It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to assume humanity could find itself on the brink of extinction at some point in the next 50 (or even 100) years and that there will be at least a couple of people who decide to devote some of their final days on the planet to rehashing the “LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan” debate.
That argument has raged on ESPN and talk radio shows for the bulk of the former’s legendary career, and it’s hard to think of a single topic talking heads have managed to milk more thanks to the countless occasions where it’s been rehashed in an attempt to fill some airtime.
It’s easy to understand the temptation to compare two men who could both easily be positioned as the best basketball player in the history of the sport, and they each have illustrious résumés overflowing with the absurd stats you can pick from to make an incredibly solid case for either of them.
Sure, James has scored more points in his career than any other player in NBA history, but Jordan also won six NBA titles, the same number of Finals MVP awards, and five regular season MVPs compared to the relatively paltry trio of fours LeBron has racked up in those categories.
There are also plenty of people who’d assert His Airness possessed an unparalleled competitive spirit and a prime example of the “Clutch Gene” LeBron has been frequently and bizarrely accused of lacking despite an ample amount of evidence to the contrary.
There are obviously a ton of examples that highlight MJ’s ability to step up when it matters most, but if you take a closer look at the stats, it’s pretty clear James can more than hold his own in similar scenarios.
LeBron James has an impressive ability to step up in elimination games
The concept of “clutch” can be a bit hard to definitively define, but it’s also a pretty straightforward concept that involves elevating your game to the next level in make-or-break situations.
For the purpose of this particular argument, it helps to break down those contests into a couple of primary categories. The most notable is playoff games where a team finds itself on the brink of elimination, although it’s also worth examining their ability to put a series away when the opportunity presents itself.
Jordan played in a grand total of 13 elimination games over the course of his career and posted a record of 6-7 in those showdowns (which includes a somewhat dubious run where the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs six consecutive times—and knocked out in the first round three years in a row—between 1985 and 1990).
LeBron, on the other hand, has ended up in the same situation on 25 separate occasions and has managed to put up a record of 14-11 while averaging more than two points per game than Jordan was able to (2o21 also marked the first time James had ever been eliminated in a first-round series following an impressive streak of 15 postseason campaigns where he avoided that fate).
It may be a bit useless to try to draw any major conclusions when you narrow things down to Game 7s based on the sample size, but Lebron has gone 6-2 in games where Michael Jordan also went 2-1 (although that could technically be 4-1 if you want to acknowledge the two wins he racked up in deciding Game 5s before the NBA switch the first round to a best-of-seven series).
LeBron has also been spotless in playoff series where his squad has managed to pull out to a 3-1 lead, as no team has been able to dig themselves out of that particular hole against him (it’s worth noting Jordan and the Bulls were also able to prevent any opponents from staging a similarly dramatic comeback during his time in Chicago).
LeBron is 17-0 in Playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead.
? — Warriors in 2023
W — Grizzlies in 2023
W — Heat in 2020
W — Nuggets in 2020
W — Rockets in 2020
W — Blazers in 2020
W — Celtics in 2017
W — Pacers in 2014
W — Nets in 2014
W — Bulls in 2013
W — Thunder in 2012
W —… pic.twitter.com/EWVF7bg34u
— LeBron Muse (@BronMuse) May 9, 2023
The fact that James has a winning record in elimination games is really the biggest takeaway here, as that’s an impressive feat by itself and one that’s amplified by the fact that not even Jordan can say he was able to do the same.
Additionally, based on the facts presented here, it would also be patently absurd to suggest LeBron James isn’t clutch.