The Great Debate: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IFebruary 15, 2013

27 Apr 1997:  Guard Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls runs down the court during a game against the Washington Bullets at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bulls won the game 109-104. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Happy 50th, MJ.

Michael Jordan celebrates the big 5-0 on Sunday. The milestone, coupled with the caliber of play recently submitted by Miami Heat star LeBron James, has renewed the debate over which is the more talented player.

Always one to pick a side in such an important discussion, we're turning to our trusted NBA simulation engine to weigh in on Jordan vs. LeBron.

We simulated Jordan's 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, a team that won an NBA-record 72 regular season games en-route to Jordan's fourth championship, versus James' reigning champion Heat. Our NBA simulation engine played the matchup 1,001 times to generate each team's win percentage and points per game.

1995-96 Bulls vs. 2011-12 Heat
Matchup Win% Avg. PPG WIS Interactive
1995-96 Chicago Bulls 60.5 98.6 Simulate Matchup
2011-12 Miami Heat 39.5 94.4 Build your own Dream Team

James and company were outplayed in the simulation, dropping more than 60 percent of games to Jordan's squad. The 1995-96 season was Jordan's first full campaign since retiring to pursue a career on the baseball diamond. He quickly reclaimed his title as the league's best player, leading the NBA in scoring at 30.4 points per game while earning his fourth of five MVP trophies.

The team also had the league leader in rebounds per game, the newly acquired Dennis Rodman, who averaged 14.9 boards per contest, including 5.6 on the offensive end. Scottie Pippen, meanwhile, chipped in 19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.

In truth, the Jordan vs. LeBron matchup most would like to see in this hypothetical bout might never materialize. With Pippen at his disposal, Phil Jackson would opt to stick his rangy small forward on James. Pippen has the size and versatile skill set to guard James as well as any player in the game today.

On the other side, Dwyane Wade would earn the first shot at slowing down Jordan. Though Wade is by no means a slouch, Jordan would have the advantage on both ends of the court. Another intriguing matchup pits Chris Bosh against Rodman. Bosh certainly has a significant offensive edge, but Rodman is the vastly superior rebounder.

Ultimately, the matchup may not be decided by Jordan or James. Rather, the player with the strongest supporting cast would carry the day. In this case, the nod goes to Jordan's Bulls.

Head-to-Head Comparison


Though MJ spent the better part of his 15-year career proving he was without comparison, the media and fans have always been eager to discover Air Jordan's heir apparent. The movement has falsely proclaimed many young stars and up-and-comers as the first in line to Jordan's throne. Among the castoffs: Harold Miner, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter.

LeBron James is the most recent revelation and carries the most clout as the rightful heir. Though very different players physically (James has two inches and 35 pounds on Jordan), James' ability to put up staggering statistics on a nightly basis is certainly Jordan-esque.

Jordan vs. LeBron: Stats
Jordan 1,072 30.1 .497 6.2 5.3 2.3 0.8
LeBron 739 27.6 .488 7.2 6.9 1.7 0.8

Jordan holds the edge in hardware, but James, who turned 28 in December, isn't far off MJ's pace. Jordan earned his second NBA Championship and third MVP at the age of 28, his eighth season in the league, while James is in the midst of his 10th year.

Jordan vs. LeBron: Awards
Player Chmps MVP Finals MVP All-Star A-S MVP All-NBA 1st Team All-Def. 1st Team Def. POY
Jordan 6 5 6 14 3 10 9 1
LeBron 1 3 1 9 2 6 4 0