If LeBron James scores 28 points against the Boston Celtics tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he’ll pass Michael Jordan as the career leader in playoff points with 5,988. If not, he’ll do it Game 6 in Cleveland or in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
This data point, like pretty much everything in the great, never-ending and fruitless LBJ vs. MJ debate, will bring us no closer to a consensus. Jordan played 179 total playoff games. This will be James’ 212th. Jordan averaged 33.4 points per game during the postseason (more than 3 points more than his regular season career average). James is averaging 28.2 but has pulled down an 8.8 rebounds and dished out 6.8 assists while Jordan averaged 6.4 and 5.7, respectively.
James is not only chasing the clear best player of all time, he’s also pushing up against the status quo. His amazing accomplishments can’t ever be appreciated without being compared to Jordan’s. Oftentimes this is unfair and, as a noted James apologist, annoying.
But in this case, it’s hard not to put his next great one in context. That Jordan was able to accomplish what he did in 32 fewer games is incredible. It’s safe to argue that James is the more complete player and is a better rebounder and passer, at least from a statistical perspective. Arguing that the other parts of his game make up for the great gulf in scoring production is difficult and a bridge too far — at least for now.
James is much closer to passing Jordan as the GOAT than most give him credit for. A truly informed opinion, of course, isn’t possible until he retires and the body of work is complete. Jordan, though long retired, gets the benefit of a full career — and more importantly — the periodic reminder of his greatness when James does something well.
Anyway, congrats to Jordan on James’ impending accomplishment. You’re place atop basketball history is safe — for now.