There is a cultural divide ripping through American society, and while it has nothing to do with guns or abortion, it still has the capacity to ruin family dinners and holidays.
‘Michael Jordan or LeBron James?’ has become an unavoidable litmus test for basketball fans, pitting one generation against another in a contentious debate that touches on everything from the game itself, to business, fashion, and even film (yes, the Space Jam franchise).
It’s not simply about basketball’s greatest player.
That conversation would need to include mentions of 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer before James broke that record this season.
The problem there is, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar represent vastly different eras of NBA history, making comparisons to modern players difficult, if not impossible.
Icons LeBron James and Michael Jordan share a laugh at the 2022 All-Star game in Cleveland
‘Jordan or James?’ has become an unavoidable litmus test for basketball fans
But James grew up idolizing Jordan and styling his game after his hero, who would retire one year before his rookie season. It’s almost as if James is a sequel or an evolution of the Hall of Famer: The T-1000 to Jordan’s Terminator.
Now, with James reportedly weighing retirement after the Lakers were swept by the Nuggets in the conference finals, DailyMail.com is putting their enviable resumes side by side to measure their respective impacts and determine who is the NBA’s greatest superstar.
Michael Jordan has six NBA titles and LeBron James has four.
For many, the debate between the two ends right there, but such criteria can be problematic: By that standard, seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry is better than Jordan.
Of course, basketball is a team game, and both James and Jordan’s successes are owed, in part, to their teammates.
James’s running mates have included elite players such as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (Miami), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland) and Anthony Davis (Los Angeles), while Jordan has played with Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman, not to mention All-Stars Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, Reggie Theus and Artis Gilmore.
But even given their comparable supporting casts, there is a bit of daylight between Jordan and James when it comes to postseason play.
Jordan’s Bulls went 119-60 (66.4 percent) in playoff games, winning 30 out of 37 postseason series (81.1 percent).
Jordan has six NBA titles compared to James’s four. Of course, James has yet to retire
Most importantly, Jordan’s Bulls went 6-0 in the NBA Finals, winning every series in six or fewer games.
James, meanwhile, is just 4-6 in Finals play, winning 64.5 percent of playoff games and 77.3 percent of postseason series. And while he does deserve credit for consistency (his 282 playoff games are an NBA record), James has been overmatched at times, such as his three Finals defeats at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
Even considering the Cavaliers’ historic comeback in 2016, when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Warriors, Jordan’s aura of postseason invincibility is simply too much for James to overcome.
Due in large part to his 20 NBA seasons – a remarkable accomplishment in itself – James is the league’s all-time leading scorer (38,567 career points), while Jordan ranks first in scoring average at 30.12 points per game.
Similarly, James has scored the most in the postseason (7,491 points), while Jordan ranks first in postseasons scoring average (33.4 points a game).
But whereas Jordan’s offensive contributions were largely centered around scoring, James also ranks as one of the greatest distributors in NBA history as well, sitting fourth all-time in regular-season assists (10,420) and second in the postseason (2,203).
James has an edge in blocks (1,073 to 893), Jordan has more steals (2,514 to 2,186), and both have a number of All-Defensive Team honors.
But while Jordan won NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1988, James has never been voted the game’s best defender.
Furthermore, James has four MVP awards to Jordan’s six – and one can argue that MJ was snubbed in 1993, when Charles Barkley won the award, and again in 1997, when it went to Karl Malone.
Michael Jordan has six MVP awards to James’ four, and also has a Defensive POY honor as well
It’s hard to compete with Jordan’s impact in the apparel industry.
Even two decades after retiring, the 60-year-old still out-earned James $180million to $127m in 2022, according to Sportico.
Nearly all of that is owed to Jordan’s personal Nike brand, which generated more than $5billion for the apparel giant in 2022. In fact, since signing Jordan in 1984, Nike has seen its market value grow from $920m to $187bn.
Of course, James is responsible for some of that growth as well (and for that matter, so are Tiger Woods and Serena Williams), but it’s hard to overstate Jordan’s overall impact on the industry.
First edition Jordan sneakers can go for as much as $20,000, which won’t surprise anyone who remembers their initial popularity in the 1980s. People were mugged, robbed, and even killed for their Jordans, which is thankfully no longer the case.
James may have a longer list of sponsors, such as AT&T and PepsiCo, and then there’s the brands he’s personally invested in, like Calm, Ladder/Openfit and Lobos 1707 tequila.
But as successful of a pitchman as James has been, nothing can compare to the influence Jordan has had with customers for nearly 40 years.
A general view of rapper Bow Wow’s Jordan Brand sneakers in 2014
A close-up of the Nike sneakers worn by LeBron James during the 2013 postseason
James has ownership stakes with Liverpool FC, the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Penguins
But not everything Jordan touches turns to gold.
As owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan has struggled to find executives, coaches, and players to complement him as Pippen once did in Chicago.
After a frustrating stint as the Washington Wizards Director of Basketball Operations, and a brief, forgettable comeback with the team, Jordan bought a minority stake of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006.
By 2010, he would purchase the majority stake from media mogul Bob Johnson, and in 2015, he would rename the team the ‘Hornets,’ after the previous NBA franchise that inhabited Charlotte.
But outside of the name change, Jordan’s tenure as Hornets owner has been anything but memorable.
Charlotte has enjoyed just three winning seasons and only two playoff berths since Jordan became majority owner.
While the team boasts a promising young talent in LaMelo Ball, injuries ruined the Hornets’ 2022-23 campaign, which ended with a 14th-place finish in the East.
Jordan’s tenure as majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets has not gone particularly well
Now, Jordan is negotiating to sell the team to minority owner Gabe Plotkin, but will reportedly hold onto a minority stake if and when the deal is finalized.
Jordan also co-owns NASCAR’s 23XI Racing, but hasn’t fared much better on the track. Currently his drivers Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace sit 10th and 15th, respectively, in the Cup Series standings.
James is not the principal owner of any major sports team, but does have stakes in the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Red Sox, and the Premier League’s Liverpool FC, and hopes to own an NBA franchise in Las Vegas some day, although no firm plans have been announced.
Both Jordan and James are reportedly billionaires, but given the former’s struggles as a team owner, it’s hard to give him the nod in this arena.