Why LeBron catching Kareem does not make him better than Jordan

LeBron James, Michael Jordan (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
LeBron James, Michael Jordan (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images) /
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There is no denying LeBron James’ greatness. The fact that he is on the verge of yet another career milestone on his 20th year in the NBA, despite the Lakers’ disastrous start to the season, speaks volumes.

James is currently second in the all-time scoring list, and 1,076 points away from catching Kareem Adbul-Jabbar’s record 38,387 career points. Some may see this chase as a distraction from the Lakers’ struggles, but looking at the way James moves at this point in his career, it is not a farfetched idea and could happen sooner than later.

With the possibilities teasing the fans, a never-ending discussion suddenly resurfaces — Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Who is the greatest of all time? The majority of fans would agree that Jordan has cemented his spot as the GOAT, although LeBron is the undisputed runner-up. However, LeBron devotees such as Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe would argue otherwise. The prospect of LeBron James becoming the all-time top scorer, should he achieve it, will surely be another point of argument.

However, LeBron James achieving this feat will not give him an edge over Michael Jordan. With another layer potentially being added to this narrative, it warrants another visit to this subject.

Talk About Numbers

“Numbers don’t lie” is the equivalent of John 3:16 for a lot of sports fans. So we first look at the most frequently cited source in any sports debate. In career averages during the regular season, they are fairly close in all categories. Jordan edges LeBron in points, steals, and free throw shooting while LeBron gets the nod in rebounds, assists, field goals, and three-point averages. The same goes for their playoff appearances. It is important to note the stalemate in blocks and that LeBron turns the ball over more than Jordan. Advanced statistics show that Jordan had a higher efficiency rating while LeBron has higher win shares (regular season and playoffs).

It is fun to look at numbers and compare how well these individuals scored, passed, and rebounded. However, looking at stat sheets can not be the sole basis when arguing about greatness. You have to factor in the eras in which they played, who they competed against, and how well did they do when the odds were against them.

The numbers sure don’t lie but how telling are they at the end of the day? You have to look at the bigger picture. Yes, LeBron has edged Jordan in most individual statistics, but basketball is a team sport. Clocking in huge numbers will not amount to anything if your team is losing.

Next, let’s take a look at other kinds of success.