Bulls

Why LeBron’s 4th ring doesn’t help GOAT case vs. Jordan

Bulls

LeBron James winning his fourth NBA title has reopened the GOAT debate, with a focus on two names: James and Michael Jordan.

But when asked to compare the two by K.C. Johnson on the Bulls Talk Podcast, Tom Haberstroh said LeBron’s latest feat didn’t move the needle for him.

“I don’t think that changes the (GOAT) conversation, because 6-0 is unassailable,” Haberstroh said. “You can’t compete with 6-0. You can’t!”

That’s Jordan’s record in NBA Finals — all achieved in an eight year span through the 1990s and all coming with Finals MVP awards. James has made more trips to the NBA’s grandest stage, but owns just a 4-6 Finals record.

Now, there’s nuance to address in those six defeats. Two came to Golden State Warriors teams built around Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (2017, 2018). Two were at the hands of San Antonio Spurs teams that, top-down, outmatched James’ side (2007, 2014). One came with James’ two best teammates injured (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, 2015). One was inexcusable, a colossal collapse to a Mavericks team that — no disrespect — was worse than James’ Miami Heat on paper (2011).

But in a debate of such stakes, every misstep is amplified. For all he’s achieved, James still faces a sisyphean path to ultimate, consensus basketball supremacy.

“If he wins a sixth title, the story is gonna be, ‘Well it took 12 tries to get there,’ right?” Haberstroh added. “I don’t think it (LeBron’s fourth title) moves the needle in the GOAT debate as much as you would if you weren’t going against 6-0. It’s just impossible to beat that, and LeBron’s already playing from behind with six Ls in the Finals.”

 

What’s it going to take for him to get over that hump?

“I think, really, what the conversation should be about is: How does LeBron James beat 6-0?” Haberstroh said. “I think he has to create a new story. And that story is: I’m gonna be the all-time greatest scorer in NBA history and that’s not gonna be my greatest skill. He has to play on the versatility and the endurance of his legacy.”

James is third on the all-time, regular-season scoring list. He trails Karl Malone by 2,687 points for second, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by 4,146 points for first. James scored 1,698 points in the 2019-20 season, averaging 25.3 per game across 67 contests.

The statistical case for James’ GOAT status could be ironclad by the end of his career. Eclipsing top five in assists is well within reach. Certain catch-all advanced metrics place him ahead of Jordan. He ranks first all-time in postseason minutes, points and steals, and is second in assists. Having finished top-two in MVP voting in his 17th NBA season, it appears he has plenty left in the tank to add to his 16 All-NBA selections.

But the debate isn’t for the MIPOAT (Most Impactful Player of All Time). Or the GSPOAT (Greatest Statistical Performer of All Time). Or MLERODOAT (Most Ludicruous Extended Run Of Dominance Of All Time).

It’s for the greatest of all time. Fair or not, that framing will always be nebulous and subjective.

“I don’t know where I’m at, like whether LeBron’s better than Michael. But I can tell you one thing: Going 4-6 in the NBA Finals versus 6-0 in the NBA Finals, LeBron’s never going to win that conversation,” Haberstroh said. “And I don’t think people in Chicago would disagree with that.”

Fact check: True.

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