Part V – MJ vs LBJ
We have compared how the two greatest players of all-time matchup statistically, now let’s put a spotlight on the teammates and supporting cast both MJ and LBJ played with over their careers.
As we compare some of the key rosters and teams both players played on, we have sourced the opinions of two NBA experts to try and get their thoughts on whether MJ or LBJ had an advantage by playing with a better crew.
Our first source will be Anthony K, founder, owner, CEO and content provider for the Sports Fluent Network. Anthony played Division 1 basketball in the US and had the good fortune of once stopping Allen Iverson when he was caught in a switch and forced to defend him.
Our second NBA source for this will be Paul Bromby. Bromby won a CIS National Championship with St. Mary’s University, played pro basketball in Europe and has been an NBA producer and content provider at Rogers SportsNet for many years.
The first two teams we will compare for this exercise are the ‘91 Bulls and the ‘07 Cavaliers.
1991 Bulls vs 2007 Cavaliers
The ‘91 Bulls and the ‘07 Cavs are the first time that MJ and LBJ made it to the NBA finals. Jordan did it after 7years in the league, while LBJ went to his first finals as a 23 year old after only four years.
|‘91 Bulls||61-21||Won Finals 4-1 vs Lakers||Jordan|
|‘07 Cavaliers||50-32||Lost Finals 4-0 vs Spurs||LeBron|
‘91 Bulls Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
‘07 Cavaliers Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
Bromby Opinion – “That ‘91 Bulls team has a way better supporting cast and it isn’t that close. The ‘07 Cavs team may have one of the worst supporting cast for a Championship caliber team in the last 30 years. Larry Hughes was a decent scorer but nothing spectacular. Pippen and Horace Grant were perfect fits for MJ.and the ‘ 91 Bulls.”
Anthony K Opinion – “These rosters are a lot closer than people think, especially once you get over the Pippen vs Larry Hughes comparison. The Bulls are the better team here but that is really because of Jordan and Pippen being better than Lebron and Hughes. If you remove the top two players the Cavs actually have the more well rounded role players in terms of scoring, rebounding and shot blocking. I give the advantage to the Bulls, but it’s closer than people tend to believe.”
1993 Bulls vs 2013 Miami Heat
Our next comparison is the ‘93 Bulls vs the 2013 Miami Heat. The ‘93 Bulls would be MJ’s third championship team. The 2013 season would be the third time that LBJ would make the finals, and the first time The King would be crowned with a championship.
|‘93 Bulls||57-25||Won Finals 4-2 vs Phoenix||Jordan, Pippen|
|‘13 Heat||66-16||Won Finals 4-3 vs Spurs||LeBron, D. Wade, C. Bosh|
‘93 Bulls Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
‘13 Miami Heat Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
Bromby Opinion – “I would argue the Heat had a better supporting cast here. Lebron Bosh Wade and Allen are 4 Hall of Famers. Bosh and Allen took on lesser roles but were capable of 30 any night. That isn’t happening outside of MJ and Pippen on that Bulls team.”
Anthony K Opinion – “The Heat are the clear cut winner at supporting cast between these two teams.. There are 4 HOFers and two borderline all stars in Battier and Haslem. The Bulls had limited shooting, defenders, rim, protection. If not for Jordan and Pippen this team would win 12 games. Take Lebron and Wade off the Heat and Miami can still be a 30 win team. Bosh won that many games in Toronto with a similar type roster. This one is easy. 2013 Heat.”
1996 Bulls vs 2016 Cavaliers
Our third comparison is the ‘96 Bulls vs the 2016 Cavaliers. For MJ, this is his return to the Finals after his retirement to play baseball. It also is a new nucleus of Bulls players for MJ to chase a title with. Pippen remains by his side, but now it’s Kukoc and Rodman instead of names like Paxson and Horace Grant. For LBJ, in 2016 his time on South Beach is over and he has returned home to bring Cleveland a much promised championship of their own.
|‘96 Bulls||72-10||Won Finals 4-2 vs Seattle||Jordan, Pippen|
|‘16 Cavaliers||57-25||Won Finals 4-3 vs Warriors||LeBron|
‘96 Bulls Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
‘16 Cavaliers Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
Bromby Opinion – “These two rosters are very balanced and would be a great matchup. However that 96’ Bulls team is likely the greatest team of all time to win an NBA title. 4 HOF in their starting line up and yes I think Kukoc is a HOF player when you include his international play. Plus the defence. Pippen and Rodman are both elite defenders, even late in their careers.”
Anthony K Opinion – “I’m going to score this one a draw. I would argue that Chicago has the better high-end talent, again Pippen leads the way as best supporting cast member. However, once you get through the first couple of names on Chicago, guys like JR Smith, Tristan Thompson brought scoring and rebounding in limited minutes. Don’t sleep on Mo Williams and his 8 points a game in only 18 minutes. I’m calling this one a draw.”
1998 Bulls vs 2020 Lakers
For our last comparison we look at the 1998 Bulls, which was MJ’s last championship and compare them to the 2020 LA Lakers. The Lakers were obviously LeBron’s last championship and his first with his current Lakers team.
|‘98 Bulls||62-20||Won Finals 4-2 vs Jazz||Jordan|
|‘20 Lakers||52-19||Won Finals 4-2 vs Heat||LeBron, A. Davis|
‘98 Bulls Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
‘20 Lakers Roster (Top 8 players by minutes played)
Bromby Opinion – “Pippen is getting older, Rodman is near the end of his career, but I still have to go with the ‘98 Bulls for this. Outside of LeBron and AD the Lakers are pretty thin. If LeBron or AD got hurt or in foul trouble they were done.”
Anthony K – “Again, this one is closer than a lot of people think. The Bulls had the rebounding advantage this time with the Lakers having the scoring edge. I am going to lean Chicago in this comparison, but I am going to suggest their experience and the fact this core is chasing their 3rd title together as the difference maker. As individual pieces, the Lakers are very good. As a group, how do you bet against a team that is 3-peating?”
|Comparison||Better Team – Bromby||Better Team – Anthony K|
|‘91 Bulls vs ‘07 Cavaliers||Bulls||Bulls|
|‘93 Bulls vs ‘13 Heat||Heat||Heat|
|‘96 Bulls vs ‘16 Cavaliers||Bulls||Draw|
|‘98 Bulls vs ‘20 Lakers||Bulls||Bulls|
The judges’ scorecards are in and the official final tally is 5-2-1 in favor of Jordan having the better supporting cast more often than not. This might help explain why Jordan is a perfect 6-0 in NBA finals and why LeBron is 4-6.
From an overall team ranking perspective, we touched on this earlier, but the Bulls make the “Top 15 teams of all-time” list three times, meanwhile you will only find one LeBron James led team on that same list.
We can attribute at least some of that to LBJ just not quite having the same pieces around him annually that MJ did in Chicago.