LeBron James: Is Scottie Pippen Right that LeBron is Better Than Michael Jordan?

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IMay 27, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 26:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat brings the ball up court against the Chicago Bulls in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 26, 2011 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No. An emphatic "no."

Look, every generation thinks their best player is better than the best player of previous eras. So for some teenager or 21-year-old to say LeBron James is a better all around player than Michael Jordan was makes sense.

But not from the man who played next to Jordan for a decade!

Scottie Pippen said this morning on Mike and Mike:

"Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game...But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will but he keeps everybody involved...No guy on the basketball court is not a threat to score with LeBron James out there. Not only will LeBron dominate from the offensive end as well, but he's also doing it on the defensive end."

Now there is probably a great deal of "what have you done for me lately" in this statement—less than 12 hours earlier James was incredible in the final minutes of the Heat comeback in Chicago—but that's not enough to explain the statement.

Even if you look beyond the "Jordan has six rings, LeBron has zero" argument, there isn't enough to keep this belief from borderline insanity, today. Maybe not eight years from now. 

Yes, James took a Cavs team to the Finals when he didn't have any help; Jordan couldn't do that in the pre-Pippen years.  And James is certainly a better distributor and rebounder than Jordan was. But not by that much. Didn't Jordan get Steve Kerr "involved" in the last seconds of the 1997 NBA Finals, and John Paxon in the final seconds of the 1993 NBA  Finals?

But to imply that James is a better defender than Jordan is ridiculous. At worst they are even.

Jordan didn't have the freakish size and speed advantage that James does, yet was still a first team All NBA defensive player the last 10 years of his career in Chicago and was Defensive Player of the Year the same season (1988) that he scored 35 points per game!

Furthermore, the Eastern Conference doesn't have nearly as many great perimeter scorers today as it did when Jordan was in his prime. Jordan routinely faced Charles Barkley, Dominque Wilkins, Larry Bird, the Isaiah Thomas/Joe Dumars duo, and for a while Bernard King.

Aside from Dwyane Wade—who is now his teammate—James hasn't played his career against very many truly dominant guards or small forwards: Ray Allen, Paul Pierce for a while in Boston and a few others.

But even if James and Jordan are even when it comes to defense, Jordan's ability as a scorer  should blow  him right past James in terms of that "complete player" race. Jordan didn't launch up threes with the same frequency as James, he was a much better mid-range jump shooter, and in the pre-first retirement early years was every bit as explosive to the hoop as James.

Inevitably, it still comes down to the NBA Finals, however. Each of Jordan's iconic moments came with the title on the line: the flu game, the switching-hand layup over the Lakers, the layup, then steal of Karl Malone and push-off final shot over Byron Russell, the shrugged shoulders against Portland, etc. Jordan played his best with in the Finals, something we haven't seen YET from James.

And in the end, doesn't the "all-around great player" play his best with a title on the line?