LeBron James is grossly underrated in Michael Jordan GOAT debate
The five-week Michael Jordan love story, “Last Dance,” was convincing.
An ESPN poll surveying NBA fans following the conclusion of their documentary Sunday showed a landslide victory for Jordan as the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) over LeBron James.
Despite the glow factor from a sensational series that enraptured the country during the coronavirus lockdown, here is the Last Word.
King James’ career is as good as Jordan’s now — and he has a chance to dance into “GOAT’’ territory outright. Jordan owned April/May but James may still reclaim July/August.
James, at 35, is not done. Jordan, at 35, was done. His Airness retired after the 1998 Bulls championship, rather than seek a new challenge. (Let’s ignore Jordan’s clumsy Washington Wizards return at age 38.)
Before the NBA season halted on March 11, many NBA insiders believed the Lakers (49-14) were headed to The Finals. That would make 10 Finals appearances for James – or four more than Jordan.
Bringing the once-dead Lakers to his 10th championship appearance would mark an incredible achievement in a 30-team league.
It’s even more astounding that James would have done it with three different teams and five different head coaches (Mike Brown, Eric Spoelstra, David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Frank Vogel). And he’d have done it amid a distracting social-media minefield Jordan never has to traipse.
Jordan won his six titles with one coach – arguably the best-ever in Phil Jackson. In fact, Jordan retired after the Utah title in ’98 because Jackson wasn’t going to coach him any longer.
Sifting through their statistics, a Jordan-James matchup is similar.
Jordan’s career scoring average was 30.1 points to James’ 27.1 but King James always was the better facilitator and rebounder.
James’ has an assist average of 7.4, compared to Jordan’s 5.3. James holds the rebounding edge, 7.4 to 6.2. James’ FG percentage and 3-point percentage was slightly higher than Jordan’s, too (50.4 to 49.7 and 34.4 to 32.7).
Even in advanced metrics, Jordan has no clear edge in the all-important player efficiency ranking (Jordan is first all time at 27.91. James is second at 27.52.) Still, I’d want Jordan taking the final shot down 1.
The largest argument in James’ favor, however, is what happened when he left the premises. Twice, James bolted the Cavaliers and they crashed. When James left Miami, the Heat melted.
Jordan’s sabbatical in 1993 for baseball didn’t crush the Bulls. They kept chugging along and probably would’ve made the 1994 NBA Finals if not for Hue Hollins’ phantom foul gift to the Knicks and Hubert Davis.
“The Last Dance” ignored the Hollins’ call in its review of the Bulls’ Jordan-free season. Maybe because Jordan was executive producer.
The documentary also skipped the major reason Jordan retired for baseball. According to an NBA source, the one-year leave was Jordan’s message to hated GM Jerry Krause: See if you can win a title with your guy Toni Kukoc.
James never took a break but broke a 52-year sports-championship curse in his native Northeast Ohio. For historical significance, that trumps any of Jordan’s titles. Advancing to eight straight Finals – four with Miami, four with Cleveland – has been underappreciated.
Travis Romeo, one of James’ friends from Akron who played in France with Frank Ntilikina, told The Post in 2018 that Jordan’s six titles to James’ three deserves an asterisk.
“My biggest MJ/Bron argument is the level of the opposite starting 2-guards in The Finals,’’ Romeo said. “Hersey Hawkins, Dan Majerle, Jeff Hornacek. Bron beat Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and the dynasty Warriors for his rings. There’s a lot of nostalgia for Jordan. People act like he only played six years — 6-0 in The Finals. What about the rest of his career?’’
The rest of James’ career lies flush ahead. With an ironman will and mack-truck body, there’s a good chance James will play until 39 and 40 – even if it is to join forces with his son, Bronnie.
Jordan was a terrific role model even if he was not an advocate on racial issues that James became.
James is as good a role model, as good a ballplayer and may fashion the more impressive career when done.
It’s going to make a terrific documentary one day.
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