBJ, I have to say that it's not even close.


May 10th, 2018 at 1:48 PM ^

1.  The average offense and defense in 1991 (the second Chicago championship year) was 105 ppg.  In 2017, the average was, you guessed it, 105 ppg.  Average number of blocks was a bit higher (5.5 to 4.7), but teams averaged about 1.5 more turnovers in 1992 than in 2017.  1992 teams shot better inside the arc than out (.486 vs. .331) but on far fewer 3PA, while today teams actually shoot worse overall from the field but have a higher percentage of 3PA and hit at a higher rate.  Guys shot about 3 more FTA in 1992 than in 2017 (27 to 24), but hit them at a lower rate (75% compared to 77%).  I've yet to find any real evidence that NBA defenses were demonstrably better at stopping guys from scoring in the 90s than now.  If anything, guys are smarter/better at shooting now than back then, so some of the offensive improvement is due to better gameplanning.  And guys are just as tough in today's game as in eras past; they are just better overall players so that a guy like Oakley wouldn't be able to get off the bench in today's game because you couldn't afford to put a 6'-8" career 47% shooter with no ability to get to the line out there for 30 minutes a game.

2.  I see people trot out the hand check rule difference as if it was kryptonite; it wasn't.  Yes, it let teams get a bit more physical with stars on the perimeter.  But they also didn't allow zone defense back in Jordan's era; if he played today, teams would likely give him more of a cushion outside and he'd struggle to get to the line as easily.  By comparison, could you imagine teams trying to hand-check a guy the size of Karl Malone who has the same speed as Steph Curry?  

3.  Jordan was a great defender, maybe one of the best 2-3 for his position ever.  But LeBron has made 6 all-defense teams in his career.  And Jordan wasn't always tasked with defending the best team's player any more tha LeBron was; we remember Jordan for going after guys in bursts, but there were a lot of games when Pippen was put on the top guy and that freed up Jordan to focus more on offense.  

4.  Player movement overall wasn't as common back then, so while Jordan didn't get to move around as much (though saying Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, etc. were no-names is a bit unfair), other teams didn't change much either.  GSW wouldn't have happened back during Jordan's era, or the Houston Rockets, or many of the other teams that sprouted up due to fluid free agency.  To compare eras is unfair in that respect; my guess is Jordan would have left Chicago at some point if he felt it gave him a better chance to compete for titles.  

And I'd like to add that LeBron is a better shooter than Jordan from the outside, a better passer and rebounder, and has already played about 100 games more than Jordan did in his entire career at this point.  

I like Michael Jordan as a player; he's a top-3 player for me.  But LeBron is just as great of a player, and all of the evidence people trot out for Jordan/against LeBron seems based about 95% on rose-colored hindsight.


May 10th, 2018 at 3:55 PM ^

Mind you, Jordan was 21 when he played his first NBA; LeBron James was 19.  For fun - Jordan's year-21 season he averaged a 28/6.5/6 shooting .173 from 3.  LeBron was 31.4/7/6.6 and 34% from 3.  

Again, Jordan was a great player.  But trying to compare their two careers seems like a weird exercise without any context, such as the fact that LeBron has taken over 2000 more 3 pointers than Jordan.  

But sure, go with a tweet.  


May 10th, 2018 at 4:07 PM ^


May 10th, 2018 at 5:25 PM ^

I'm glad you've discovered at least one twitter account.  Doesn't make your argument any stronger, but hey, good job on figuring out how to embed stuff!

I doubt you'll respond with anything useful, but for fun I looked at the actual comparative years in terms of age between Jordan and LeBron, and LeBron has a much better VORP (113 to 94.5), wins shares (200.2 to 188.6), and effectively the same PER (28.6 to 28.7).

But as you said, #StatsAreMean, as is apparently #DoingYourOwnWorkAndNotTrustingTwitter.


May 10th, 2018 at 1:59 PM ^

Lebron made his first finals on possibly the WORST finals team in the history of the NBA.  

Everyone talks about LeBron's hand picked all star teams.  What exactly has anyone that played with LBJ done without him? 

Carlos Boozer = Nothing

Zidrunas Ilguaskus. (dont care how he spells it.)  Nothing

Dwayne Wade.  Ok 1

Chris Bosh = Has he ever won a playoff series without LBJ?

Kyrie Irving = Same question?


Does anyone recall a guy getting the finals MVP for guarding LBJ and holding him to just shy of a triple double average?  That was considered highly successful!!!!

There are dozens of people in this thread claiming that MJ made his teammates better and LBJ just joins good teams.  HE IS THE TEAM.

Everyone talks about how physical the game was back then.  Are you kidding me?  Can you imagine a fight between Boogie Cousins and Bill Lambeer?  

I am old enough to remember MJ in all his greatness.  I argued on his side for years.  The time has come to pass the torch, the discussion is over.

Go watch videos of 80s basketball, it is hilarious when you look at the skills and athletecism.  Basketball today is SO FAR beyond that.


May 10th, 2018 at 1:19 PM ^

One on One, LBJ has the edge as half court favors the larger player (Kareem beat Dr J 12-7 though Doc was clearly more athletic). Mentally MJ has the edge as he never checked out in the finals the way LBJ did vs. Dallas the 1st year with the Heat(rumored because teammate Delonte West was seeing LBJ's mom). 


May 10th, 2018 at 11:04 AM ^

A subject addressed on every sports talk show and podcast every single day of the week.  Let me know when the answer isn't generational or a means of proof arises.


May 10th, 2018 at 11:04 AM ^

If I had one spot on my team for either Jordan or Lebron, I would choose Lebron.  The dude can singlehandedly raise his team from garbage to contender.  Jordan was not similarly dominant.

Whole Milk

May 10th, 2018 at 11:32 AM ^

Convenient that you left off Hall of Famers Pippen and Rodman and included Lebron's best two teammates. I tend to slightly lean in the Lebron camp because I am a believer that athleticism has gotten so much better over time.

But if I am debating who has had better teams, I honestly don't think it is close. Lebron left an NBA finals team with the best record in the league in 2010, the next year, that same Cavs team had the second worst record in the league. Everyone wants to mention the Big 3 and how great they were. After Lebron left the Heat, they finished 8 games below .500 and finished 10th in the East. 

MJ on the otherhand, "retired" for a year and a half. The Bulls while he was gone were 55-27, and finished third in the East.

To me, it seems simple. Lebron turns bad teams into contenders. Jordan made really good teams elite. 


May 10th, 2018 at 11:53 AM ^

don't know that Rodman was that substantial of an upgrade from Horace Grant.  He was a very good defender and rebounder but so was Grant, who could also score far more effectively than Rodman.  Don't get me wrong, Rodman was a great player, but it was very late in his career as well.  He played a very limited role the last year they won the title.

I actually think that Kukoc and Ron Harper were bigger difference makers for Jordan than Rodman was.  Kukoc and Jordan played a mean two man game with MJ posting and kicking to Kukoc to drain threes if he faced a double.  Additionally, Harper could post smaller PGs and kick out and rotate to MJ for open threes if help was needed on Harper.

Jordan-Kukoc-Pippen ran the triangle offense better than any other team before or after.  Portions of those Bulls games from 1996 to 1998 were incredible to watch.

Whole Milk

May 10th, 2018 at 12:00 PM ^

I realize that he was only there for the second 3-peat, but if we are going to argue that Rodman was there to provide MJ with the help he needed, doesn't that contradict the whole argument of making the people around him better? My point was that Jordan played with loaded teams, but because they were built organically, people tend to discredit how good they were. Lebron had to leave Cleveland to play with his superstar sidekick, MJ had his the whole time. 


May 10th, 2018 at 2:08 PM ^

Look at the quality of teams the Bulls had to go through to get to the finals, every year they went. Now compare against what LJ's teams have had to play against. Outside of Golden State, the old school Bull's teams would have destroyed all of them. And probably GS too. 

Whole Milk

May 10th, 2018 at 2:22 PM ^

I'm with you that the East has been largely pretty weak over the last 10 years or so, but that is out of the control of Lebron, and it's not like he is losing to those teams either, seeing as how he is likely going to his 8th straight NBA finals. And, I think your opinion that the Bulls team would detroy this golden state team is a sign that your bias is getting in the way of reasonable thought. The Golden State team of this year and last is probably the best team of all time. They beat Jordan's record for best record of all time.. Then added Kevin Durant and preceded to absolutely dominate everyone last season. Maybe the 90's bulls make it a series, hell, they may even win. But to say they would probably "destroy" them is borderline laughable.

panthera leo fututio

May 10th, 2018 at 5:20 PM ^

The road to the finals for the '97 Bulls included wins over a trash Bullets team (forgive me Chris & Juwan), a Hawks team built around Mookie Blaylock & Christian Laettner, and a Heat team featuring old-ass Tim Hardaway and a 23-year-old Voshon Leonard as their 3rd best player. That path is an absolute garbage fire that at least half-a-dozen teams this year could sleepwalk through. '97 isn't the only example.

panthera leo fututio

May 10th, 2018 at 7:47 PM ^

In '98, they beat a terrible Nets team (Keith Van Horn was their best player), a bad Charlotte team (past-prime Rice, Muggsy, Mase), and then beat a good-not-great Pacers team in 7 -- a team that wasn't nearly as good as this year's Rockets and would match up unfavorably with this year's Pelicans.

In '96 they rolled through bad-to-mediocre Heat and Knicks teams before sweeping an admittedly impressive Magic squad. Point for Jordan's comp here, BUT I think you could argue that Shaq already had a foot out the door in this series (he left for LA that offseason), and that that Magic still compares unfavorably to teams like this year's Rockets or the 2016 Thunder.

In '93, they rolled through a terrible Hawks team, a mediocre Cavs team (Nance was old, Price couldn't even guard anyone back then, and Daugherty likes NASCAR), and then took 6 games to beat a Knicks team that I swear wasn't that good -- Ewing was a defensive presence but was never a particularly efficient scorer, and nobody will ever convince me that Starks was ever good.

'92 was the same story: Bulls beat bad Heat team, so-so Knicks team in 7, and then that same Cavs team in 6 -- a team that just wouldn't be able to match up with many playoff teams in today's NBA

'91 more of same, beating Pistons in conf finals. Say what you will, but that Pistons team was clearly fading from championship peak, was weaker than the stronger non-Warriors/non-Bron teams of the past half decade


G. Gulo of the Dale

May 10th, 2018 at 1:26 PM ^

I don't disagree with your general point--the loss of Lebron had a significant impact on the post-Lebron Heat--but their '14-15 team finished so poorly in large part because Wade and Bosh missed significant time--namely 58 games--due to injuiries.  So their squad was not simply the previous year's team minus Lebron.


May 10th, 2018 at 1:16 PM ^

Are you serious?  If so, can I ask you how old you are?  Did you watch MJ?  

Over an 8-year span, he won 2 sets of three championships each!  Take a look at the rosters those teams:

The first three-peat had Jordan and Pippen and . . . the following, who each played around or over 20 minutes a game:  BJ Armstrong, Bill Cartright (ancient version), Horace Grant, John Paxson, Rodney McCray and Scott Williams.

He took that collection of crap to THREE STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPS.  

Most of the same cast - including Pippen - came back the next two years when Jordan retired and guess what happened?  They didn't even make it to the finals - they lost to Eastern Conference teams that DIDN'T EVEN WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP.  Almost the identical case.

After his two years off, Jordan came back in 1996 and guess what happened?  Three straight NBA Championships again.  This time, his cast of contributors included (aside from Pippen an Jordan) such superstar talent as Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley (as a starter!!) and Bill Wellinhton.  The only other talented player who he had was Dennis Rodman (who was a dominent rebounder, but contributed 5 points a game).  

Tell me again how Jordan could not singlehandedly raise his team from garbat to contender?


May 10th, 2018 at 1:53 PM ^

seriously underrate Scottie Pippen.  I agree somewhat with your overall point, and I take MJ in this debate too, but the Bulls were hardly garbage without him.   When he left in 1994, they played the Knicks to 7 games in the Eastern Conference semis and only lost on one of the all time worst foul calls in the history of the NBA.  That Knicks team beat the Pacers and ended up losing to the Rockets in 7.  The Bulls were good that year, very good actually.  Scotty Pippen averaged 23-9-7-3(!), won the NBA All Star MVP, was unanimous All NBA first team, and finished 3rd in MVP voting.

Before the 95 season started, they lost Horace Grant, Bill Cartright, and John Paxton, also.  Yes, the 95 team was going to suck if MJ hadn't come back but that is because they lost nearly their entire starting 5 off their championship roster by that point.


May 10th, 2018 at 11:06 AM ^

I love how people shit on LeBron for switching teams and being a so-called 'diva', but ignore the fact that MJ had to leave the sport in his prime because he was gambling on the games.


May 10th, 2018 at 11:30 AM ^

over 25 years since Jordan retired and returned and there is not one single shred of evidence that him leaving the game had anything to do with his gambling or was otherwise a coverup.  And what exactly would Jordan taking off 1.5 years of basketball accomplish for a coverup?  What would be the point?

It is all inuendo without any basis in fact that I have seen.  It is something that people have come to simply "assume" without any factual basis for the belief.  Unless anybody can point to anything tangible that would tend to prove that Jordan leaving the NBA was any form of coverup for anything, I think that narrative should be shelved. 


May 10th, 2018 at 11:41 AM ^

me something.  Show me a police report or interview that links Jordan to his father's death.  Show me an excerpt of an internal memorandum or email from the NBA or the Bulls.  Show me an odd puzzling statement from David Stern.  Hell, you don't even have to show me, just refer to something, anything to back up the theory that Michael Jordan's retirement in 93 had anything to do with his gambling or any demand from the Bulls or the League for him to step away.  It does not even make logical sense.


May 10th, 2018 at 11:22 AM ^

teams and being a "diva" are two different things, and only the switching teams is relevant to this conversation.  Jordan endured very difficult times early in his career having to build a team from the ground up.  Jordan "brought up" players like Scotty Pippen, Horace Grant, and BJ Armstrong.  He molded the team around him into a championship team, whereas James bailed on Cleveland and joined a "super-team" to win a title.  That is relevant to the conversation.

As to who is actually a better basketball player, it is too difficult to judge.  Very different players, very different eras.  Having watched both of them throughout their career, if I have first pick on the playground, I'm taking Jordan.