LeBron vs. Michael
Last night, LeBron James broke the NBA's all-time scoring record, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was a record, that at the time, seemed untouchable. As the grandeur of the night wore off, the next most obvious question for every sports writer in the world was: Has LeBron overtaken Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time?
In an attempt to answer that, let's put the subjectivity to the side for a moment and purely look at an apples to apples comparison.
When Michael Jordan entered the league in 1984-85, the average points per game for the entire league was 110.8. That stat went down over the next 9 seasons to 105.3 in 1992-1993, which was Jordan's last before going to play baseball. He would return in 1994-1995, and league scoring was down to 101.4. His last year as a Bull, in 1997-1998, the league only averaged 95.6 points per game. During that "last dance" season, Jordan averaged 28.7 points per game, but when looked at as a % of the league average per game, it was 30%.
In 2003-2004, LeBron James entered a league that was down on scoring. During that season, the league averaged 93.4 ppg, which is the second lowest in the past 67 years! League scoring would go up pretty consistently from there. Today, in 2022-2023, the league average is 114.3 points per game.
Michael Jordan had his best scoring season in 1986-87 when he averaged 37.1 ppg vs. a league average of 109.9 (33.75%). LeBron's best came in 2005-2006 when he averaged 31.4 ppg vs. a league average of only 97.0 (32.37%).
My point here is that we all suffer from recency bias. While the current state of the league is high scoring and no defense, it wasn't always that way. Both Jordan and James played through some of the toughest defensive stretches in the history of the game.
Points per game vs. the league average is one in a myriad of arguments that can be made, and we're certainly not going to solve this today. Would love to hear your thoughts!
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John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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