Before I say anything else, I need to make something clear: LeBron James is not — and has never been — the greatest basketball player of all time.
That’s not to say that he isn’t an all-time great, or that he’s not even in the top two, because in my opinion, he is in the top two. He’s just not really close to No. 1 at all right now.
Of course, when you’re that close to being the best ever, there are naturally going to be people who argue that LeBron is the best. And yes, everybody is also entitled to their own opinion.
If the Los Angeles Lakers do not win this year’s NBA Finals — or even fall in the Western Conference Finals, for that matter — all of this “GOAT” talk surrounding LeBron James must stop. Immediately.
I might get some hate for this, but let me explain myself here. Firstly, we must establish that Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time primarily for the following reason: He never lost when it mattered most.
That’s right. I’m going with the 6-0 finals argument, but there’s more to the story than just the record.
In those six series, Jordan never went to a Game 7. His path to the championship every single year was no joke: Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Dikembe Mutombo — and that’s just the Eastern Conference. He doesn’t have the most rings, but he has the most Finals MVP awards by winning in all six appearances. He averaged the most points in both regular season and playoff history with 30.12 and 33.45 per game, respectively.
The list goes on and on, but remember, he retired in the middle of his prime. He had to train his body to play a completely different sport, and once he started getting into peak baseball shape, he decided to completely retrain his body for basketball. And when he did, he was, of course, on top again.
Let’s look at LeBron’s legacy now in comparison. LeBron has taken his teams to the Finals nine times — three more than Jordan — but only has half the rings to show for it. LeBron has never won an NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award and hasn’t made All-Defensive First Team since 2013. His career player efficiency rating is lower than Jordan’s.
What’s more, LeBron’s toughest competition in the East en route to an NBA championship was Paul George and the Indiana Pacers in 2013. Sorry, PG-13, but you’re no Reggie Miller just yet.
Of course, LeBron has his accolades: most points in the playoffs, third-most all-time points, eighth-most all-time assists and 13 All-NBA First Team selections. But these don’t nearly add up to what Jordan accomplished. Period.
If you want to define “greatest” by who would win in a one-on-one matchup in their prime, the comparison obviously changes, but we’ll also never definitively know the answer. LeBron’s size and frame are enough to advocate for his case, but Jordan’s excellent shooting and defense might be too much to handle.
LeBron needs a positive Finals record to be considered better than Jordan. Since he entered the league at the very young age of 18, LeBron is able to get more years on the court than the average superstar, thus more full years than Jordan (remember his retirement). But, in the end, it’s all about winning when it matters most.
LeBron has had significant help on his teams as well: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were all on his championship-winning rosters. Now, in addition to having Jason Kidd as an assistant coach, he has Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo and the legend himself Alex Caruso right alongside him.
There’s no excuse why someone who many claim is the GOAT shouldn’t be able to win at least a majority of their Finals appearances.
So, under no circumstance should the basketball world consider LeBron James to be the greatest of all time if he has a 3-7 Finals record, or if this year’s exciting and tenacious Denver Nuggets squad, led by Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, pull off an upset in the Western Conference Finals.
If the Lakers fall to a young team such as the Nuggets, Boston Celtics or Miami Heat, LeBron’s potential to surpass Jordan will fall through and likely be remembered as nothing but an empty promise.
Shawn Farhadian is a sophomore writing about sports. His column, “Dishing and Swishing,” usually runs every other Wednesday.