In our last post we analyzed the great players and great teams both MJ and LBJ went up against during their careers. For this post, we want to take a deep dive into the awards and accolades each player received during their historic time in the league.
MVP and Scoring Championships
|Player||Regular Season MVP||Scoring Championships|
|Michael Jordan||5 x 1988, ‘91, ‘92, ‘96, ‘98||10 x 1987 thru‘93, 96. ‘97, ‘98|
|LeBron James||4 x 2009, ‘10, ‘12, ‘14||1 x 2008 (Also Assists Leader x 2020)|
MJ won 5. LBJ 4. MJ won his first MVP only 4 years into his career. Losing to Larry Bird twice and Magic Johnson, before being named the league’s best player.
It took LeBron 5 years in the league before he was crowned as the best player. However, when you consider that LBJ didn’t play 3 years at the University of North Carolina and instead bypassed college altogether, the extra year doesn’t mean much for our debate.
MJ fans cry voter fatigue and use Charles Barkley and Karl Malone as examples of MVP awards Jordan should have won.
LBJ fans can point to Dirk Nowitzki and Derrick Rose as years LeBron could have added to his MVP collection.
Just to put into perspective how difficult it is to win multiple MVP awards, Kobe and Shaq have combined for 2. One each. MJ and LBJ have combined for 9 and people on both sides argue it should have been more.
I added scoring championships to the chart above because MJ’s stats are so impressive. I think it’s important to point out that MJ was clearly the better player at scoring in comparison to his peers, but LBJ averaged more assists annually as highlighted by leading the league in total assists in 2020.
LBJ became only the 6th player in NBA history to lead the league in points one year and assists in another year.
Championships and Playoff MVP Awards
|Player||NBA Championships||Finals MVP|
|Michael Jordan||6 x 1991, ‘92, ‘93, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98||6 x 1991, ‘92, ‘93, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98|
|LeBron James||4 x 2012, ‘13, ‘16,’20||4 x 2012, ‘13, ‘16,’20|
Not much we didn’t know here. Jordan is a perfect 6 for 6 in the NBA Finals. LeBron detractors point to his 6 losses in the Finals as a point of difference between the two players. MJ never lost.
Proponents of LeBron suggest getting to 10 Finals is an impressive feat in its own right and there is no shame in losing to dynasty teams like the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs a combined 5 times.
|Player||Defensive Player of Year||All Defensive First Team||Steals Leader|
|Jordan||1 x 1988||9 x 1988 – ‘93, ‘96, ‘97, ‘98||3 x ‘88, ‘90, ‘93|
|LeBron||0||5 x ‘09 – ‘13 (2014 second team)||0|
OK – have we found our difference maker? If all else fails and we can’t decipher between who was the greatest offensive player, no doubt Jordan fans will point to his overall defensive skills as a key difference.
There is no shame in LeBron’s defensive resume. A 5 time first team all defensive player is impressive. Unfortunately, when you are being compared to Jordan, it’s not enough. MJ made the all defensive first team a truly impressive 9 times in his career and led the league in steals 3 times.
Almost everyone reading this will remember MJ’s ‘98 Finals winning shot over Bryon Russell of the Utah Jazz. What some of us forget is that the Utah possession previous to MJ’s shot, it was Michael who came off his man and stole the ball from Karl Malone, before taking the ball down the court and making history at the expense of Russell.
LBJ can’t match the all defensive team nominations or the 3 years Jordan led the league in steals, but he does have a huge defensive playoff moment of his own.
2016, Game 7: The chase down block on Andre Igoudala with under 2 minutes in a tie game was a spectacular play and emphasized how LBJ was also able to contribute on both ends of the floor at an extremely high level. Just maybe not quite to the same degree as Jordan.
Rookie and All-Star Game Awards
|Player||Rookie of Year||All-Star appearances||All-Star MVP|
|Jordan||1985||14 appearances||3 x 1988, ‘96, ‘98|
|LeBron||2004||16 appearances||3 x 2006, ‘08, ‘18|
Considering MJ was voted into the all-star game both his years in Washington I am not going to spend a lot of time on these awards. Both players were Rookie of the Year. Jordan won his after 3 years at UNC playing for Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith.
LBJ did not go the college route and was 19 years old his first year in the league. As a 19 year old, he averaged 21 PTS and 6 assists. To put that into perspective, Kobe Bryant played his first year as an 18 year old and averaged just under 8 points a game. Kevin Garnett also played in the NBA as a teenager and averaged 10.4 PTS / Game.
Other Notable Awards
|Michael Jordan||LeBron James|
|3 x AP Athlete of the Year||3 x AP Athlete of the Year|
|SI SportsPerson of the Year (1991)||2 x SI SportsPerson of the Year (2012, ‘16)|
|NCAA Champion (1982)||3 x Ohio Mr. Basketball (2001 – 2003)|
|NCAA Consensus Player of Year (1984)||McDonald’s All-American Game MVP (2003)|
|2 x Consensus All-American (1983, ;84)||2 x Gatorade Player of the Year (2002, ‘03)|
|ACC Rookie of Year (1982)||2 x USA Mr. Basketball (2002, ‘03)|
|2 x USA Basketball Player of Year (‘83, ‘84)||USA Basketball Player of Year (2012)|
For the record, I could have posted more awards for each player. The list is long and impressive for both and it was fun to highlight some of their bigger achievements outside of their NBA hardware.
For our next post in the MJ vs LBJ debate, we are going to dive into some key stats and some of the new advanced stats to see how the G.O.A.T debate looks from a statistical perspective.