Stephen A. Smith: LeBron James will never be better than Michael Jordan


If you are experiencing Michael Jordan-LeBron James G.O.A.T. debate fatigue, you're not alone. But for those of you who are continually interested in the greatest argument in all of sports, LeBron James capturing his fourth title with his third different team added some more fuel to the fire.

But, for some people, it didn't add any intrigue to the debate. ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith is one of those people. For Smith, LeBron could win his fifth title, and then a sixth title, and then a seventh title, and he still wouldn't have done enough to surpass Michael Jordan's greatness.

His words, not mine.

"I've got bad news for LeBron James, and consider yourself disrespected, because you will never be my number one," Smith said on ESPN's "Get Up" following the Lakers' 2020 championship victory. "He will be number two, but not my number one. It will never be universal, because as long as I'm living and breathing — I've got breath in my body and I got a voice and I got vocal cords — you will hear me say LeBron James is no Michael Jordan. Period."

After co-host Mike Greenberg confirmed with Smith that there was nothing LeBron could do to surpass Jordan, the outspoken personality came back with a snarky response.

"There is one thing he can do," Smith said. "Erase the six NBA Finals losses."

While it's true that Jordan doesn't have any Finals losses in his six trips to the biggest stage, it's also true that he failed to reach the Finals in many seasons where the Bulls did reach the playoffs, including two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals losses to the Pistons in 1989 and 1990. That makes for six trips to the Finals in 13 postseason berths for Jordan. James, on the other hand, has made it to ten NBA Finals in his 14 playoff runs and is one of only four in NBA history with double-digit Finals appearances (Bill Russell, Sam Jones and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the other three).

Thus, James has the proportional advantage in one sense. Still, he has the proportional disadvantage in the other sense, winning 40% of his Finals matchups as opposed to Jordan's flawless championship record.

Fun fact: Jerry West is right below LeBron on the list of Finals appearances with nine, but the man depicted in the NBA logo has only one ring. Stephen A. Smith probably doesn't consider him anywhere near the top of the list of G.O.A.T. candidates.

This then becomes one of the many dynamic layers of the Jordan-James G.O.A.T. debate, one that will likely never have a definitive answer and probably should never come to a definitive answer. Does that make it any less compelling an argument to have? Absolutely not.

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