The debate over whether LeBron James or Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time is unlikely to ever end, and Charles Barkley has an interesting stance on the conversation surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers superstar and Chicago Bulls icon.
“I love LeBron,” he said. “I love LeBron. But most of these people who are defending him as the greatest ever probably have never actually seen Michael Jordan actually play.
“The closest they’ve come is that documentary that came out, ‘The Last Dance.’ But they ain’t actually never seen Michael Jordan play.”
Basing one’s opinion only on a collection of highlights rather than the entirety of one’s career is an iffy proposition, but it is hard to avoid with the passage of time further away from Jordan’s playing days.
He and James never overlapped as players in the NBA, with Jordan playing his final season for the Washington Wizards in the 2002-03 campaign, right before James debuted in the 2003-04 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Barkley and Jordan were on-court contemporaries as players, and the current NBA analyst has surely watched most of James’ career as a very interested observer. Now 60 years old, Barkley also mentioned that he is a bit disappointed that Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does not draw more consideration as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time).
The debate about Jordan and James often centers around championships won, with the Bulls great having won six titles without ever losing in the NBA Finals while James has four championships with six other losses in the Finals.
James is about to play his 21st NBA season, and that longevity (especially when compared to Jordan’s 15 seasons played) has allowed him to rack up some historic accomplishments that have leveled the discussion somewhat.
The 38-year-old became the NBA’s all-time scoring leader when he passed Abdul-Jabbar last season. But based on points per game, he falls short of Jordan, who averaged 30.1 points per game compared to 27.2 for James.
It is interesting to think of where Jordan would be among the all-time statistical leaders had he not temporarily retired multiple times throughout his career. As it is, he still ranks fifth in total points.
But to think he accomplished enough in so many fewer seasons than James speaks to the complexity of the discussion, especially among those who never actually saw Jordan play, like Barkley said.