Sports Take: Lebron James falls short in G.O.A.T debate

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (6) looks to pass during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Tuesday in New York. The Lakers won 129-123 in overtime. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

There’s no bigger debate in basketball than the good old G.O.A.T. conversation. Especially in recent times with the continuation of Lebron James’ unheard of longevity. I’m here to remind you that even when he breaks the all-time scoring record, he’s still not going to be better than Michael Jordan.

James is just a few games away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabaar for most points ever scored in a single career. For a lot of people, this achievement is the one that finally gets James over that hill and makes him the greatest ever. But whatever way you see it, we can probably agree on this point: this accolade isn’t going to change your mind on who the G.O.A.T. is.

James already passed Jordan in all-time scoring total a couple of years ago, so him passing Abdul-Jabaar doesn’t change my mind. I’m not trying to downplay the achievement, because it’s an amazing milestone and James deserves all the flowers coming his way. The 38-year-old is a top-two player of all-time, but even if he’s right up there with Jordan, he doesn’t clear the Chicago Bulls legend.

Jordan retired three times, finished with more championships, more Most Valuable Player awards and more Finals MVPs. Jordan also leads the league’s history with most points per game, a mark of 31.1, for a career and most points per game in the playoffs with 33.45 for his postseason career.

The usual argument is that James is the better all-around player because he’s a better passer and defender. I’ll quickly give up the passing argument, as James is up there with the best passers of all time. However, I will say Jordan is a very underrated passer and when he was given the role of point-guard he had 10 triple-doubles in 11 games.

The better defender argument is the least convincing argument in favor of James because of the overstated “he can guard all five positions” ideology. This is such an exhausted argument, because yes, he physically can guard everyone on the floor and not be outmatched in a crazy way, but can you name one actual center that James could seriously guard for an entire game? Throughout the 2010s when there was a severe lack of elite bigs, James would do just fine if switched onto a center, but let’s not act like he was guarding Shaquille O’Neal.

I would say Jordan is a much superior perimeter defender, and James isn’t much better off than Jordan is in the post trying to guard an elite big. For their defensive careers, Jordan averages more steals per game (2.3 versus 1.5) and they both are sitting at 0.8 blocks per game. Jordan has nine All-Defensive First Team selections to James’ six, including Jordan’s 1988 season where he claimed league MVP, All-Star MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.

One thing that is more important to me than the majority of stats and accolades: the infamous eye test. I’ve grown up watching James’ career every step of the way, and he continues to amaze me even in year 20. From tape alone, I can tell you I didn’t need to be alive for Jordan’s reign to see that in terms of the eye test; it’s Jordan and then everyone else. In almost every aspect of the game, I’ve never seen anyone better.

Outside of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anyone comes close to Jordan’s scoring ability. His ability to finish at the rim is unparalleled, whether he does the most acrobatic and absurd layup or decides to just dunk on anyone and everyone in the paint, he’s finding a way to score. The touch on his mid-range shots mixed in with his elite footwork and handles meant he can get to and convert from any spot on the floor. When the media said “he can’t shoot threes,” he hit six from beyond the arc in the first half of a finals game, and proceeded to shrug it off.

I’ll leave it off on this note. Larry Bird is one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball, he easily should be in everyone’s top 5-10. The 1986 Celtics went 67-15, including a record of 40-1 at home. Bird had just won his third-consecutive MVP, and Jordan only played 18 games in the regular season due to a broken foot. When they met in the playoffs at Boston, Jordan set the NBA record for most points ever scored in a single playoff game at 63, which still stands today. After the performance, the three-time reigning MVP who was notorious for talking all the trash under the sun, Bird sang the highest praise for the second-year player.

“That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there,” Bird said. “That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”