Opinion: Brandon’s World – Move over Michael Jordan, there’s a new ‘GOAT’ in town

Brandon Lewis Columnist

GOAT: an acronym used in sports to describe who is the greatest of all time. Since LeBron James entered high school in 1999, he has been compared to Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. For years, Jordan has widely been considered the GOAT by many basketball fans and analysts, but slowly over time, James has started to make his own argument.

On Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, I believe James cemented his legacy as the GOAT after winning his fourth NBA Championship.

James’ Lakers defeated the underdog Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6, taking the series 4-2. In the series, James led the Lakers in all statistical categories. 

The championship improved James’ record in The Finals to 4-6. Jordan finished his career with six wins in six tries in The Finals with six MVP’s, including two three-peats.

However, James’s four championship wins are more impressive than Jordan’s six.

In 2010, James announced on live television he would leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join his friends Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami. The way James went about his free-agent choice is still, to this day, one of the most controversial acts by a superstar in the history of sports. James was now a villain, and he did not succeed in his first season in a Miami uniform, losing in The Finals to the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 after winning two out of the first three games. James’s performances in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the series are widely regarded as the “biggest superstar meltdown in NBA history”. 

For James, a meltdown includes averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the last three games of the series, and 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists on 48% shooting from the field for the series. For context, 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard averaged 18 points, six rebounds and two assists on 61% shooting and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Igoludola averaged 16 points, six rebounds and four assists on 52% shooting from the field.

James recovered from the “epic meltdown” in 2011, winning three out of the next five Finals (2012, 2013 and 2016) while appearing in all five and winning MVP in all three wins. He could have won the MVP in 2015. Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving by his side in Cleveland, James averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in the six-game series against the Golden State Warriors, and he led both teams in all statistical categories for the series.

For many, the James vs. Jordan debate ends with the ring count. Jordan has six rings whereas James has four. Case closed.

However, it’s not that simple.

Jordan’s Bulls were great teams. They were favorited in all six Finals appearances. They won over 60 games in the regular season in five of their six championship seasons and had home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in four of the six seasons. The 1995-1996 team finished the regular season with a 72-10 record, the second-best regular-season record in NBA history (the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors broke the Bulls record with a 73-9 record). 

On the contrary, James has only had the No. 1 seed three times during the seasons in which he made the Finals (2013, 2016 and 2020), winning the title all three times (the only three times he’s had home-court advantage throughout the playoffs). James has only been favored entering a Finals series three times (2011, 2013 and 2020). 

Jordan’s hardest Finals opponent was the Utah Jazz, led by Hall of Famers Karl “Mailman” Malone and John Stockton. Jordan faced the dynamic duo in two straight Finals (1997 and 1998).

Jame’s hardest Finals opponent has been the Warriors. James’s Cavs battled the Warriors in four straight NBA Finals (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018), the two teams becoming the first matchup in NBA history to meet in four straight Finals. In 2015 and 2016, the Warriors were led by the dynamic future Hall of Fame backcourt in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, arguably the greatest backcourt in NBA history. After James led his hometown Cavs to a 3-1 comeback against the Warriors in 2016 (the Cavs became the first team in NBA Finals history to overcome a 3-1 deficit), the Warriors acquired eight-time All-NBA star forward Kevin Durant via free agency. Durant is considered by some as the best player in the NBA. With the addition of Durant, the 2017 and 2018 versions of the Warriors are considered by some as the best teams ever constructed in the history of the NBA. 

When comparing the two icons, it’s not just about Finals appearances. Stats do matter as well. In 15 career seasons (13 with the Bulls and two with the Washington Wizards), Jordan averaged 30 points, six rebounds and five assists. If you take out his two seasons in Washington in 2002 and 2003 (Jordan’s first action in three seasons), Jordan averaged 32 points, six rebounds and five assists per game over a 13-year career in Chicago.

In Jordan’s last season in Chicago in 1998, he averaged 29 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. In the playoffs, he upped his scoring to 32 points a game, to go along with five rebounds and four assists. He earned Finals MVP by averaging 34 points (including 45 in the clincher, Game 6), two rebounds and four assists at age 34.  

In year 17, James looked more unstoppable than ever, averaging 25 points, eight rebounds and a career-high 11 assists. In the playoffs, James nearly averaged a triple-double, upping his scoring average to nearly 28 points per game, to go along with 11 rebounds and nine assists. He earned Finals MVP by averaging 30 points (including 40 in Game 5), 12 rebounds and nine assists at age 35.

While Jordan tops James in points scored, James undoubtedly tops Jordan in the rebounding and assist departments.

While their Finals success definitely matters, their individual accolades also need to come into play when comparing the two. 

Jordan, including the postseason, played in 1,251 games. He has made nine game-winning shots (three in the postseason). He led the league 10 times in scoring and three times in steals. He recorded 30 triple-doubles (28 regular season and two postseason). He’s second in the league all-time in postseason points scored and 28th in all-time minutes played. He has five regular-season Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards and six NBA Finals MVPs.

James, including the postseason, has played 1,265 games. He has made seven game-winning shots (five in the postseason). He’s led the league in scoring once (2007-2008). He’s recorded 94 triple-doubles in his career (66 regular season and 28 postseason, including 11 in The Finals). He’s first in postseason points scored (7,463, 1,476 more points than Jordan and counting) and eighth in total minutes played (and first in postseason minutes played). He has four regular-season MVP awards and four Finals MVPs. 

While Jordan has the upper hand on James in scoring titles, James dominates Jordan in the triple-double and minutes departments. James also has the upper hand in postseason game-winning shots and postseason points.

To top it all off, with his 2020 championship with the Lakers, James became the first player in NBA history to win three NBA Finals and three Finals MVPs with three different teams (Heat, Cavs and Lakers). James has won titles with three different co-stars: Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis, all while bringing the team he was on at the time back to relevance. Jordan never won an NBA Championship without Scottie Pippen by his side.

James is in line to finish his career leading the league in points, minutes played, playoff assists, MVP awards and Finals MVP awards if he plays four to five more seasons, pushing him to age 40, and wins two more championships. 

It’s a lot to ask out of James, but if one man can do it, it’s James. He’s only been injured one time in his whole career, and he’s been known as the “ironman” of the NBA.

Some may think James still has work to do to surpass Jordan as the GOAT, and even though James has more work to do in terms of his individual accomplishments, he’s already got one huge accomplishment out of the way: The ghost in Chicago has disappeared. 

James is now on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore as the greatest basketball player of all time, and much like Tom Brady in the NFL, we are lucky enough to be witnesses to his greatness.

Brandon Lewis is a columnist. Email him at [email protected]


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.