NBA: Why LeBron James and not Kobe Bryant Will Unseat Michael Jordan As Best Ever

LeBron James

Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr.com)

Michael Jordan has long been the gold standard of NBA players. His resume reads like a glossary of NBA awards. He won the Rookie of the Year after winning all three major college Player of the Year awards. He’s been in 14 All-Star games, with three All-Star MVP’s. He’s won six NBA championships and was the Finals MVP in all six. He’s won league MVP five times. He’s even won a Defensive Player of the Year to go with his nine All-Defensive first team selections.

By many, Jordan is considered the best player to ever lace up a pair of…well, Jordans. Even though Jordan had an inordinate amount of media assistance in his meteoric rise to the top, he also had the game to back it up. The truth is there will never be another Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

With that said, can LeBron James unseat him as arguably the best to ever play the game?

First, let’s take a look at the three of them as a whole. Jordan and Bryant have obvious advantages here as Jordan’s career is over and Bryant’s is coming to an end. Still, let’s look at their raw career totals:

Rk Player G MP FG% 3P% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Kobe Bryant 1215 44449 .454 .336 .838 1413 5016 6429 5718 1796 609 3624 3113 30933
2 LeBron James 739 29421 .488 .336 .746 914 4437 5351 5097 1277 625 2447 1410 20410
3 Michael Jordan* 1072 41011 .497 .327 .835 1668 5004 6672 5633 2514 893 2924 2783 32292
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/18/2013.
Rk Player G MP FG% 3P% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Kobe Bryant 1215 36.6 .454 .336 .838 1.2 4.1 5.3 4.7 1.5 0.5 3.0 2.6 25.5
2 LeBron James 739 39.8 .488 .336 .746 1.2 6.0 7.2 6.9 1.7 0.8 3.3 1.9 27.6
3 Michael Jordan* 1072 38.3 .497 .327 .835 1.6 4.7 6.2 5.3 2.3 0.8 2.7 2.6 30.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/18/2013.
Rk Player G MP PER TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg WS WS/48
1 Kobe Bryant 1215 44449 23.4 .555 .487 8.2 24.0 2.1 1.0 11.5 31.7 112 105 169.6 .183
2 LeBron James 739 29421 27.5 .573 .521 10.7 34.1 2.3 1.6 12.1 31.7 115 102 145.6 .238
3 Michael Jordan* 1072 41011 27.9 .569 .509 9.4 24.9 3.1 1.4 9.3 33.3 118 103 214.0 .250
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/18/2013.
Rk Player G MP FG% 3P% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Kobe Bryant 220 39.3 .448 .331 .816 1.0 4.0 5.1 4.7 1.4 0.7 2.9 3.0 25.6
2 LeBron James 115 43.4 .469 .312 .745 1.6 7.1 8.7 6.7 1.7 0.9 3.6 2.4 28.5
3 Michael Jordan* 179 41.8 .487 .332 .828 1.7 4.7 6.4 5.7 2.1 0.9 3.1 3.0 33.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/18/2013.
Looking at these totals it’s easy to see why Jordan is currently considered the best basketball player of the three. He’s also the most accomplished, while James is the most athletic and perhaps Bryant is the closest thing in terms of accomplishments and competitive nature to Jordan.

From a purely offensive standpoint, it’s James that’s closest to Jordan at this point in his career. Don’t forget that James is in the prime of his career right now. Barring major injury, his prime is going to last at least the next five years before he starts to fall off.
Let’s get back to those accomplishments for a second. James is in his 10th season, at age 28. Let’s take another look at those stats of each player through their ninth seasons in the NBA:
Rk Player G MP FG% 3P% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Kobe Bryant 627 21962 .452 .333 .831 807 2402 3209 2788 912 401 1780 1673 14034
2 LeBron James 689 27497 .483 .331 .746 852 4091 4943 4751 1194 582 2299 1329 19045
3 Michael Jordan* 667 25842 .516 .301 .846 1131 3088 4219 3935 1815 684 2006 1944 21541
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/18/2013.

Ah, yes. Things are starting to come into focus a bit more. Jordan still stands out with his tremendous scoring output, but you can see that Bryant didn’t really kick things into gear as quickly as James. In addition, note the rebounding and assist totals that go along with James’ complete game.

For those that value awards, we’ll take a look at each award and how each player had fared through their ninth season:
NBA Championship
Jordan 3, Bryant 3, James 1
NBA Finals MVP’s
Jordan 3, James 1, Bryant 0
NBA MVP’s
Jordan 3, James 3, Bryant 0
NBA All-Star Selections
Jordan 9, James 8, Bryant 7
NBA All-Star MVP’s
James 2, Jordan 1, Bryant 1
NBA Defensive Player of the Year
Jordan 1, Bryant 0, James 0
All-NBA Team
Jordan 8, James 8, Bryant 7
All-Defensive Team
Jordan 6, Bryant 5, James 4
Again, we can plainly see that Jordan holds a fairly commanding lead with James coming in second. If James can have the same kind of career arc that Bryant has had, he has the best chance to unseat Jordan as the best to ever play.
Of course, critics will always point to those championship totals. With Jordan at six and Bryant at five, there’s still a LONG ways to go for James and his one.
If James wins four titles and continues at a similar pace, his raw numbers will dwarf those of  both Jordan and Bryant. He’s an ironman that rarely gets injured and always plays big minutes. When we attend James’ retirement ceremony in 2020 and look at his tremendous combination of speed, power and grace, it will be him and not Bryant that stands above Jordan in the totem pole of NBA lore.

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Topics: Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, NBA

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  • Frankie Hobbs

    LeBron won’t unseat MJ, come on Dunlap!

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