Bulls Insider

With fourth ring, LeBron ups pressure on Jordan's GOAT label

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

For so many years, the Bulls chased LeBron James’ Eastern Conference supremacy. Now that James has switched to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference, the rivalry hasn’t stopped.

Now, it’s James vs. Michael Jordan for the GOAT label.

It’s an impossible argument to definitely solve, obviously. And James, for one, isn’t interested in trying to do so after winning his fourth overall NBA title and first with the Lakers Sunday night.

“I don’t know,” James said. “I’m going to let you guys talk about it.”

Yet James’ dominance and longevity are ensuring this debate isn't going away.

James is now the first star to lead three different franchises to titles (John Salley, Robert Horry and, now, Danny Green all accomplished the same feat in complementary roles). But that’s not to suggest he has jumped around to form super teams.

The Lakers were coming off a 35-47 campaign the summer James chose them in free agency in 2018, and missed the playoffs in 2018-19 before trading for Anthony Davis last offseason. The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped from 61 victories to 19 the season after James did — for the first and only time — form an immediate super team by joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in the summer of 2010. The Cavaliers improved from 33 victories in 2013-14 to 53, and an NBA Finals loss, in 2014-15 when James returned with a roster that included Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the latter of whom the Cavs traded for upon James' signing. Both Irving and Love sustained season-ending injuries during the 2015 playoffs.

 

LeBron-led teams have now played in nine of the past 10 NBA Finals — and he has 10 appearances overall, joining Bill Russell (12), Sam Jones (11) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10) as the only players in double-digits in that category.

Jordan, of course, is 6-0 with six NBA Finals most valuable player awards to show for the Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s. James earned his fourth NBA Finals MVP award Sunday night.

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Entering Sunday’s Game 6, James’ career playoff averages stood at 28.8 points, nine rebounds and 7.2 assists in 259 career games. Jordan’s are at 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 179 career games.

Think about that: James almost has logged a full regular-season slate more playoff games than Jordan, who obviously eschewed a handful of contests during his close-to-two-season retirement between the Bulls’ three-peats.

Sunday’s Game 6 marked James’ 260th playoff game, the most in league history. He posted a triple double, his record 11th in the NBA Finals and 28th overall in the playoffs. The latter figure sits just two behind Magic Johnson’s postseason record.

For the advanced stats crowd, James’ postseason PER was 28.4 going into Game 6. Jordan finished his career at 28.6.

Where the statistical comparison breaks down — always, no matter which players it’s being used for — is the element of different eras. James has largely played in an era that favors perimeter play and offense. Jordan plied his trade during a more physical period — we’re looking at you, Bad Boy Pistons — that allowed hand checking, fights and multiple chants of “Defense! Defense!”

Again, this won’t be solved. Call it “The Last Dance” vs. “The Last Chance.”

But that’s the thing: James, who turns 36 in December, is showing few signs of slowing down. How much more evidence can he place on his side of the ledger until he retires?

“This never gets old,” James said.

Consider yourself warned.