The debate over who is the NBA’s greatest player of all time may never be settled but some observers could finally be willing to give LeBron James the edge over Michael Jordan after he broke one of the game’s most sacred records this week.
Surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s nearly 40-year-old record as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Tuesday is one of the most notable statistical achievements of the modern era and a testament to James’ sustained dominance.
After etching his name in the annals of NBA history as the all-time scoring leader, the Los Angeles Lakers forward made no secret about where he feels he belongs in the debate about the “GOAT” — a label that refers to the Greatest Of All Time.
“For me personally I am always going to take myself against anybody that has ever played this game, but everyone is going to have their favourite, everyone is going to decide who their favourite is,” James said after Tuesday’s game.
“I know what I bring to the table every single night and what I can do out on this floor. I always feel like I am the best to ever play this game but there are so many other great ones and I am happy just to be part of the journey.”
Since James and Jordan played in different eras and had their own version of obstacles to overcome to achieve greatness in their respective careers, finding a consensus on the “GOAT” seems highly unlikely.
The two players’ careers never overlapped as Jordan retired for the third and final time two months before James was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft.
Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 1,072 regular season games across 15 seasons while James, now in his 20th season, has averaged 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists in 1,410 games during his NBA career.
Those who favour Jordan, who personified greatness on the court, quickly point out that he went a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals, leading the Chicago Bulls to two three-peat performances during the 1990s. James has four titles in 10 NBA Finals trips.
Two months ago the NBA even renamed its Most Valuable Player award after Jordan, who won the trophy given to the regular season MVP five times during his Hall of Fame career. James has been named MVP four times.
Perhaps the most compelling argument in favour of James, who may be the most scrutinized player the NBA has seen, is that he has managed to dominate so many different aspects of the game for all of these years.
At 38, James continues to raise the bar when it comes to what experts think is possible for an elder statesman in a league where the average age at the start of the 2022-23 season was 26-years-old.
When it comes to longevity, James holds a clear advantage and the cushion he holds over Jordan in total career points, assists and rebounds will only widen as he has shown no signs of slowing down.
“It’s tremendous that he can still play like this in Year 20. His athleticism is incredible, and I’m happy for him,” Dallas Mavericks great Dirk Nowitzki said in December. “I always say Michael Jordan is the GOAT. But … I’m sort of running out of arguments for Michael.”
Former NBA coach George Karl, whose teams went up against both Jordan and James, also weighed into the GOAT debate last month. Karl suggested Jordan would have been even more dominant in today’s game amid a league-wide trend in favour of offense.
“Anyone who is debating Michael’s GOAT status doesn’t realize he would average a 40 PPG triple double in the modern game!” Karl, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, wrote on Twitter.