NBA Player Comparisons

Does Joel Embiid have a better NBA legacy than Dwight Howard?

Hey what’s up…Basketball Baba here with Basketball Chronicles.

And today I am going to be comparing the legacies of Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard.

I know, I know…you are probably wondering – wait, Embiid has a legacy?

Well, apparently a few people believe he does.

And that’s what sparked the idea for this video.

I was having a conversation with a gentleman I met a few days ago

He claims he has been watching the NBA for more than two decades now, and I took that as a sign of his deep knowledge and, more importantly, his perspective on the NBA.

He was firmly of the opinion that Embiid has a better legacy than Howard.

When I disagreed, he said a few things – three of which stood out to me.

Click to jump to section

One, he said Embiid cared more about the game.

Does Embiid care more about the game?

Two, he said Embiid was a better player.

Is Embiid a better player?

And three, he said Embiid has done more in his career thus far.

Has Embiid done more in his career?

Before I address his points, I want to add here that originally, the word legacy meant a sum of money or inheritance left behind by a person for his or her survivors.

But the word has evolved to mean the sum total of a person’s life, especially their achievements and accomplishments.

In that context, what we are discussing here is whether Embiid has better or more achievements and accomplishments than Howard.

So back to the points the gentleman made.

Who cares more, Embiid or Howard?

The gentleman’s first point was that Embiid cares more about the game than Howard.

Other than Embiid and Howard themselves, there is no way anyone can objectively quantify if they care for the game.

Care is a big word we fans throw around.

Truth is we do not know.

We have some eye tests at best – 

Many believed Shaq did not care.

He showed up out of shape for multiple seasons with the Lakers. 

But he worked himself into shape during the season and won them three titles in three seasons.

It’s the same with Barkley. 

It was a running joke that he could not resist a good buffet.

But he put up a guaranteed 25, 10 and 4 every night.

Then there is “fat” Harden

Whether fat or not, he is still the most prolific scorer in the NBA.

So right off the bat there is no way to objectively quantify care – so that point is out.

Better player? Embiid or Howard?

I am willing to acknowledge that Embiid could, pound for pound, skill for skill and number for number be the better player.

He is clearly a better shooter and scorer.

He is a good rebounder.

He is a decent passer for a center.

And is effective on defense.

I am willing to sit and even agree that he is a better basketball player than Howard.

But the debate isn’t about who is the better player.

It is about who has the better legacy.

The Better Legacy – Embiid or Howard?

And in that regard, with all due respect to my contemporary, Howard is miles ahead of Embiid.

The gentleman’s third point was, Embiid has done a lot in his short career.

He is a 5-time all-star.

He has made four all-NBA second teams.

He also has a scoring title from his 2022 campaign.

But Howard’s accomplishments dwarf Embiid’s.

Let me break it down.

First, Howard is a three time Defensive player of the year.

Since the award was instituted in 1983, Only four players in the history of the NBA have won the award at least three times – Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo, Rudy Gobert and of course Howard.

That’s a solid list, but I can see why someone can try and trivialize this argument.

But there are two reasons why Howard stands out on that list.

One – he is the only one among the four to win all three awards consecutively.

But two – and more importantly – he was the best player on all those teams – something none of the other players could boast off

Howard is one of only three NBA players to have won the defensive player award at least twice AND score at least 20 points in two of those seasons.

The other players were Hakeem Olajuwon and Alonzo Mourning.

That is elite company!

Second, he is an 8-time All-Star

I won’t dwell too much into this but suffice to say he was a popular player.

This though, is something I believe a healthy Embiid will easily beat over the course of his career.

Third, he has led the NBA in rebounding five times.

Only four other players have led the NBA in rebounding at least five times: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Dennis Rodman.

If that isn’t the who’s who of rebounding, I am not sure what the conversation is about anymore.

He will finish his career in the top-20 of all time rebounders – both regular season and playoffs.

Oh yeah – did I mention that Chamberlain, Russell and Howard are the only three players to have at least five seasons where they led the NBA in rebounding during the playoffs?

And contrary to popular belief – two of those Howard seasons came with Houston – not Orlando.

Fourth – Howard has made 8 All-NBA teams, five of them were first team ballots – from 2008 to 2012

In fact, he was so dominant during that stretch, that he finished in the top five in MVP voting in four of those five seasons.

Embiid’s stats can catch up here – he is clearly a valuable asset to the Sixers and is a big part of their success.

But making five straight All-NBA First teams is going to be a task – even for a player as valuable and as gifted as Embiid.

Finally, though, and this is the clincher argument, assuming that there is still someone who disagrees, Howard has been to the NBA Finals.

Before I break down that season from Howards perspective, it is important to see the roster he took to the Finals, and who they beat along the way.

34-year-old Anthony Johnson

Rookie Courtney Lee

29-year-old Hedo Turkoglu

29-year-old Rashard Lewis

32-year-old Rafer Alston 

And, Mickael Pietrus

In the playoffs they beat – 

A peak Igoudala and a young Sixers team in six games.

Reigning NBA champions the Boston Celtics in seven games – although they were missing Kevin Garnett due to injury

And a 24-year old, LeBron James – the regular season MVP who averaged 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in the series.

And now let’s see the season from Howard’s perspective.

Led the NBA in rebounding, and offensive rebounding.

Led the NBA in blocks.

Led the NBA in field goal percentage for all players that averaged at least 18 points a game.

Only player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal.

Finished fourth in MVP voting behind James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade.

Defensive Player of the Year.

All team 1st NBA.

NBA finalist.

There are NBA players who have not hit these milestones across their entire careers, let alone doing all this in one season.

Now, there is a common argument that Howard fell off his peak after his stint in Orlando.

That he lost interest and he was and continued to be a shelf of the player he once was.

This argument has zero basis in truth.


Let us quickly look at his journey after Orlando.

He averaged 17 points and led the NBA in rebounding with the Los Angeles Lakers despite battling injuries, and playing under the shadow of Kobe Bryant.

I am willing to concede that Howard was a bit like a fish out of water here.

But consider the circumstances.

He came into the league as an 18 year old high school player.

Then played with either erratic stars such as Steve Francis, or older stars such as Grant Hill or Vince Carter – both of whom were injury prone and past 30.

This was the first time Howard was playing with a superstar near or just off his peak – arguably one of the five greatest NBA players of all time.

He was expected to be the sidekick to one of the most intense players to ever play in the NBA.

I am not defending Howards performance – he could have done better. He should have done better.

But was he shabby, or did he drop off? Barely.

Then in Houston he found his groove again.

He averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds in his three seasons there while, somehow shooting a blistering 60% from the field.

In fact he was clearly the second best option on the team.

Against the Portland Trailblazers in Round 1 of the 2014 NBA playoffs – He averaged a career high 26 points per game!

This despite having a scoring genius like Harden on the team.

He even helped the team advance to the 2015 NB Western Conference Semifinals against the eventual champions the Golden State Warriors.

He put up a vintage 18 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks performance in a Game 6 elimination game.

Again, I ask.

Were his number down? Marginally.

Was he effective? Extremely.

Was he shabby or off his peak? Barely.

Now, once he left Houston is when he started to really taper.

Keep aside his redemption season with the Charlotte Hornets, where as a 32 year old, he dropped 32 points and pulled down 30 rebounds in a single game – becoming the oldest player other than Chamberlain to have that stat line in a game.

Howard is now entering his 19th season in the NBA.

There are only three active players who have played longer – Udonis Haslem, Carmelo Anthony and of course LeBron James.

And in all likelihood, Howard will also play and complete two decades as an NBA player.

Embiid is a very very good player. And if he stays healthy I believe that he will finish his career with a better legacy than Howard.

But at least for the next ten years or until Embiid wins a championship – whichever comes first – even he has concede that Dwight Howard has a better legacy than him. is a free-to-read resource on the NBA. You may consider showing your appreciation by buying something from Baba’s store. It is a combination of affiliate links to basketball books and gear, and also some exclusive BasketballBaba merchandise. for every purchase you make, 5% of the profits go towards the Dribble Academy Foundation.

NBA Player Comparisons

Michael or LeBron – NBA’s Greatest Of All Time?

Michael Jordan has six NBA championships, whereas LeBron James has four. James is second in most career points scored in NBA history, while MJ has five MVP trophies. Jordan holds the record for career points per game, while James led the NBA in assists at the age of 35. The debate is never-ending.

James continues to play towards his fifth ring, and there is a conversation about his standing on the list of the Greatest NBA Player of All Time.

There is value in comparing him to others like Kobe Bryant, and Bill Russell. However, the question on everyone’s mind is – How does he compare to Michael Jordan?

Before you jump in, it is important to understand that the ONLY way to establish a G.O.A.T. debate is by comparing what each player did in their era. Because we do not have a time machine and have no clue how an 18-year-old James would have survived the 80’s, nor do we know how Jordan would’ve handled himself during the social media age now.

The article below is an objective breakdown of the careers of the players who are the most active in the G.O.A.T. conversation.

Part I – Rings, Awards & Numbers

Rings / NBA Championships

Michael Jordan has six rings (or) NBA Championships (’91, ’92, ’93, ’96, ’97, ’98), while LeBron James has four (’12, ’13, ’16, ’20).

They were undoubtedly the best players on their respective teams during these championships, as evidenced by them winning the Finals MVP trophies in their respective championship seasons.

Team Records & Standing

You may ask, why do team records and standings matter in the conversation between two individual players.

This is because basketball is a team game.

Also because there is little doubt that both Michael Jordan and LeBron James were the best players on their team, with the exception of Jordan on the Wizards.

Michael Jordan

SeasonConf. SeedNBA Seed
*NBA championship seasons

Jordan’s teams finished in the top three of the conference eight times and the NBA six times.

His teams topped the conference and the NBA five and four times respectively.

He has missed the playoffs twice.

Jordan made the NBA playoffs in 13 of his 15 seasons.

LeBron James

SeasonConf. SeedNBA Seed
*NBA Championship seasons

James’ teams finished in the top three of the conference twelve times and the NBA six times, topping the conference and the NBA five times and thrice respectively.

He has missed the playoffs four times.

James made the NBA playoffs in 15 of his 19 seasons.


Most Valuable Player (MVP)

The Maurice Podoloff Trophy or the NBA’s KIA Most Valuable Player Award. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

This is arguably the most important regular-season award.

Why arguably?

Because in the history of the NBA, the MVP Award has not always gone to the best player in the league.

Often, the award has gone to other players because voters were either tired of giving it to the same person (like Jabbar, Jordan or James), or were sleeping under a rock.

Some of the famous botched MVP awards are:

Bill Russell (’62) over Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson.

Wes Unseld (’69) over Earl Monroe.

Dave Cowens (’73) over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Bill Walton (’78) over George Gervin.

David Robinson (’95) over Hakeem Olajuwon.

Karl Malone (’97) and Barkley (’93) over Jordan.

Steve Nash (’06) over Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant (’08) over LeBron James.

Russell Westbrook (’17) over James Harden.

In the above seasons, the player who was most deserving of the award was overlooked for the award.

Nevertheless, it is important to take into account that Jordan has five regular season MVP trophies while James has four.

Jordan won his first MVP Award in his fourth NBA season, while James won it the first time in his sixth NBA season.

The MVP is an vote-in award; you read more about it here.

So how unanimous were these choices? In other words, how many first-place votes did Jordan and James get in their MVP seasons.

Michael JordanLeBron James
1988 (47 out of 90 votes – 52%) 2009 (109 out of 121 votes – 90%)
1991 (77 / 96 – 80%) 2010 (116 / 123 – 94%)
1992 (80 / 96 – 83%) 2012 (85 / 121 – 70%)
1996 (109 / 113 – 96%) 2013 (120 / 121 – 99%)
1998 (92 / 116 – 79%)
James was clearly closer to unanimity than Jordan

Over the course of their careers, James has been closer to MVP unanimity than Jordan.

Was that a sign of James’ domination over the NBA, or were Jordan’s adversaries that good?

There are arguments to be made for both sides.

All NBA Team Selections

The All-NBA Team is the closest we have to a perfect system to determine who the top 15 players in a particular season were.

It is a ranking based on voted received by a global group of chosen sportswriters and broadcasters.

In 1988 the NBA expanded the All-NBA Team Selections to three teams instead of two.

There is some criticism that because the award is determined by sportswriters and broadcasters, it can often go to the players who are the most media friendly.

There is no evidence to back up this claim, and there are certain players who are clearly hostile towards the media but still get picked.

The other criticism is that the selection is too “position-centric”. Voters have to select two guards, two forwards, and two centers. This was instituted in 1956.

This is a valid criticism.

James is classified as a forward, however he has historically had the ball in his hands more than the point guards on his team.

Basketball has become a position-less game. I predict that the voting for

Michael Jordan has made an All-NBA team 11 times in his 15-season NBA career.

1st Team All-NBA: 10 times (’87 – ’93, ’96 – ’98)

2nd Team All-NBA : Once (’85)

For those wondering, he was a rookie in ’84 and broke his foot during the ’86 season missing 64 games.

LeBron James has made an All NBA team 17 times in 19 NBA seasons.

1st team All-NBA: 13 times (’06, ’08 – ’18, ’20)

2nd team All-NBA: Thrice (’05, ’07, ’21)

3rd team All-NBA: Once (’19).

All-NBA Defensive Team Selections

Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan (45) on defense. (Photo by David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Michael Jordan has made an All-NBA Defensive Team nine (9) times.

1st team All-NBA Defense: 9 times (’88 – ’93, ’96 – ’98).

Jordan also won the 1988 Defensive Player Of the Year Award. He led the league in steals that season, and also in ’90 and ’93.

LeBron James has made an All-NBA Defensive Team five (5) times

1st team All-NBA Defense: 5 times (’09 – ’13)

2nd team All-NBA Defense: once (’14).

NBA All-Star Selections

2006 NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player LeBron James #23. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Michael Jordan is a 14-time NBA All-Star, while LeBron James is an 18-time NBA All-Star.

Not only that, they both have also won the NBA All-Star MVP Trophy three times:

Michael Jordan: ’88, ’96, ’98
LeBron James: ’06, ’08, ’18

Jordan missed just the ’95 season – he had returned to the NBA after the All-Star break), while James missed it in just his rookie season (’04).

NBA Rookie of the Year Award

Both Michael Jordan (’85) and LeBron James (’04) have won the NBA Rookie Of the Year Award.

NBA Playoffs


Michael Jordan took the Chicago Bulls to the NBA playoffs in his rookie season. They lost to the Milwaukee Bucks who had the third-best record in the NBA that season.

LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs in his third season where they lost to the previous season’s NBA finalists, the Detroit Pistons.

In his fifteen seasons in the NBA, Jordan made the playoffs all thirteen times with the Chicago Bulls and missed them both times with the Washington Wizards.

Scottie Pippen #33 and Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls talk things over during an NBA game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 25, 1995. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

James missed the playoffs four times in his 19-season career – his first two seasons in the league, the 2019, and then the 2022 season.

More impressively, James had not missed the NBA Finals from 2011 to 2018 season, i.e eight straight seasons.

NBA Finals

Michael Jordan reached his first NBA finals in his seventh season, while it took LeBron James just four.

However, Jordan has never lost in an NBA Finals series , while James has lost six out of ten.

Along the way, Jordan was eliminated in the first round thrice (’85 Bucks, ’86 Celtics, and ’87 Celtics), the second round twice (’88 Pistons, ’95 Magic) and the NBA Conference Finals twice (’89 Pistons, and ’90 Pistons).

Of those teams, three went on to win the Finals (’86 Celtics, ’89 & ’90 Pistons).

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up against Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

James’ teams have been eliminated once in the first round (’21 Suns), lost the second round twice (’06 Pistons, ’08 Celtics), the NBA Conference Finals twice (’09 Magic, ’10 Celtics) and the NBA Finals six times (’07 Spurs, ’11 Mavericks, ’14 Spurs, ’15 Warriors, ’17 Warriors, ’18 Warriors).

NBA Career Numbers

I would normally break down these numbers to peak career and off-peak career.

Then I realized what a silly idea that was.

When exactly were these two great players off-peak?

Except Jordan’s two seasons with the Wizards, never.

Order of stats: points / rebounds / assists / stocks* (steals+blocks) / FG-3P-FT (shooting %)

NBA Regular Season

Michael Jordan
15 seasons – 1072 games
30.1 / 6.2 / 5.3 / 3.1 / 50-33-83

LeBron James
19 seasons – 1366 games
27.1 / 7.5 / 7.4 / 2.4 / 50-35-73


Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James NBA regular season scoring comparison

Jordan is a 10-time Scoring Champ (’87 – ’93, ’96 – ’98), while James led the league in scoring once (’08).

Interestingly, both their career highs (Jordan – 37.1, James – 31.4) came in their respective third seasons.

Guard Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Credit: Doug Pensinger /Allsport

Jordan has averaged 30+ points for a season eight times in his career. James has done this thrice.

Jordan has scored 50 or more points 31 times in the regular season during his career. Of those games, he has scored 60+ points four (4) times. His career-high is the 69 points he scored against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 28, 1990.

James has scored 50 or more points 15 times in the regular season during his career. Of those games, he has scored 60+ points once, that was his career-high is 61 points he scored against the Miami Heat on March 3, 2014.


Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James assists NBA regular season comparison

LeBron James led the league in assists (’20), while the highest Jordan ever finished in assists was 10th (’89) where he finished with 8.0 assists per game.

James has averaged 7+ assists twelve times in the regular season during his career, while Jordan has done this once.

Jordan has dished out 10+ assists 76 times in the regular season during his career. Of those games he has dished out 15+ assists five times. His career high is the 17 assists he had against the Portland Trailblazers on March 24th, 1989.

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

James has dished out 10+ assists 304 times in the regular season during his career. Of those games he has dished out 15+ assists 23 times. His career high is 19 assists which he has done twice – first against the Atlanta Hawks on January 15, 2018, and then against the Orlando Magic on January 15, 2020.


Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James Rebounds NBA regular Season comparison

LeBron James has averaged 8+ rebounds five times in the regular season during his career, while Jordan has never done this.

Jordan has taken 10+ rebounds 151 times in the regular season during his career. His career high is 18 rebounds which he has taken twice in his career.

James has taken 10+ rebounds 337 times in the regular season during his career. His career high is 19 rebounds which he took against the Charlotte Bobcats on January 11, 2008.

NBA Playoffs

Michael Jordan
13 seasons – 179 games
33.4 / 6.4 / 5.7 / 3.0 / 49-33-83

What needs to be highlighted is that 24 seasons after his last playoff game, Jordan still holds the record for the highest playoff scoring average.

LeBron James
15 seasons – 266 games
28.7 / 9.0 / 7.2 / 2.6 / 49-34-74

James has played 87 more games (and counting) than Jordan.

Bill Simmons’ 42 Club

In 2006 Bill Simmons’ wrote a column making the case for why Dirk Nowitzki needed to be included in the conversation for the greatest players. In the column, he proposed a simpler way of deducing greatness from statistics.

Named the 42 Club, Simmons says “Why make it so complicated? Just add up the point, rebound and assist averages for franchise guys during the playoffs: If the number tops 42, you’re probably talking about a pantheon guy. You could even call it the 42 Club. Since it’s my idea, I only allowed guys who played 13 or more playoff games in one postseason to be eligible, since that’s a legitimate sampling (more than a month of basketball at the highest level). 

Since this is a column debating two of the greatest NBA players ever, let us up the stakes to include stocks (steals & blocks), and call it the 45 Club.

Michael Jordan’s 45 Club seasons:
1989 – 52.7
1990 – 54.4
1991* – 49.7
1992* – 49.2
1993* – 50.8
1997* – 46.3

LeBron James’ 45 Club seasons:
2006 – 46.8
2008 – 46.7
2009 – 54.2
2012* – 48.2
2015 – 52.7
2016 – 47.0
2017 – 52.9
2018 – 54.5
2020* – 49.3

*NBA Championship season

It is clear that both players were beasts in the playoffs. James’ superior passing and rebounding numbers give him the edge over Jordan, 9-6

Jordan, however, won more championships in his 45-Club seasons, edging out James four to one.

Part II – The Nuanced Arguments

Part Two of this article dive into nuances of the Jordan vs James debate. Rings, numbers, and awards are objective; the arguments laid out in this section provide context to the objectivity.

Simply put, if there was no context to the number of NBA championships a player has won then it would seem that Robert Horry, who has seven rings, is a better player than Jordan or James.

Record against .500 teams

Here is a complete list of the All-NBA team players Michael Jordan played with during his Playoff runs:

Quality of Teammates

Here is a complete list of the All-NBA team players Michael Jordan played with during his Playoff runs:

Scottie Pippen:
1992 2nd Team All-NBA
1993 3rd Team All-NBA
1995 1st Team All-NBA
1996 1st Team All-NBA
1997 2nd Team All-NBA
1998 3rd Team All-NBA

Scottie Pippen was a defensive legend. I would not surprised if guards and forwards from the 80’s and 90’s still have nightmares of their matchups with him.

Many believe that if Pippen was not in Jordan’s shadow, he would’ve had a greater career. The argument, a valid one, is that Pippen lead the Bulls to 55 and 47 wins in ’94 and ’95 respectively in Jordan’s absence. He also finished third in MVP voting in 1994.

However, let us debunk two big myths surrounding the legend of Scottie Pippen.

Myth One – Pippen was living under Jordan’s shadow:

It is important to take a step back and understand the whole NBA was living under Jordan’s shadow in the 80’s and 90’s.

Bird and Magic opened the door, but Jordan’s sheer persona ripped open a floodgate.

For all the credit that David Stern gets for making the NBA a global, it is no coincidence that he became commissioner in ’84, the year Jordan was drafted into the league.

Myth Two – Jordan would not have won rings without Pippen:

Every great player had some watching his back. Kareem Abdul Jabbar had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird had Kevin Mchale, Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan had Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and Bill Russell had a slew of them.

Just like the greats before and after him, Jordan needed every member for each championship; Kerr and Paxson practically won him his ’93 and ’97 championships.

To use this as an asterisk against Jordan’s greatness is to be willfully ignorant of the fact that basketball is a team sport and that a championship demands greatness from the entire squad.

Pippen was a great player and will continue to be one of the 50 greatest players for a very long time.

Could Pippen have had a “better” career than the one he had with Jordan and the Bulls? Possibly.

Would he want to give up the six rings he won with Jordan and the Bulls to find out? No chance. And if you disagree, feel free to ask him directly.

Now compare that to LeBron James’ best sidekicks during his playoff runs

Dwyane Wade:
2011 2nd team All-NBA
2012 3rd team All-NBA
2013 3rd team All-NBA

Kyrie Irving:
2015 3rd team All-NBA

Anthony Davis:
2020 1st team All-NBA

I know what you are thinking. “LeBron had much less help!”.

Yes, James had five All-NBA teammates during his playoff runs, compared to Jordan’s six.

What is important, though, is what did those runs amount to?

For James, four rings and two finals’ losses; for Jordan, five rings and one Eastern Conference Semi-Finals loss (his shortened ’95 season).

Quality of Opposition

Michael Jordan legacy here is unquestionably bigger than James’.

James seems to have the edge in playing in the modern era. Recency bias coupled with the more flashier high-scoring NBA of today help inflate James’ opponents profiles.

This section is divided into two sections:

One, the quality of teams and players that Jordan and James beat on the way to their NBA Championships.
Two, the number of rings they “stole” by beating a potential champion.

Most would attempt this comparison by saying Jordan beat to a ton of Hall of Famers en route his championship rings. This is a meaningless argument to make and is unfair to James as many of his peers will be Hall of Famers by the time they finish their careers.

The better way to do this would be to see how many of the best teams were victims of the two players’ greatness.

Michael Jordan’s Opposition
(Teams with 50+ wins highlighted)
(*Teams with 60+ wins)


  • Round 1 vs. New York Knicks (3-0): Patrick Ewing (2nd team All-NBA)
  • Round 2 vs. Philadelphia 76ers (4-1): Charles Barkley (1st team)
  • Conference Finals vs. Detroit Pistons (4-0): Joe Dumars (3rd team)
  • NBA Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers (4-1): Magic Johnson (1st team), James Worthy (3rd team)


  • Round 1 vs. Miami Heat (3-0): Tim Hardaway (2nd team)
  • Round 2 vs. New York Knicks (4-3): Ewing (2nd team)
  • Conference Finals vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-2): Brad Daughtery (3rd team), Mark Price (3rd team)
  • NBA Finals vs. Portland Blazers (4-2): Clyde Drexler (1st team)


  • Round 1 vs. Atlanta Hawks (3-0): Dominique Wilkins (2nd team)
  • Round 2 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-0): Price (1st team)
  • Conference Finals vs. New York Knicks (4-2): Ewing (2nd team)
  • NBA Finals vs. Phoenix Suns (4-2): Barkley (1st team) (MVP)


  • Round 1 vs. Miami Heat (3-0): No one.
  • Round 2 vs. New York Knicks (4-1): No one.
  • Conference Finals vs. Orlando Magic (4-0): Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway (1st team), Shaquille O’Neal (3rd team)
  • NBA Finals vs. Seattle Sonics (4-2): Shawn Kemp (2nd team), Gary Payton (2nd team)


  • Round 1 vs. Washington Bullets (3-0): No one.
  • Round 2 vs. Atlanta Hawks (4-1): No one.
  • Round 3 vs. Miami Heat (4-1): Tim Hardway (1st team)
  • Finals vs. Utah Jazz (4-2): Karl Malone (1st team) (MVP), John Stockton (3rd team)


  • Round 1 vs. New Jersey Nets (3-0): No one.
  • Round 2 vs. Charlotte Hornets (4-1): Glen Rice (3rd team)
  • Conference Finals vs. Indiana Pacers (4-3): Reggie Miller (3rd team)
  • NBA Finals vs. Utah Jazz (4-2): Malone (1st team)

That’s 24 All-NBA players including two MVPs en route six championships.

If you take into account all the All-NBA players Jordan’s Bulls have beaten in the playoffs that number climbs to 27, i.e. ’89 – Price (3rd), Ewing (2nd); ’90 – Barkley (1st).

Additionally, Jordan’s Bulls beat sixteen 50+ win teams, swept nine teams (including three with 50+ wins), with a record of 90-26 (77%) in his Championship years.

Expand that to include all his playoff seasons and the numbers look like this: beaten twenty 50+ win teams, with a record of 119-60 (66%), and swept twice by Celtics (’86, ’87).

LeBron James’ opposition


  • Round 1 vs. New York Knicks (4-1): Tyson Chandler (3rd team)
  • Round 2 vs. Indiana Pacers (4-2): No one.
  • Conference Finals vs. Boston Celtics (4-3): Rajon Rondo (3rd team)
  • NBA Finals vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1): Kevin Durant (1st team), Russell Westbrook (2nd team)


  • Round 1 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (4-0): No one.
  • Round 2 vs. Chicago Bulls (4-1): No one.
  • Conference Finals vs. Indiana Pacers (4-3): Paul George (3rd)
  • NBA Finals vs. San Antonio Spurs (4-3): Tim Duncan (1st team), Tony Parker (2nd team)


  • Round 1 vs. Detroit Pistons (4-0): Andre Drummond (3rd team)
  • Round 2 vs. Atlanta Hawks (4-0): No one.
  • Conference Finals vs. Toronto Raptors (4-2): Kyle Lowry (3rd team)
  • Finals vs. Golden State Warriors (4-3): Stephen Curry (1st team) (MVP), Draymond Green (2nd team), Klay Thompson (3rd team)


  • Round 1 vs. Portland Trailblazers (4-1): Damian Lillard (2nd team)
  • Round 2 vs. Houston Rockets (4-1): James Harden (1st team), Russell Westrbook (3rd team)
  • Conference Finals vs. Denver Nuggets (4-1): Nikola Jokic (2nd team)
  • Finals vs. Miami Heat (4-2): Jimmy Butler (3rd team)

That’s 17 All-NBA players and one MVP en route three championships.

If you take into account all the All-NBA players James has beaten in the playoffs that number climbs to 23, i.e. ’06 – Gilbert Arenas (3rd); ’07 – Arenas (3rd), Chauncey Billups (3rd); ’09 – Billups (3rd); ’11 – Derrick Rose (1st)(MVP); ’14 – Al Jefferson (3rd) & George (3rd); ’17 – Isaiah Thomas (2nd), Demarr DeRozan (3rd); ’18 – DeRozan (2nd), Victor Oladipo (3rd).

Additionally, James’ teams beat five 50+ win teams, and swept three teams, with a record of 64-24 (72%) in his Championship years.

Expand that to include all his playoff seasons and the numbers look like this: beaten twelve 50+ win teams, with a record of 224-91 (71%), and sweeping a total of twelve teams, while getting swept against the 2018 Golden State Warriors.

How many NBA rings did they steal?

Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue when asked James’ about legacy said, “Michael Jordan, the same way.”

He told Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical last season. “There’s a reason why guys like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller don’t have championships, because of Michael Jordan. And now, in this era, because of LeBron James.”

This, in my opinion, is what will determine LeBron James’ eventual legacy.

Let’s take a look at the damage Michael Jordan and James caused during their Championship runs.

For context I have included the names of players who, if it were not for Jordan or James that season, would have gone on to win the NBA Championship.

Simply put, Jordan and James stole these rings.

Jordan’s Run

In his 13 year playoffs run, Jordan has beaten:

Isiah Thomas in the 1991 NBA Eastern Conference Finals

Isiah Thomas #11 of the Detroit Pistons with Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

In the 1991 NBA Playoffs, Thomas’s Detroit Pistons were coming off back-to-back NBA championships in 1989 and 1990). Not only that, his Pistons beat the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1, and swept the Boston Celtics (second-best team in the East) in Round 2.

Joe Dumars was having a career scoring year (20.4 ppg), and Thomas, despite missing 34 games, finished with (16.2 ppg and 9.3 assists). The Pistons brought back the same key pieces they had won the 1990 championship with.

Did not matter; they had no answer for Jordan. A raging Jordan had put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason with the sole intention to beat the Pistons.

Thomas was so pissed off after the sweep he infamously refused to shake Jordan’s hand after the Game 4 loss.

Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals

Magic Johnson #32 of the Los Angeles Lakers backs into Michael Jordan #23. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

Magic Johnson (31) was still at his peak and finished with 19.4 ppg and 12.5 apg (second-best in the NBA behind John Stockton). He was a five-time NBA champion by then – his last ring coming in 1988.

The matchup went down as one of the most anticipated in NBA history as Jordan and Johnson represented two ends of the spectrum: Johnson the accomplished veteran and Jordan the up and coming star.

Jordan wasted no time is settling that debate, wiping out a loaded Lakers team (Johnson – James Worthy – Byron Scott – Sam Perkins – Vlade Divac) in five games.

Clyde Drexler in the 1992 NBA Finals

Clyde Drexler #22 of the Portland Trail Blazers stands next to Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

Clyde Drexler was the second best player in the NBA in 1992.

He finished fourth in scoring (25.0 ppg), was the only player other than Jordan to average 25-6-6 (ppg-apg-rpg), was the best player on the second best team, and finished second in the MVP voting that season.

Naturally many players, coaches and media began to speculate that Drexler (28) was in line to threaten Jordan’s (29) dominance.

Jordan detested the comparison between him and Drexler. He decided to settle the chatter by beating Drexler dropping an average of 35.4 ppg in the six-game series.

Jordan continued to demoralize him during practice while on the ‘92 USA Olympics team, until Magic Johnson stepped in asked him to take it easy.

Drexler eventually won a ring with the Houston Rocket in ‘95. Guess who wasn’t in the ‘95 Finals?

Patrick Ewing in the 1993 NBA Eastern Conference Finals

Patrick Ewing #33 of the New York Knicks greets Michael Jordan #33 of the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Patrick Ewing and Jordan formed one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the NBA

They met five times in the playoffs (‘89, ‘91, ‘92, ‘93, ‘96) with Jordan and the Bulls winning all five contests with a total record of 19-8.

While the ‘92 contest was one of the greatest seven-game battles in the NBA history, it was in ‘93 that Ewing was the closest to a ring.

With Ewing as their best player, the New York Knicks had won 60 games for just the second time in franchise history (they have not won those many since) and were the best team in the East and second best in the NBA behind the Phoenix Suns.

Ewing and the Knicks won the first two games, and the world rushed to declare an end to Jordan’s dominance. Jordan’s Bulls had not lost back-to-back games since dropping game 2 in the 1990 NBA Easter Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons.

That did not phase the Bulls and Jordan. They rallied against the Knicks who dropped the next four games straight (the last two games by a total of just 11 points).

Charles Barkley in the 1993 NBA Finals

Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls and Charles Barkley #34 of the Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

While with Philadelphia, Barkley’s previous two meetings with Jordan did not go to well.

This was Barkley’s best chance at the title and he gave it everything he had.

He had won the NBA regular season MVP by a whopping 59 first place votes to Jordan’s 13. He was the best player on the best team in the regular season – the Phoenix Suns finished with 62 wins.

He then put up incredible numbers, averaging 27 ppg, 13 rpg and 5.5 apg, and keeping the series close – the series was decided by total of 36 points across six games.

Jordan, though, was pissed that he did not win regular season MVP. He clearly believed it was his trophy and wanted to remind everyone in the NBA that he was still the best player.

No problem. Jordan annihilated all that the Suns threw in his way, dropping 41.0 ppg in six games – including a monstrous 55-point Game 4 – en route to his third NBA ring, and completing his first three-peat.

Shaquille O’Neal & Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway in the 1996 NBA Eastern Conference Finals

Michael Jordan #45 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against Shaquille O’Neal #32 of the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

In 1996, the Orlando Magic were reigning NBA Finalists. They had the third best record in the NBA (60 wins), were the second best passing team in the NBA behind the Utah JAzz, and their young duo of Shaq+Penny combined for 48.3 ppg/15.3 rpg/10.0 apg/2.6 spg/2.6 bpg. They were 23 and 24 respectively.

Jordan on the other hand was 32, coming off 18 months of retirement and half a season in 1995.

After losing to the Orlando Magic in six games in Round 2 of the 1995 NBA playoffs, critics rushed to write the eulogy for Jordan’s career. They claimed that if he could not get past a young Orlando Magic team at his peak, then he was done.

Big mistake.

Jordan went on a mission in 1996, unleashing the Bulls to a 72-10 regular season record. and destroying the Orlando Magic in the 1996 NBA Eastern Conference Finals; not just beating Shaq+Penny, but sweeping them.

Penny was never the same again and Shaq left for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gary Payton & Shawn Kemp in the 1996 NBA Finals

Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls glances at Gary Payton #20 and Shawn Kemp #40 of the Seattle SuperSonics. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Seattle Supersince were the second-best team in the NBA. They finished with 64 wins, and had Gary “The Glove” Payton, and Shawn Kemp – both 2nd team All-NBA – as their best players.

They were a highly balanced team with four of their players averaging 15+ ppg.

A Sonics-Magic was the most anticipated matchup at the time.

Payton vs. Hardaway and Kemp vs. Shaq.

Master vs. Master and Monster vs. Monster.

Only the Jordan decided to spoil the party.

Incensed by the doubt a failed 1995 campaign raised in the minds of all around him, Jordan unleashed holy hell in the playoffs, averaging a league leading 30.7 ppg, and wrapping the ‘96 championship with a record of 15-3 and ring no. 4.

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp never came close again.

Karl Malone in the 1997 NBA Finals

Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls shares a hug with Karl Malone #32 of the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Malone tops the list of players whose championship legacies Jordan ruined.

This was Malone at his apex. He averaged 27.4 ppg (2nd in the NBA), 9.9 rpg and was second to Shaq in FG% with 55%. He won the regular season MVP

Even at the time, this was believed to be a mercy award simply because everyone was tired of giving it to Jordan.

Jordan, who had led the Bulls to 67 wins (a season after 72-wins the previous season), and also led the lead in scoring disagreed with the NBA’s choice for MVP.

He proceeded to establish who is boss, dropping 38 points in Game 5 while fighting 103-degree fever, and averaging 32 ppg/7rpg/6 apg en route beating the Jazz in six games for NBA ring No. 5.

Karl Malone in the 1998 NBA Finals:

Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the game winner against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA FINALS of Game 6. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

Another 60+ win season.

Another meeting with the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals.

News floating that the Bulls franchise would not be around for another season.

Another shot at a three-peat and cementing his legacy forever.

Jordan stole the ball and made one of the greatest shots in NBA history.

MJ Calls Game For Ring #6 | The Jordan Vault
1998 NBA Finals – Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz

Ring No. 6.

Malone would never recover.

Honourable mentions:
Brad Daughtery (‘92 NBA Eastern Conference Finals), Alonzo Mourning & Tim Hardaway (‘97 NBA ECF), and Reggie Miller (‘98 NBA ECF).

If you are keeping score at home, Jordan stole nine rings away from teams and players who were within striking distance of winning the championship that (respective) season.

LeBron James’ Run

In his 14 season playoffs run, James has beaten:

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook & James Harden in the 2012 NBA Finals:

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat posts up Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Miami Heat Big Three were upset in the 2011 NBA Finals.

The Oklahoma City Thunder trio weren’t expected to get to the Finals this quickly.

But after beating the Los Angeles Lakers (4-1) and upsetting the San Antonio Spurs (4-2) the Thunder looked primed to give LeBron James and the Heat a run for their money.

That didn’t work out too well.

James found his inner-beast that season. He and the Heat bundled up the Thunder in five games, and broke the team before they had a chance to become a dynasty.

Tim Duncan in the 2013 NBA Finals

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drives to the basket against Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

This series was probably the most emotional roller coaster I have ever ridden. So you can imagine what Pop, Duncan and the Spurs felt.

The Spurs were up 3-2 in the series and leading by 3 points (95-92) with 19 seconds left in regulation.

Miami took a timeout.

When they took the court, Pop chose to keep Duncan – his best player – on the bench.

James brings the ball up, takes and misses a wide open 3.

With Duncan – among the greatest rebounders in the history of the NBA – on the bench, Chris Bosh gets the rebound and passes it to Ray Allen.

Allen, a master at his craft, back peddles towards the baseline, and without looking down launches, arguably, the greatest shot in NBA history.

The shot often takes away from the leap James made in that series.

The 2013 Finals MVP he became a certified Game 7 killer scoring 37 points against a feisty Spurs defence, and quashing Duncan’s hope for a fifth ring that season.

Stephen Curry in the 2016 NBA Finals

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

One of the 10 greatest NBA playoffs series ever.

The Golden State Warriors had finished the season with the best regular season record in the history of the NBA – 73 wins.

Curry won his second MVP trophy in two years, and the Warriors looked indomitable.

They were, however, pushed to the edge when they found themselves down 1-3 against the Thunder. They rallied back and won that series, winnin three games in a row.

The Cleveland Cavaliers finished with 57 wins, and rolled through the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs. They swept the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks in Rounds 1 & 2, and beat the Toronto Raptors in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Then they found themselves down 1-3 to the Warriors. James was hearing the haters, “In 2015 he was excused for not having Irving and Love. Now, despite having a fully healthy squad, James is about to be eliminated.”

It seemed like the end of the road.

Not for James.

He won this series by sheer force of will despite facing humiliating a elimination.

James rallied his troops and rallied to win three straight games to win his third ring.

Even if you do not have the time to watch a minute of that series, watch this chase down block that will tell you everything you needed to know about James as his will to win his third ring.

Honorable mentions: Paul George (‘13 & ‘14 NBA Easter Conference Finals)

That’s three (3) rings James stole from players that could have and deserved to win it all that respective season.


An era of difference

The East was truly the beast during Jordan’s peak. However, the No. 1 seed in the East did not, in any way guarantee a free ride to the Finals, let alone a championship. Add to that the fact that Jordan played in an era where the defence was more physical and near tortuous, and you begin to get a sense that, at this stage of his career, James isn’t close to matching, let alone overtaking Jordan’s career.

It also needs to be said: James joined the NBA in the year the rule against hand-checking was introduced. Simply explained, until the 2004-’05 season, a defensive player could place a hand on the offensive player as long as a “shot” was not being obstructed. This allowed defenders before the 2004-’05 season to muscle and harass their opponents until just before the shot. While this may seem trivial, it isn’t. A better visual explanation can be found here. The elimination of hand-checking is why many older players believe today’s NBA players are too soft.

James is already one of the ten greatest players:

(in alphabetical order)
Larry Bird
Kobe Bryant
Wilt Chamberlain
Tim Duncan
Magic Johnson
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
LeBron James
Michael Jordan
Shaquille O’Neal
Bill Russell

He will need another ring to be included in the conversation of the greatest ever.

But, if he manages to pull this 2022 Lakers team through to the playoffs and somehow, against all odd, win the 2022 NBA championship, I am willing to have the conversation. is a free-to-read resource on the NBA. You may consider showing your appreciation by buying something from Baba’s store. It is a combination of affiliate links to basketball books and gear, and also some exclusive BasketballBaba merchandise. for every purchase you make, 5% of the profits go towards the Dribble Academy Foundation.