What LeBron James Must Do to Top Michael Jordan in History Books

Brendan Bowers@@BowersCLEContributor IIMay 30, 2013

Miami Heat's LeBron James
Miami Heat's LeBron JamesPat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all that LeBron James has accomplished during his NBA career thus far, there is much work left in order to top Michael Jordan in the history books.

By the conclusion of his ninth professional season, Jordan had already won three championships. In James' ninth season—the 2011-12 campaign—he finally broke through to win his first

What's often lost in this narrative, however, is that Jordan and James were actually the same age when they were crowned NBA champions for the first time. 

After three seasons under Dean Smith as a member of the North Carolina Tar Heels, Jordan was 27 years old in 1991 when he won his first NBA title.

By the time he turned 34, Jordan had won six championships for the Chicago Bulls before retiring for a second time in 1998. Jordan returned with the Washington Wizards at age 37 to play two more seasons before retiring for good in 2003 at age 39.

I understand that James, who completed his second NBA season at age 20 (the same age as Jordan when he broke into the league), does have more "NBA miles" on his body at 28 than MJ did.

That could mean James won't be able to play as productively into his 30s as Jordan.

At the same time, based on improvements in nutrition and medicine along with the way that James takes care of his body, it's reasonable to assume that James could indeed continue to be productive well into his later-30s.

When detailing what James must accomplish to pass Jordan in the record books, I suggest that he will play eight more seasons after this season, meaning James would retire at age 37 and have played 18 years in the league.

For some additional perspective, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett both just completed their 17th and 18th seasons, respectively, after both had entered the NBA straight out of high school.  

With that in mind, the following highlights what James must accomplish to top the NBA's greatest player in terms of MVPs, scoring, defense, postseason performance and championships.

Win six MVP awards

Jordan won his fifth and final regular-season MVP award at age 34. The 28-year-old James has already won four MVPs during the years highlighted in the chart above. 

Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, James will be the favorite to win his fifth MVP. If he is able to accomplish that feat, he would move into a tie with Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players in NBA history with five MVP's. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the the only player owning more MVPs than Jordan or Russell, with Abdul-Jabbar having won six.

In order for James to surpass Jordan's total, he would most likely need to win the MVP next season at age 29. From there, James would then have approximately five more seasons to win one more by the time he is 34.

Score 32,293 career points

Jordan averaged 30.1 points during the regular season for his career, totaling 32,292 points to rank third all-time in NBA history.

As highlighted in the list above, only Karl Malone and Abdul-Jabbar scored more than Jordan in their careers. 

Meanwhile, James has averaged 27.6 points for his career en route to 21,081 regular-season points. 

In order to top Jordan on the all-time scoring list, James needs 11,212 more points. If he were to play in 70 regular-season games over each of the next eight seasons, he would have 560 more games in his career starting in the 2013-14 campaign. James would need to average 20 points per game over that stretch to surpass Jordan's scoring total.

Increase statistical dominance in postseason

Jordan elevated his statistical production during the postseason. 

After averaging 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists during the regular season for his career, Jordan improved each category to 33.4, 6.4 and 5.7 in the playoffs.

While it isn't likely that James will eclipse Jordan's postseason scoring average, he could improve his all-around numbers to the point where his statistical production is similar. 

The 28.1 points and 8.5 rebounds that James has averaged during the postseason through Wednesday are improvements over his regular season numbers (27.6, 7.3) in each category.

The 6.7 assists he's dishing out in the playoffs for his career, however, are a slight dip for James compared to his regular-season average of 6.9 assists.

To bolster the argument that James stepped up his game in the playoffs to the degree that Jordan did, he would need to improve each category in a similar fashion.

Win the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award twice

According to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com, James was upset that he didn't accomplish his goal of winning the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award for the 2012-13 season.

To top Jordan in the history books on both sides of the ball, James needs to accomplish that goal twice before he retires. 

His "Airness" was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 while also being selected to the All-Defensive First Team nine times.

James, who has been named NBA All-Defensive First Team five times, needs to accomplish that feat four more times, as well as win top defensive honors twice in order to surpass Jordan's accolades on that side of the ball.

Win five more championships

Surpassing the number of championships that Jordan won during his career is the most difficult goal for James to accomplish.

In order to top Jordan in NBA championship lore, James would only really need to win five more titles, in my estimation. 

After advancing to the NBA Finals twice before Jordan ever reached the Finals, a sixth championship in eight appearances for James would be an even more impressive feat—especially if James, like Jordan, is named NBA Finals MVP all six times. 

To even think about accomplishing that, however, James and his Miami Heat must figure out how to first eliminate the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat would then need to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, which is certainly not a given at this point either.

From there, with potentially two NBA titles in hand, James would have five more seasons to win the six rings that MJ did by his 34th birthday.


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