Michael Jordan, LeBron James Top ESPN's Expert Vote for Top 74 NBA Players Ever

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2020

FILE - In this June 14, 1992, file photo, Michael Jordan celebrates the Bulls win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals in Chicago. Decades after Jordan's groundbreaking departure from college, March Madness and the NBA's mega-millions have taken all the novelty out of leaving early for the pros. (AP Photo/John Swart, File)
John Swart/Associated Press

ESPN has added a new wrinkle to the great NBA debate about whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the best player of all-time. 

In a new poll conducted by ESPN that ranked the top 74 players in NBA history, the network's expert panel voted Jordan over James based on a number of different factors that include total career value and peak performance.

Nick Friedell wrote this blurb about Jordan:

"The greatest player of all time. Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA championships, winning six Finals MVP awards and five regular-season MVP honors while becoming a global icon on and off the floor. Jordan's brilliance on both ends of the court defined a generation of basketball and set a new standard for players following in his footsteps. His game transcended the sport."

The rest of the top 10 featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. 

Even though some of those players also get talked about in the greatest-of-all-time discussion, most of the time it comes back to Jordan vs. James. Their careers never overlapped, with Jordan's final game coming on April 16, 2003, two months before the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted James No. 1 overall. 

James may have directly settled the debate by himself when he said this to the Chicago Tribune (h/t ESPN's Anthony Oliveri) in March 2008: "I'm a totally different player than Michael Jordan. As far as the next Jordan, there is no such thing. There's one Michael Jordan and only one, and no one compares with him."

Things have drastically changed since James made that statement. All three of his NBA championships and each of his four MVP awards have come since the 2008-09 season. 

It's also difficult to fully assess James' impact because his career isn't finished. Jordan has the benefit of a full career to look back on. His six titles in six NBA Finals appearances is a feather in his cap, as is having one more MVP award and a higher scoring average (30.1 to 27.1) than James. 

There may never be a unanimous answer to this question, but it does seem that Jordan and James have separated themselves from the pack in the NBA's G.O.A.T. debate.