LeBron James has passed Michael Jordan to move into fourth position on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Compare the numbers, accolades and achievements of two of the game’s greatest players then cast your vote for who’s best.
Different eras, different circumstances and different rules make it impossible to produce a definitive answer when it comes to separating LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
NBA All-Time Scoring Leaders
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 38,387 points (1,560 games)
- Karl Malone – 36,928 points (1,476 games)
- Kobe Bryant – 33,643 points (1,346 games)
- LeBron James – 32,311 points (1,190 games)
- Michael Jordan – 32,292 points (1,072 games)
Both men dominated the NBA in their respective primes yet did so in contrasting styles – Jordan the relentless scorer with the maniacal competitive streak, James the heady playmaker who packs a scoring punch.
Every NBA fan has their pick when asked which of the iconic duo is best. After James passed Jordan on the NBA All-Time scoring list, it’s time to lay out the accolades, achievements, statistical landmarks and title wins and tell us your choice: James or Jordan?
Relive the duo’s illustrious careers below then cast your vote in the poll at the foot of the article.
Tale of the tape
Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards)
Hall of Fame inductee, six-time NBA champion, six-time NBA Finals MVP, five-time regular season MVP, 14-time All-Star, three-time All-Star Game MVP, 10-time regular season scoring leader, three-time season steals leader, Defensive Player of the Year (1987-88), Rookie of the Year (1984-85), 11-time All-NBA team, nine-time All-Defensive team
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers)
Three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP, four-time regular season MVP, 15-time All-Star, three-time All-Star Game MVP, regular season scoring leader (2007-08), Rookie of the Year (2004-05), 14-time All-NBA team, six-time All-Defensive team
It’s more than likely we’ll never again see the relentless, intense, dominant brand of winning that came to embody Michael Jordan’s NBA career.
He appeared in six NBA Finals (1991-1993 and 1996-1998). His Chicago Bulls team won all six Finals series. Jordan was named Finals MVP each time. Even when riddled with flu (against the Utah Jazz in game five of the 1997 NBA Finals), Jordan simply refused to lose and carried his team to victory.
James has three NBA titles (2012, 2013 and 2016) and three Finals MVP awards to his name but, unlike Jordan, has also experienced defeat on the league’s greatest stage, once during his first tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2007), twice with the Miami Heat (2011, 2014) and three times in his second stint with the Cavs (2015, 2017, 2018).
James has appeared in nine NBA Finals, including each of the last eight. Only a handful of players – including the legendary Bill Russell with 10 – from the dominant Boston Celtics team of the 1960s have more. But the league had just 10 teams in those days. Now there are 30.
LeBron’s consistent ability to reach the NBA’s top table, regardless of the outcome, illustrates his greatness.
Scorer vs Playmaker
As noted in our tale of the tape, Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times, including a season averaging 37.6 points per game (1987), a feat unmatched by anyone not named Wilt Chamberlain in NBA history (although James Harden might come close this season).
Given the rule changes that have limited physical contact in the modern game, it’s scary to think how many points Jordan would have plundered in the modern NBA.
James’ best scoring season (30.0 points per game in 2007/08) earned him his sole scoring title, but he has never been simply an out-and-out scorer. A cerebral passer, James instantly calculates the best play in a given situation and makes it, whether that is a crunch-time shot or giving up the ball to an open team-mate. He exploits the weaknesses of teams whereas Jordan measured himself by dominating individual opponents.
Even as James passed Jordan’s record for all-time postseason points in 2017, he insisted: “I don’t want to be labelled a scorer, I’m a playmaker.”
Both players adapted their offensive games as they got older. Jordan transformed from uber-athletic, uber-aggressive dunker to a deadly scorer from mid-range, particularly with his trademark turnaround jump shot.
Jordan would rely on bizarre methods to motivate himself, feeding the media stories about opposition players who styled themselves as “Jordan stoppers”. He would then read the published articles to fire himself up before games.
James leaned heavily on offensive efficiency as his game evolved, eschewing bad shots while improving his accuracy from three-point range. He became a point-forward, generating offense further away from the basket, forcing teams to guard him one on one on the perimeter where he could dominate wing defenders.
Jordan’s career scoring average is 30.1 points per game (the highest in NBA history) compared to James’ 27.1, good for fifth on that particular all-time list.
Given Jordan’s superior scoring prowess, it might seem strange that James has surpassed several of Jordan’s scoring landmarks. That speaks to James’ consistency and longevity. Nobody, not even Jordan, can match the sustained excellence James has offered over his 16 seasons to date.
James popped his groin earlier this season and missed 17 games. It is hard to think of another sustained period of time he has missed through injury.
It is feasible James plays at an All-Star level for two full decades. If he remains a 20-plus-point per game scorer, he will pass Kareem-Abdul Jabbar at the top of the all-time scoring list and close his career with an all-but unmatchable legacy.
Jordan walked away from the NBA twice. The first was in 1993 after completing the Bulls’ first championship three-peat. Jordan, citing burn out and mourning the death of his father, tried his hand to baseball for two years. In 1998, after leading the Bulls to a second hat-trick of titles, he retired again as his Chicago team broke up with the players and coach Phil Jackson in open conflict with the front office.
Three years later he returned with the Washington Wizards, past his best but still capable of consistently putting up 20 points a night.
In total, he played 13 full seasons, two truncated seasons (18 regular season games in 1985/86 due to injury and 17 in 1994-95 when he returned from baseball at the tail end of the NBA season) and missed four complete campaigns due to his retirements.
Now have your say
You’ve read the case for both players. Jordan the insatiable winner and scoring machine. James the elite playmaker with unmatched longevity.
LeBron or MJ – who’s best? Cast your vote in the poll below.