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LeBron’s Latest Victory Adds Legitimacy To Jordan-GOAT Debate

Number 162 is significant. It’s a threat to Michael Jordan, the most significant threat to Jordan’s throne on LeBron James’ resume. 

Last night from the NBA Bubble, LeBron James secured playoff victory number 162 in a 10-point win over the Houston Rockets. Number 162 establishes James as the winningest NBA player in postseason history, surpassing Derek Fisher’s standard of 161.

I get it. It sounds a bit silly. How can passing the record of a journeyman NBA role player be a legitimate threat to the GOAT? 

Fisher rode the back of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal for most of his playoff victories and then rode the bench for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to surpass Tim Duncan in playoff victories. 

LeBron’s number 162 isn’t quite Hank Aaron besting Babe Ruth with number 715. The NBA did not authorize holograms of fans storming the court to circle the arena in celebration with LeBron. 

One-sixty-two won’t go down in history.

But it’s the first number and accomplishment that I would use to argue that James is on Jordan’s level. 

LeBron James is the winningest player in NBA postseason history. He’s won more playoff games than Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the other all-time greats on a unique top-10.

He’s number 1 on a list that Jordan’s retirements eliminated him from contention. James is number 1 on a list that doesn’t include Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. 

Number 162 and counting defines LeBron James as a winner above all else. Jordan is a superior competitor than James. LeBron is a superior winner?

Chart image was originally published on NBA.com. More information here.

It’s a fair question. Pointing to Jordan’s six championship rings does not answer the question. 

“It doesn’t happen without my teammates over the years, my coaching staff over the years,” James told reporters inside the Bubble. “Everyone from the top to bottom — GMs, owners, training staffs, ball boys, everything. Everyone has a hand in that because we’re all a part of the process and the success.”

I disagree with James’ modest assertion. There’s a subtle difference between winning titles and winning games. In basketball, groups win titles and individuals win games. 

For my money, John Elway is the greatest NFL player of all time, greater than Tom Brady. Elway could win NFL games with Clay Travis at wide receiver, me at running back and Stephen A. Smith calling plays. Elway dragged mediocre teams and a head coach who didn’t know how to exploit his gifts to three Super Bowls. Elway won two Super Bowls when the Denver Broncos made Mike Shanahan head coach and added Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis and Rod Smith to their offensive arsenal. 

LeBron is the John Elway of basketball. 

I’m not calling LeBron the GOAT. I’m explaining the fair and rational argument that justifies LeBron’s supporters. 

Winning follows LeBron wherever he goes – Cleveland, Miami, Cleveland and Los Angeles. He won with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and now Anthony Davis and Spare Parts.    

Playing in a weakened Eastern Conference for most of his career certainly has helped pad his win total. But that’s nitpicking. 

For the most part, the NBA’s greatest winners did all their winning with one franchise. Duncan, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Kobe, Bill Russell and Isiah Thomas. And then there are the 7-foot forces of nature who win at the highest level at every location — Kareem, Shaq and Wilt. 

LeBron James is a 6-foot-9 point forward who has the impact of a giant.

His playoff winning percentage (65.58%) is higher than Kareem’s and the highest of anyone with more than 129 playoff victories.  Yes, the expanded playoff format boosts James’ percentage and win total. First-round playoff series used to be best-of-five. Division winners used to get first-round byes. 

Imagine Bill Russell’s playoff winning percentage (64.48%) had he been fed  a steady diet of best-of-seven series against eight seeds.

No matter, number 162 and counting speaks to LeBron’s sustained excellence. Let’s put the number in context and compare it to Kawhi Leonard, who is establishing a reputation as the NBA’s ultimate winner. Kawhi has won 75 percent of his NBA regular season games. 

At age 28, nine years into his NBA career, Kawhi has 80 playoff victories.

LeBron may eventually set a playoff victory standard that will never be broken. In my opinion, that won’t make him the GOAT. But it will make it a more interesting conversation.

If you want Jason Whitlock for your TV or radio show or podcast, contact gary@outkick.com.

Written by Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock is a longtime sports writer, TV personality, radio host, podcaster and the newest member of the Outkick family.
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31 Comments

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    • I agree. Unbiased and fair journalism rarely exists anymore. I don’t care for lbj at all and I feel MJ is the GOAT but lbj should be in the discussions for top 5 players of all time. (It pains me to write that) Continued excellent writing from Jason.

    • I agree. I would be a hypocrite if I were to state that Lebron isn’t at least in the discussion for the greatest of all time. How can I criticize other people for not being objective if I can’t be objective?

      Jason listed many great players that deserve to be mentioned whenever the topic of best-ever gets brought up.

      Jordan is the best because of his stone-cold-killer closing ability. However, Lebron has done fairly well throughout his career. (Understated sarcasm)

      But turning to politics…

      Clearly Mr. James hasn’t finished the Autobiography of Malcolm X because I remember Malcolm X coming to a revelation that we are all brothers. He saw “light-skinned, blue-eyed Muslims” at Mecca and realized that we had more in common than we have in cultural contrast.

      After I read the book myself there were several surprises, among which was how thoughtful and intelligent Malcolm X was and how open he was to change. And, in the end, he didn’t hate white people. Quite the contrary, to put it simply, he wanted brotherhood among all races.

      From what I recall from the book, read at least 25 years ago, Malcolm X promoting unity among races was part of the reason he was targeted for assassination.

      So, please Lebron, read the whole book; it’s fantastic. Also, I would suggest “Black Boy”, by Richard Wright. Then move on to a Lincoln biography, “With Malice Toward None”, is a good one.

  1. Unless you are a LeBron fan (which I’m not), playoff wins will not be viewed by most as getting him closer to MJ. I’m curious to see where the conversation goes with Kawhi if he’s able to win a third straight NBA Championship along with a third straight Finals MVP with three different teams.

  2. what never gets said is that Jordan played college ball for 3 years and retired for 2 years. How many more would have Jordan won if had another 5 years of basketball in his prime? Would he have won championships earlier and for longer? Whitlock your comparison does not taking into account the 3 years for college and 2 years where he retired. 100% in the finals is far more important than surpassing Fisher for more playoff wins.

  3. Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete of my lifetime. I don’t say that as a fan of MJs. In fact I tuned in to pull for the other side the majority of his career. But no one exemplified the singular focus to win and the will to push his teammates to the brink to achieve success. To expect that from anyone, including LeBron, is asking almost the impossible.

    I appreciate that fact that you’ve pivoted from LeBron the “activist” and began a discussion about his basketball career. When I think of LeBron the basketball player I think of his freakish athleticism and his court awareness. What I find interesting is his strength might also be his weakness. His willingness to get everyone involved certainly helped him win playoff games, but his unwillingness to take over games and “be the guy” could be the reason he hasn’t won more championships.

    He’s a generational player who should be in the conversation, but he falls short to Jordan’s maniacal pursuit for titles to overtake him as the GOAT.

  4. Eh, not one of JW’s good ones. There is no cohesive point to it. He says 162 matters…then it doesn’t. Then the part with Kawhi at the end…I don’t get it.

    Here’s MY point. For whatever that’s worth.

    LeBron, at his best, was better than MJ ever was. MJ was a freakish athlete while LeBron is among a handful of the most genetically gifted humans ever born.

    The difference is that MJ, like Kobe and Brady was obsessed with winning. They had to win. They had to win championships. They had to prove it every day in every way. LeBron doesn’t. He already said years ago that he thinks that he’s the GOAT.

    • Mark that is a great point which I never thought of. Lebron thought he was the goat early in his career MJ worked his butt off to become the goat because he didn’t feel like he was the goat. The hard work is what makes you the goat. Great analysis!

  5. I used to argue Lebron was the GOAT until the Last Dance which made me realize the relentlessness Jordan attacked championships with. Maybe the future “last dance” documentary on Lebron would swing my vote back. I still think Lebron had the talent to match six ships but sports culture and media splintered his and his teammates’ focus.

  6. Either Bill Russell winning more BIG playoff games means something far greater than LeBron dicking around in first and second rounds, or Russell’s 11 rings need to be discounted for all time. Can’t have it both ways. My view, it wasn’t Russell’s fault there weren’t four rounds of “postseason” in his day, anymore than it was Mickey Mantle’s his World Series HR record now gets muddied by “postseason” HR hitters.

  7. I must say, as a certified “LeBron will never be the GOAT” guy, this article made me think a bit. I personally see him as the Peyton Manning of the NBA. Supremely gifted. Long career. A few rings. And that feeling that, based off ability and some really good teams (don’t forget, his first time around in Cleveland, they got the #1 seed in the East a few times and didn’t make the Finals) he should have more rings.

  8. I honestly think MJ, today, would give Lebron all he could handle in a game of one on one, simply because I don’t think there’s ever been a more fierce competitor. How many times do folks with the most drive, resolve, will, persistence win out over those with more talent. Excellent change of pace today Jason!

  9. Two guys talking’ sports:
    Jason “Big Sexy”: Hey Peter…don’t bogart that joint, my friend…pass it over to me
    Peter “The Doobie King”: Thinkin’ I’ma have to, Big…you talkin’ out ya mind if you think LBJ is in “the conversation”!!!

  10. Nope he’s not the GOAT. The GOAT would have people watching TV and he doesn’t. He’s not really fun to watch for me. NBA overall isn’t the game it used to be. Too much traveling, not physical anymore, 3 pointers. It’s a boring game.

  11. LeBron climbed up one rung closer to Jordan. I’m not sweating it. Longevity awards are nice, but that shouldn’t be used against Jordan because he spent 3 years in college and took a two year hiatus. LeBron’s best days are behind him. LeBron hasn’t wowed me since his floater to win Game 3 of the 2018 series with the Toronto Raptors. That was art. But MJ did this kind of stuff on a weekly basis, even at the end of his Bulls career. LeBron would need to get back to his 2015 form for another 5 years before he could really start catching up to MJ.

  12. Fair points Jason. Love the fair and balanced output of you and Outkick. I know you are not a big LeBron fan in terms of his off the court antics; it makes me ill just to hear him speak. But objectively looking at the numbers and differentiating between wins and championships is fair and, as you stated, at least an interesting discussion that can be had on this topic.
    You guys are rock stars at Outkick, but you are rock stars that connects to “everyman”. I get the sense that you, Clay and the rest are regular guys like me and my friends; that connection is key to Outlook’s sustained excellence.

  13. Jason, love your work and honest take always. In my opinion, there will never be another like Michael Jordan. Beyond stats alone, he imposed his will not only on other teams in a very physical league, but on fans watching as well. If you were rooting against him, and I did often, there was always that FEAR that no matter how big a lead your team had, no matter how much time left on the clock, he was going to beat you. There was a mystique about him especially in the playoffs that you didn’t need stats to know you were watching greatness. Lebron does not have that greatness about him, that undying will to win, that never quit attitude and it shows. Say what you will, Lebron is one of the greatest, but MJ is far and above the greatest that ever played in my opinion. Love the site, thank you! Cheers!

  14. I’ve felt for many years that Lebron was one of maybe 3 or 4 great players from the 2000’s era who would have been a dominant player in the 80s and early 90s. Kobe being up there as well. I despise James after the shit he’s pulled this year. But from strictly a basketball perspective, the guy is unbelievable. And the idea that every team he goes to wins their divisons and makes it to the finals is pretty remarkable. The true sign of a great player is how good he makes his teammates. I’ll take Jordan all day and every day. I’d take Magic over Lebron if I were starting a team. And I’m a Bird guy to my grave. But the fact that after 17 seasons, James is still doing what he’s doing? Absolutely ridiculous. Too bad I wont see it because I refuse to watch this bigot and race war antagonizer anymore.

  15. I’ll be the first to admit to being anti-LeChina James, but in his defense, we give Brady and Brees credit for being as dominant as they are at their age……we need to give credit to what LeChina is doing at this stage of his career. He’s still a top player in the NBA. Jordan was a far superior player than LeChina could ever be, but even he petered out. LeChina hasn’t. Now, LChina plays in a far less physical NBA than Jordan did and I don’t think LeChina would’ve been able to drive to the hoop unabated like he does now in the 80’s and 90’s, but he can’t help what era he’s playing in. Just sayin’

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