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:
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:
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:
Jordan 3, Bryant 3, James 1
NBA Finals MVP’s
Jordan 3, James 1, Bryant 0
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
Jordan 8, James 8, Bryant 7
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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