Lebron Jamesand Michael Jordan are the two greatest players in NBA history, but if you compare them strictly as scorers, Jordan is almost undeniably the superior talent. Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game over 15 NBA seasons, compared to "only" 27.2 for James in his 20s. At his peak, Jordan averaged over 37 points per game. James has a personal best of 31.4. James is the better passer and rebounder of the two. He is a defensive serve. But if you need a bucket, you would take Jordan without a second thought.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Jordan has never seriously fought for it.NBAall time record. He finished his career some 6,000 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, it is James who became the better man on Tuesday. Plus, he'll probably score a few thousand more points now before he finally hangs up his Nikes and turns a record most thought likely would never be broken into one that never will. How did this happen? Why didn't Jordan, considered the leading scorer in NBA history, break Abdul-Jabbar's record? Well, there were a few factors at play. In short, circumstances lined up for James in a way that they didn't for Jordan.
Longevity: Jordan hasn't played enough
We covered one of the basic explanations of Jordan's career numbers in the first paragraph. He played 15 seasons. James is 20 years old and counts. Two of those Jordan seasons came while he was playing for themago de washington, after his second retirement from the NBA when he was past his physical prime. Overall, that means James had possibly seven additional seasons with superior physical skills to work with. Part of it is in Jordan. Some of it was just timing.
Let's start with the obvious. James came to the NBA at the age of 18. Jordan made his debut at 21. Technically, Jordan could have tried to start his career right out of high school, but he wouldn't have been smart. Moses Malone was the only player Jordan made the jump from high school to professional basketball when he was a teenager, even in the ABA and not the NBA. While there was more than one precedent for Jordan, he wasn't exactly sure at this stage of his career.
Jordan didn't play college basketball until his junior year of high school. By then, James had already been proclaimed "The One" on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He would have been No. 1 overall for years before finally becoming eligible to declare. Jordan became a top prospect over time, but he came to North Carolina as a skinny teenager with a blown jump shot. Even if he had made it to the NBA at 18, it would have taken him years of development to become a superstar. He averaged more than 27 points per game as a rookie, but remember James was averaging 31.4 points at the age of 21. LeBron grew up in an era more favorable to high school stars, but he also had significant physical advantages over a young Jordan. That gap closed over time, but it explains the advantage James had.
This clue was beyond Jordan's control. However, we should point out that he missed his season at age 30 and most of his season at age 31 due to a mid-career retirement. He finally retired at 35, skipping his season at 36 and 37. In his heyday, Jordan was averaging about 2,500 points per season. He gives him back all those years and he'll probably set a record that James would still chase.
Shooting: Jordan arrived before the 3-point revolution
Here's a chilling stat: Jordan has only had 581 career 3-pointers. James made 621 in his time as a solo Laker. James was the more accurate 3-point shooter, making 34.4 percent of his career attempts to Jordan's 32.7 percent, but that difference is relatively small. When it comes to volume, the difference adds up. James has scored 4,968 more from behind the arc than Jordan so far.
Almost everything is due to volume. James himself has tried to more than triple the number of 3-pointers, which Jordan did, but that's largely down to league-wide trends. Averagenba teamhe attempted 12.7 3 points per game in Jordan's final season with theBullen. Bothstefano curryYjames stiffenthey've had individual seasons where they've attempted just as many 3-pointers. The average team in the NBA today attempts approximately 34.2 3-pointers per game.
This has a number of ripple effects that were significant to Jordan's overall score. If he had lived in an NBA that favored 3-point shooting, he might have developed that skill himself. Even if he hadn't, he probably would have benefited from the distance enjoyed by modern ball handlers. Of course, James didn't benefit from the league's old scorer-friendly illegal defense rules, so both players had their own obstacles to overcome.
If you look at Jordan's stats, you'll notice a slight increase in his 3-point shots between 1994 and 1997. During that span, Jordan attempted 3.1 3-pointers per game and made 40.4 percent of them. Because? Because the NBA cut 3-pointers short during that stretch to try to lean the game toward offense. This should give you an idea of what Jordan might have been like in a more shooter-friendly NBA. He never wanted to be a high-volume 3-point shooter, but when the league encouraged shooting, he did it at a very high level.
Scheme: The triangle was designed to contain Jordan
When Jordan was in college, it was often said that the only person who could keep him under 20 was Dean Smith. His North Carolina coach was known for demanding movement of the ball at the expense of individual numbers. To some extent, Phil Jackson promoted the same ideas. When he took over the Bulls in 1990, he wasfamous challengedJordannoto win the scoring title. The logic was that top scorers don't win NBA championships and if more happened, it would keep his teammates busy.
Playing this way was never a challenge for James. He only won a single goalscoring title. Jordan won 10. If he had played for a coach who allowed him to keep scoring 35 goals a game every year, he might have even come close to the goalscoring record with a shorter career. Instead, with Jackson, his scoring dropped by about two points per game overall and about six points from his peak. He doesn't complain. Jackson helped him win six championships. But Jordan didn't score as many goals in his prime as he probably could have.
Of course, the same could be said for James. He put that verbatim on the recordhe believeshe could win the scoring title every year. Maybe you don't have a choice. Maybe not because Jordan was a better scorer. But when a player wins 10 scoring titles and another, it's easier to believe in the 10-time winner climbing under the right circumstances than the one-time winner doing so. Jordan's natural state was to score. James must score and pass. Both may have left points on the table, but it's hard to argue that James left more of them there.
What didn't matter: it was
Yes, we've covered some era-specific issues so far, but here's one important thing to clear up: it wasn't harder to score during the Jordan Era. Due to some special teams, the Jordan era in NBA history has developed a reputation for being slow, ugly, and defensive-oriented. That was true in parts, but not in everything. The same goes for the James era. He just moved in different directions for each of them.
The average NBA team scored 107.6 points per 100 possessions during Jordan's rookie year and 103.6 during James's, according to Jordan.basketball reference. The league began moving toward defense throughout Jordan's career, and it stayed there at the start of LeBron's. The same is largely true for tempo. The average NBA pace of play during Jordan's rookie year was 102.1 possessions per team, compared with 91 when James arrived. As his career progressed, those numbers evened out. Let's take a look at the numbers.
average offensive rating
The NBA was generally slower during LeBron's career than it was during Jordan's, and, on average, offenses during the James era were only marginally better than they were in the Jordan era. This may seem counterintuitive given the reputation many of Jordan's opponents had for bare-knuckle fighting, but remember, Jordan came along in 1984. At the time, the NBA was one of them.magicJohnson and Larry Bird, perhaps the two greatest fast-break leaders in NBA history. The NBA champions in LeBron's rookie year were thepiston detroit, who frequently won games by holding opponents under 80 points.
This is a huge narrative error in evaluating their runs. Ultimately, there is no Jordan era or James era. The runs there were long and significant enough to span multiple time periods and styles of play. The game changed because of his presence. They both watched every style of basketball imaginable. Jordan may not have played during the 3-Point Revolution, but he saw a facsimile when the league shortened the line. James may have won championships for him in an open NBA, but he grew up with defenses almost as physical as Jordan plays.
The NBA's offense has only really increased in recent seasons. The current league average offensive rating of 114.3 is small, where it was at any time in the Jordan era. Last season, however, James spent with theCaballero, was at 108.6, right near the top of Jordan's career. If he's arguing that Jordan would have averaged 40 or 50 points per game had he played in modern times based on the goal stats generated that season, then he probably has to argue that a younger James could probably have something like that. So.LakersLeBron is the worst LeBron. If his version of him today can average 30 points per game, just imagine what his 2012 self would be doing in today's game.
Hoyis the keyword there. The league James currently plays in is not the one he has spent his entire career in and James simply had a number of advantages over Jordan that allowed him to surpass Kareem and become the all-time top scorer.
Is Michael Jordan or LeBron James better? ›
Despite James being the all-time leading scorer, Jordan is a ten-time scoring champion. Jordan is also a much better player on defense, winning the 1988 Defensive Player of the Year and being named to the All-Defensive First Team ten times, while James has only been on the first team five times.Why Michael Jordan is better than LeBron? ›
Jordan has 6 final MVPs while LeBron has 4. MJ has 10 scoring titles to Lebron's 1 scoring title. Michael Jordan has 5 MVPs, while LeBron has 4. Michael Jordan is also the only one of the two to win Defensive Player of the Year (winning it in 1988).Who is technically the best basketball player of all time? ›
- Shaquille O'Neal. ...
- Larry Bird. ...
- Bill Russell. ...
- Oscar Robertson. ...
- Wilt Chamberlain. ...
- Magic Johnson. ...
- Michael Jordan. ...
- LeBron James. LeBron James Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.
James has one season scoring title to his name (2008), compared to Jordan who has a staggering 10 season scoring titles. Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game in his career, the highest mark in NBA history. James is fifth on that list with 27.23 points per game, behind Kevin Durant's 27.28.Who is a better shooter LeBron or Jordan? ›
Shooting. LeBron James has really improved his prowess as a shooter since he entered the league out of high school, but even on his best day couldn't touch the impeccable finesse of Jordan. Jordan, a career 49.7 percent shooter from the floor, has a slight edge over LeBron, who checks in at 47.9 percent in his career.Who is the better 3 point shooter LeBron or Jordan? ›
Jordan was a career 32.7% three-point shooter, while James has made a slightly better 34.4%.