NBA Players Explain Picking Lakers’ LeBron James over Michael Jordan in GOAT Debate

Michael Jordan is still the greatest of all time in the eyes of NBA players, but his lead over LeBron James is narrowing.

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On Monday, The Athletic released the results of its annual player poll, and 45.9 percent of the 133 players who responded regarding the GOAT question picked His Airness. That was followed by James at 42.1 percent and Kobe Bryant at 9.8 percent

Sam Amick of The Athletic noted Jordan’s lead over James is much smaller than it was in the same poll in 2019 (73 percent to 11.9 percent) and 2023 (58.3 percent to 33 percent). While part of that can be explained by younger players entering the league who grew up watching James and are only familiar with Jordan through highlights, some of the players who picked the King discussed their rationale.

“I’d say LeBron,” one player said. “Just to be able to do it for 20 years, it’s insane. I think it’s more of a longevity thing that you have to look at there, and (how) still every year he’s playing at the highest level. With the highest expectations (placed on him), he had everything to lose in terms of coming into the league.

“It would’ve been very easy for him to underachieve and not meet those expectations, I think he’s far surpassed them, all of them, somehow. … Being on the floor, the closer you are to the game, the more of a sense (you get) for how great LeBron is, how he sees things, how he talks. His impact on the game, his gravity on the game is felt.”

Amick noted those who voted for James consistently pointed to his longevity, which isn’t surprising.

After all, he is 39 years old and just completed his 21st season in the league. While he may not be the same player he was at his peak, he still made the All-Star Game for the 20th time in his career this season and helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the playoffs by averaging 25.7 points, 8.3 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić were the only other players in the league to average at least 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds this season.

That longevity allowed him to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record last year, further cementing his legacy as an all-time great.

“Who would I draft in an all-time draft?” one player said. “That’s the way I look at it, you know what I’m saying? Some people look at it like, ‘Who do I want taking the last shot?’ Blah, blah, blah, all this other sh–. But in an all-time draft, I’m choosing LeBron. Why? I get 20 years of greatness, and I get somebody who plays one through five (point guard through center). And let me just say, the person I choose No. 2 would be Shaq (O’Neal), the most dominant player of all time. So in my GOAT debate, I would go 1-2 like that. And this is coming from a Kobe (Bryant) fan.”

Another player highlighted that longevity.

“(LeBron) for sure,” he said. “I think him being able to literally do everything and win (titles) with so many different organizations (the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Lakers) and also having the most points in his career, along with figuring out how to have longevity in his career. Everybody’s looking to have longevity, and he figured it out. He figured it out at the highest level. It doesn’t make any sense.”

James is still chasing Jordan in titles (six to four), NBA Finals MVPs (six to four) and league MVPs (five to four), but even that might underscore the difference between the two.

Jordan’s peak might never be matched. Even retiring for nearly two seasons to play baseball didn’t prevent him from winning six championships during an eight-year span and taking over both the league and popular culture as a whole.

But he played 14 seasons that were interrupted by multiple retirements. James has continued to play at an incredible level across 21 different campaigns and doesn’t look like he will be falling from the ranks of the league’s All-Stars anytime soon.

Jordan’s peak or James’ longevity?

It is a question that has split the NBA community, including the players.

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