The Face of the NBA: Jordan or James?

October 17, 2018

When asked the question, “Who is the face of the NBA?” most people would answer Michael Jordan.  Although this is the common belief, this is not true. We can go back through history and look at all the greats, such as Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kobe Bryant.  But there is one man that stands out. His name is LeBron James. Lebron James’ skillset, legacy, and leadership on and off the court show that he should be the face of the NBA, not Michael Jordan.  The first thing to look at when comparing the two players is statistics. In James’ first 14 seasons in the NBA, he shot 50% from the field, Jordan (in his 15 season career) only shot 49%. While this may seem like a minor difference, Jordan is known to be one of the best shooters of all time and James is not.  When comparing rebounding and assists, James edges Jordan out by 1 rebound and 2 assists per game. Although James beats Jordan in the three biggest categories, box plus-minus stat shows the largest gap between the two. This stat measures how much a player contributes per 100 possessions above (or below) a league average player.  James’ plus-minus over his first 14 seasons was 9.1 and Jordan’s was 8.1. The main argument people make regarding Jordan’s G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) status over LeBron is that Jordan went undefeated in the finals and won 6 rings.  While this is true, Jordan never played against more than 2 all-stars in a finals series and he has only played against 1.666 all-stars on average per finals. James has played against 4 all-stars at once (2017 vs. the Golden State Warriors) and played against 2.125 all-stars on average per finals.  

One cannot truly analyze the greatness of Lebron James without taking his ‘X-Factor’ into account:  One of the special traits James possesses is that he makes the team around him better. It does not matter if he is playing with bottom-tier or below average players; he can make them look like elite players.  In 2009, the Cleveland Cavaliers finished with a record of 61 wins and 21 losses (74.4% win rate). After James left Cleveland to join Miami, the Cavaliers finished with a record of 19 wins and 63 losses (30.1% win rate).  Besides the devastating loss of Lebron James, the Cavaliers still had a nearly identical roster to the previous year. If we compare this situation of Michael Jordan’s first retirement, we see that Jordan did not have nearly the same effect.  The 1992 season, the Chicago Bulls finished with a record of 57-25 (69.5% win rate). After Jordan retired, the 1993 Bulls finished with a record of 55-27 (67.1% win rate). The Lebron-less Cavaliers finished with 19 wins and the Jordan-less Bulls finished with 55 wins.  If James’ “X-Factor” is not shown through these results, I do not know how else to express it.

The off-court legacies of Lebron James and Michael Jordan are much different.  Although Michael Jordan made a huge impact on the popularity of the NBA and changed how basketball shoes are created today, there are some elements to his outside life that are often looked over.  Jordan had a massive gambling addiction. Businessman Richard Equinas revealed in his book Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction…My Cry for Help that he “had won over $900,000 from Jordan in golf betting.”  Many people also believe that the reason Jordan retired for the first time was because of his gambling addiction.  On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, LeBron James has never been in a major controversy that has impacted his career.  Off the court, LeBron James is one that inspires. In 2018, James opened a public school for the youth of Cleveland. If it were up to me, the face of the NBA should be Lebron James, not Michael Jordan.

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