Basketball fans may argue forever about LeBron James. Is he the greatest two-way player ever? Is he a champion or an opportunist who orchestrated rosters so he could team with the best players?
Who was better: LeBron or Michael Jordan?
This article won’t answer that question. But it will list five times that King James was better than MJ — five times the NBA superstar showed he could do things even Air Jordan never did.
Five Times LeBron James was Better Than Michael Jordan
5. “The Decision” TV Spectacle
Ok, so this isn’t an on-court performance, but it was a performance for the ages, and one many NBA fans are still talking about.
During his 60-minute television special called “The Decision,” LeBron revealed he was signing a free agent contract to play for the Miami Heat. “I’m taking my talents to Miami,” became both a mocking and celebratory mantra, depending on your allegiance.
The television event was a baller move that not even Jordan had ever conceived of. It defined James as an athlete in complete charge of his career. In Miami, James won two NBA titles.
4. Lakers Title Makes it Three-For-Three for LeBron
In his storied NBA career, Jordan won six titles, all of them wearing the red and white of the Chicago Bulls. He won three straight NBA Finals twice and six titles in eight years. MJ was Finals MVP each time.
But, Jordan won all his titles in one city, with one team. LeBron has played in three cities and won the NBA Finals for each franchise. In 2016 he delivered an epic Finals win for his home-state team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2012 and 2013, LeBron won titles for the Miami Heat. And finally (for now), James won a title in 2020 wearing the gold and purple of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Everywhere LeBron has played, he’s turned that team into champions.
3. Eight Straight Finals Appearances
Keeping with the theme of transforming a team, LeBron appeared in eight straight NBA Finals from 2011 to 2018. Amazingly, he did it four times with the Heat and four times as a member of the Cavs. If you wanted to play for the NBA title in that era and you were in the East, you had to play with LeBron. The only other player to lead his team to that many consecutive Finals appearances was Bill Russell.
2. 25 Straight Points in 2007 Conference Finals
In 2007, LeBron James was 22 years old and already the unquestioned leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers. For decades, the Cavs were one of the most pitiful teams in the NBA, rarely making the playoffs, and often an also-ran. But Ohio son James led the team to the NBA playoffs in his third season before being eliminated by Detroit. The following year, James wanted revenge against the Pistons. Boy, did he get it.
The 2007 Eastern Conference Finals were tied at two games apiece when Game 5 tipped off in the Motor City. The Pistons were undeniably a more talented team. This was their fifth consecutive appearance in the Conference Finals. But this time, they came toe-to-toe with basketball’s emerging superstar and didn’t have any answers.
In Game 5, the Pistons built a double-digit lead in the third quarter. But that’s when James took over. In a way, he matured into King James in the next frenzied moments of that classic game.
From the last four minutes of the third until the final horn, LeBron scored 29 of Cleveland’s 30 points. He poured in Cleveland’s final 25 points while going 11-for-13. With nine seconds left and the Cavs trailing by two, James drove the lane, attacked the rim, and dunked the ball to send the game to OT. His driving layup with two seconds left in overtime won the game.
“We threw everything we had at him,” said Detroit’s Chauncey Billups. “We just couldn’t stop him.”
1. Game 7 Comeback in 2016 NBA Finals
It was supposed to be a coronation. The Golden State Warriors were the NBA’s best team in 2015-16, the defending champions. That season, guided by Steph Curry, the Warriors set a single-season record for wins with 73, eclipsing the previous mark set by Jordan’s 1995–96 Bulls.
But something got in the way of the Warriors, and its name was LeBron James.
The Warriors won three of the first four games of the 2016 NBA Finals, each victory coming by at least 11 points. It looked like the Cavs would roll over, but James willed them to a 112-97 win in Game 5 by scoring 41. In Game 6 in Cleveland, James helped the Cavs build an early lead. Then as the Warriors made a comeback in the fourth, he soared high to block a layup by Curry, causing the Warriors star to throw his mouthpiece in frustration. The Cavs prevailed and forced Game 7 in Oakland.
Michael Jordan never played a game as pivotal as Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. His teams usually steamrolled opponents in the final round. Jordan’s teams also usually cleaned up at home. But James led his team to a historic win in Game 7 in 2016.
With 1:50 remaining and the game deadlocked at 89-89, James made the signature play of his career when he ran the length of the court, flying past other players to block a layup by Andre Iguodala that would have given Golden State the lead. He raced to the other end and set up a score, and played brilliantly to secure Cleveland’s first title (in any sport) since 1964.
What had LeBron done, besides topple a 73-win team?
James and the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3–1 series deficit to win the NBA Finals. They also became the first road team to win a Game 7 since the 1978 Washington Bullets, and the second NBA team ever to clinch every playoff series away from home.