Heat Win Streak Proves LeBron-Michael Jordan Debate Is Closer Than You Think

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

The Michael Jordan-LeBron James comparisons started gaining steam when the "King" was crowned NBA champion for the first time in his career in 2012.

But something more was needed to push the conversation to a frenzied level. Something that spoke of sustained success, a desire to build a legacy off last year rather than let that become a sole defining moment.

Something like this 18-game winning streak that the Miami Heat have now ridden to the best winning percentage in the league (47-14, .770). This debate will only grow in intensity over the coming seasons, and regular-season accomplishments will struggle to hold status as a respectable barometer in the conversation.

Still, there's no denying that this achievement of James' Heat has added another layer to the argument:

LeBron James has matched the longest win streak ever by a team Michael Jordan was on -- the 1995-96 Bulls.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 11, 2013

Anytime a franchise can match any accomplishment of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, it's certainly worth taking notice. Statistically speaking, that Bulls group was as dominant as anything the league had ever seen, bullying opponents to the tune of a record-setting 72-10 mark.

Team success is never the result of a single player's dominance, but neither player left any questions as to who the team leader was.

Jordan led his team in points (30.4 per game) and steals (2.2), and he ranked second in rebounds (6.6) and assists (4.3). James, meanwhile, leads the Heat in points (26.7), rebounds (8.1) and assists (7.1), and he ranks second in steals (1.7) and blocks (0.9).

For his efforts, the 33-year-old Jordan was awarded with the fourth MVP of his career that year. The 28-year-old James looks well on his way to doing the same this season.

Jordan also guided the Bulls to the fourth NBA championship of his career that season (his 11th in the league). James has cemented the Heat as the championship favorites this year. If he can lead the Heat back to the sport's pinnacle, it would give him two rings for his first 10 seasons.

Despite being two of the most athletically gifted players the league has ever seen, their style of play couldn't have been any different.

With that in mind, any debate can't focus too closely on direct statistical comparisons. For what it's worth, Jordan holds a sizable edge in scoring (30.1 career PPG to James' 27.6), and James has a similar advantage in assists (6.9 to 5.3) and rebounds (7.3 to 6.2).

Team success offers a clearer glimpse now that James can finally enjoy the same caliber of players that Jordan excelled with in the Windy City. As great as Jordan was, it's safe to say not even he would've hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy alongside the teammates flanking James during his seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Championships will ultimately steer this debate, but individual accolades will always hold their own place.

James is on pace to surpass Jordan in terms of MVP awards. Jordan amassed five in his 15-year career; James should be adding his fourth this season. With his continued development, it's hard to imagine him not increasing that total in the coming years.

Jordan was named to the All-Star team in all 14 seasons that he was eligible, earning three All-Star MVPs along the way. He sat out the majority of the 1994-95 season during his baseball hiatus.

James has been an All-Star in nine of his 10 years, with two All-Star MVPs on his resume. He fell short as a rookie despite becoming the third player in league history with at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in his first season.

But Jordan left his lasting legacy on the game's biggest stage. Not only was he a six-time champion, but he was also a six-time NBA Finals MVP award winner.

Needless to say, James has his work cut out for him. He's got the first championship (and Finals MVP) under his belt, and he's still young enough to make a legitimate charge at adding five more.

That's clearly easier said than done. And he'll need all five of those if he hopes to be taken seriously in comparison to arguably the greatest player to ever set foot on the hardwood.

This argument may be closer than most would like to think, but it's still nearly universally seen as being one-sided.