Man, these LeBron v MJ pieces in the media, they come up at the drop of a hat. LeBron makes it to another Finals: who's the GOAT? LeBron misses the playoffs: who's the GOAT? LeBron's team goes on a 4-8 run: who's the GOAT?
Ok so LeBron's Lakers, a team that's LeBron, some meh veterans like Rondo and Reggie Bullock, will miss the playoffs. How does that balance against...
1. The 2008-2009 Cavs team that won 66 games? That 09 Cavs team is tied for the 14th most wins in an NBA season, and the 2nd best player on the team was Mo Williams. Yet that team won the same amount of games as the Celtics the year before when the Celtics had three sure-fire HOFers--Allen, Pierce, KG--and a probable 4th (Rondo) in the starting five. No, LeBron didn't get a ring, he didn't even go to the Finals, because they lost the East Conf Finals to the Magic, in that weird series where LeBron, Mo and Delonte West played almost every minute of almost every game, and LeBron averaged like 36/8/8 but got nothing from anyone else on his team while Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Turkoglu was enough to be deeper than that Cavs team. It's an extraordinary individual season LeBron had, regular and playoffs, and he accomplished some stuff that year--taking a team of nobodies to 66 wins and the EC Finals--that Jordan did not.
That team outscored opponents by 14.8 points per 100 possessions, and in the non-LeBron minutes they were outscored by 7.9 per 100. If we were to assign a meaningful value to LeBron that season, just how valuable is he and in which seasons did Jordan teams have a similar gap?**
2. The 2006-2007 season. Outside LeBron, Varejao and Ilgauskas are the only two players with a positive Box Plus-Minus. LeBron takes them in the playoffs to: a sweep of the Wiz in a series that no game is really that close and LeBron leads his team to a sweep without being the leading scorer in any single game. Then a 4-2 series win--as underdog--against the Kidd/Jefferson/Vince Carter Nets, a series defined by defense. The Cavs win Game 6 by close to 20. Then they fall behind 2-0 in the Conf Finals to Detroit, again as an underdog, but they win the next four straight including another huge closeout win in Game 6 when LeBron plays almost every minute, shoots like crap but has mid-teens boards, 10 dimes IIRC, plays great D and the big three for Detroit combine for like 10-40 from the floor or something as LeBron runs all over the court and he takes a whole crew of bums to the Finals. And he's only 22. Jordan didn't make his first Finals until he was 27 and had Pippen. How does that season of LeBron's, in which he won no ring, stack up?
3. 2017 his team beat the Dubs in the Finals in the midst of a four-year run when people were saying it's not fair how good the Dubs are. They beat a 73-win team in the Finals. How does that compare to great Jordan years? Did Jordan ever face a team like that in the Finals and win?
I think stuff like how LeBron got that ring v GSW and also some of the Herculean efforts he put forth in some non-championship seasons add a lot of nuance to the "yeah but did LeBron ever do this thing that Jordan did?" questions that people love to ask when dismissing just how great LeBron has been. LeBron will never get Jordan's six rings, but there are a LOT of things LeBron has already accomplished that Jordan did not.
Jordan also did not exist in the age of the NBA CBA that maxed out player contracts so that teams would not be saddled with old guys making too much money on too-long deals. In today's NBA, does Pippen, kind of a malcontent at many times in his career, do a Kyrie and ask to leave? Does Rodman, always a loose cannon, get annoyed at something and ask for a trade after one year? Or does Barkley come to Chicago on a cheap 1-2 year deal because he wants a ring, thus, like LeBron's Heat and Curry's Dubs, diminishing the sheen on Jordan's trophy case?