Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James – How Their Fantasy Seasons Compare
Special to GreensboroSports.com from Luke Zhang
Anyone who knows anything about basketball over the past 30 years knows two names: Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both have become living legends of the game, and they are two of the top picks if you ask any fan to name the greatest NBA players of all time.
Although they never shared the court as opponents, there are all kinds of stats out there to compare the two players, including these facts:
LeBron leads in total points, rebound, and assists.
MJ has twice as many championships.
LeBron has more All-NBA team selections.
MJ has more Season and Finals MVP awards.
And the list continues.
If you look beyond individual stats, fans will find all kinds of other things to argue. Who had the better teammates? The best coach? Who had tougher opponents to play? Because they never played head-to-head, it can be hard to answer these questions, and even harder still in creating your fantasy league with these two players. There’s no tape to study. So, one way to compare the two is to look at how they performed during the best season of their respective careers.
By looking at peak MJ versus peak LeBron, maybe there will be a clearer picture of who is the GOAT. Let’s go!
Michael Jordan played between 1985 and 2003 (with a few ‘semi-retirements’ in between). It didn’t take long to establish himself as one of the greatest players in the game. But many sportswriters, pundits, and fans agree that his 1990-1991 season was his best.
Just look at the per-game stats for that season: 31.5 points; 6 rebounds; 2.7 steals; 5.5 assists and 53.9% FG.
He was a monster on both sides of the floor. Offensively, it was more likely than not that if the ball was in his hands, it was going in the basket. However, he played outstanding complementary basketball that season as well, highlighted by the 2.7 steals per game. That was part of what made MJ so great. No matter what part of the game you were playing, he was always a threat.
This season showed a peak athlete playing at the top of his game. It’s no wonder that MJ’s team would go on to win the title that year. And the next year. And the year after that. The first of his famous double three-peats. His ability to win again and again in the Finals is a massive part of why people argue he is the GOAT. He had many brilliant seasons, but the 1990-1991 campaign stands out as one of the best in the history of the NBA and, arguably, one of the best for a fantasy season.
Then there’s LeBron James. Just last year, he passed Michael Jordan on the all-time career scoring list. He’s in his 17th season and shows no sign of slowing down even now. Still, you should look back to 2011-2012 for the best season in his career and a projection of how he would perform in a fantasy season.
Here are his per-game stats for that season:
And 50.0% FG
Just like MJ, LeBron is a great two-way player. Not only was he racking up a bunch of points each game on the offensive side, but he was also getting lots of blocks on the defensive end. He played a lot of minutes per game, and he didn’t miss his shots very often. But with 9.7 rebounds per game as well, he exerted himself at every stage of the game.
Now in 2020, LeBron is leading the league in assists as well—a testament to how well-rounded he is as a player. If you’re going to be the GOAT, you must be as dominant on both sides of the floor as LeBron has been throughout his career.
Peak MJ vs. Peak LeBron
So what would it look like if we could get 1990-1991 Michael Jordan to compete against 2011-2012 LeBron James in a fantasy season showdown? If you look at their per-game stats, it seems like a toss-up. MJ leads in points, but only by 1.5 points per game. That lead is less than one basket. LeBron leads in rebounds, but MJ could make up for that with his 5.5 assists per game. Then there’s defense. LeBron might get more blocks in a match-up, but MJ might get more steals.
You can see how the comparisons get tricky. They look so similar on paper, but they never played in the league at the same time. Your choice is mainly down to personal taste. It depends on what you value more: rebounds vs. assists or steals vs. blocks. But it also comes down to other factors that are not as easy to determine with stats.
Who is better at taking over the game in the 4th quarter? If it comes down to a buzzer-beating shot, who has the advantage? Is it just a single game head-to-head match-up or a fantasy best-of-7 series? Who are their teammates?
It wouldn’t be exciting if you just had the two GOATs playing a game of horse. You would want to see real live-action, with ten players on the court battling it out on the court. Team LeBron James versus Team Michael Jordan. It would be a fantasy match-up for the ages.
It’s impossible to say—especially when talking about both players in their prime. Their numbers are just too similar. LeBron James is still playing, so he might be able to one day top MJ in the categories where he lags. But at 35 years old, the peak of his career is already behind him. Even as LeBron continues to defy age with his athleticism, we’ve probably seen the best he can be.
It should come as no surprise that a head-to-head comparison of both players would end in a virtual tie. It seems like anytime you ask a group of people who’s the best in a fantasy showdown, it’s going to split down the middle. It comes down to personal opinion.
But one thing’s for sure: you’d never want to play against them.