We are on the verge of witnessing something in the NBA that has not occurred since President George W. Bush was in his first term and songs like “Yeah!” by Usher and “Hey Ya!” by Outkast! topped the Billboard charts.
The best player in the NBA, the king himself, Lebron James, is on the brink of missing the playoffs for the third time in his career and first since the 2004-05 NBA season.
For those still on the fence about who is the greatest basketball player of all-time, this may end their debates. Failure to reach the playoffs would not only end a remarkable playoff streak, but also an NBA Finals streak of eight consecutive seasons, tied for third all-time.
The argument of Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan began shortly after his third NBA Finals win, his greatest achievement, in his 3-1 series comeback over the record 73-win Warriors. In the series, James became the first player in league history to lead in all five statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) for a playoff round, earning him his third NBA Finals MVP award.
For many, the argument for Jordan is strictly based on NBA Finals victories. In his distinguished career Jordan was a perfect 6-0 in NBA Finals on two three-peats (1991-93 and 1996-98) winning MVP in all six victories. He is tied for fifth all-time in Finals victories with six alongside teammates Scottie Pippen, Bob Cousy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
James has been to nine NBA Finals and is tied with Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Tom Heinsohn for fourth all-time in Finals appearances behind Abdul-Jabbar (10), Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12).
In the 21st century Tom Brady is the only athlete whose resume rivals James’. Although he is 6-3 in Super Bowls, people are still clinging to the argument that 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana’s 4-0 record is more impressive because of his undefeated record.
This argument has never made sense to me. They call you “Conference Champions” for a reason. It’s an achievement, and a very difficult one at that. It seems like this argument is punishing players like Brady and James who have been historically great in postseason play. The way I interpret this is that it’s better to not get to The NBA Finals/Super Bowl at all, than to get there and lose.
So which is more impressive, Jordan’s 6-0 or James’ 3-6 Finals record? This is a complicated question with many layers. You certainly have to consider the fact that Jordan won all six of his titles under Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson. James, on the other hand, is the closest thing to a player-coach in today’s league.
However, you also have to consider that, contrary to popular belief, James has played alongside more than twice the amount of All-Star teammates than Jordan with 14: Dwayne Wade four times, Chris Bosh four times, Kyrie Irving two times, Kevin Love two times and both Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas once. Jordan only had Scottie Pippen who was a six-time All-Star.
If you’re basing your argument on Finals victories alone, it’s obvious where you stand. However, in the case of Lebron vs. Jordan, unlike Brady vs. Montana, the player with three more appearances has half the amount of wins, which complicates things a bit.
Although it may seem like it at the moment, James’ playoff career is not over and this debate could be totally different a few years from now. Let’s see if James can fully “activate” his “playoff mode” and lead the Lakers back to the playoffs like he has done with so many of his teams before.