Michael Jordan or LeBron James: The Greatest of All-Time, Part One

Michael Jordan LeBron James
NBA Basketball -Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen during a March 22, 1997 game at United Center in Chicago. (.) (Photo by Darren Whitley/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

The debate for the greatest player of all-time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James will rage on forever. The premiere of the ESPN and Netflix documentary, The Last Dance, will do nothing but further fuel the flames of the debate. During this uncertain time, with no live sports to follow, it is something NBA historians can dig into, to help get past the real-world issue everyone is dealing with.

One of the prime debate topics from each side is which player was aided most by his teammates. Both players played with excellent players throughout their storied careers and their likely isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question of who had the better teammates?

The Michael Jordan and LeBron James Greatest of All-Time Debate – Ranking Teammates

10 – B.J. Armstrong

Iowa Hawkeye alumnus B.J. Armstrong was a really solid player throughout his career. He has a list of accomplishments that almost anyone who has ever played organized basketball would dream of. Armstrong was apart of the first three-peat for the Chicago Bulls and was also a one-time NBA All-Star when Jordan took his sabbatical to play baseball.

Although Chicago used the 18th overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft to select Armstrong, he didn’t become a full-time starter for the team until the 1992-93 season. His value as a bench piece in the first two championship seasons was immense, however.

As a full-time starter, Armstrong elevated his play even higher and become a solid secondary scoring option. In his first season as a starter, Armstrong averaged 12.3 points per game.

Armstrong elevating his play without Jordan and helping Scottie Pippen lead the Bulls to a 55-27 record in the 1993-94 season may be the most obvious indicator of his talent and impact on the floor.

During his 1993-94 All-Star season, Armstrong 14.8 points and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field.

9 – Anthony Davis

Quite honestly, Anthony Davis is likely the most talented teammate that James or Jordan ever had. The only reason he is ranked so low on this list is due to the fact that COVID-19 shut the NBA season down and he hasn’t helped James accomplish anything, yet.

Davis was brought over in a mega-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans this past summer and he has been incredible in 55 appearances thus far with the Los Angeles Lakers.

In conjunction with James, Davis has helped propel the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference standings. The Lakers currently hold a 49-14 record and are a whopping five and a half games clear of their inner-city rival, the Los Angeles Clippers.

Through 55 appearances, Davis is sporting per-game averages of 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.

His numbers, combined with the Lakers’ dominant record are all fantastic. However, regular-season success means nothing in the NBA. Until he wins something of value with James, it will be hard to properly rank him among his best teammates.

8 – Kevin Love

It was a very difficult decision to rank Kevin Love or Chris Bosh here. Love didn’t quite help James as much as Bosh did as the Cleveland Cavaliers only won one title with Love and James employed. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, won two championships with Bosh and James employed.

Love has an argument of being the second-best third option in NBA history, behind Bosh. As a teammate of James’, Love was splendid. His value drops slightly and he is rated towards the bottom due to the fact that he only helped James win one title and because James showed he could take a team to the NBA Finals without him. Love was injured in the first round of the 2014-15 playoffs against the Boston Celtics and missed the remainder of that run.

In four seasons assisting James, Love helped the Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals four times. They captured one title in that span and Love put up per-game averages of 17.1 points and 10 rebounds while being named to two All-Star teams.

7 – Chris Bosh

Bosh joined the Heat in free agency, the same season James did. As previously stated, Bosh mainly gets the nod over Love due to the fact that he helped James win two NBA titles.

One aspect that shouldn’t be glossed over, however, is the fact that Bosh was a much better defensive player than Love. While Bosh’s counting stats over four years as James’ teammate were splendid (17.3 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game), it was the moments in the playoffs where he would come up with a big defensive play that really vaults him ahead of Love. Bosh also made the All-Star team all four seasons as James’ teammate compared to just two such nods for Love.

Blood clots robbed Bosh of the backend of his prime. The first two seasons in Miami, post-James, were off to roaring starts before his sudden retirement due to the ailment in the middle of the 2015-16 season.

6 – Horace Grant

The de facto argument that most Jordan backers go to his six championships to three. This is, in fact, the argument being used to rank Horace Grant over Love and Bosh. Grant, while a very good player in his own right, has four NBA championships to his name.

Now, only three of his titles came as a teammate of Jordan. His fourth came with the 2000-01 Lakers in which he was a bigger piece than most remember. At the ripe age of 35 years old, Grant started all 77 games, averaged 31 minutes per contest, poured in 8.5 points per game, and grabbed 7.1 rebounds each night.

Back to the relevant times, those with the Bulls, however, were even better statistically. The four-time NBA All-Defensive second team member was apart of one of the greatest defensive teams ever assembled. Grant along with two of the greatest perimeter defenders ever in Jordan and Pippen made the Bulls a buzzsaw defensively.

The one-time All-Star selection was also solid offensively as he averaged 12.6 points and 8.6 rebounds over seven seasons in Chicago.

5 – Toni Kukoč

Unfortunately for Toni Kukoč, he came to the NBA about 20 years too early for his play-style. Kukoč was one of a kind in the mid-90s. He came to the NBA from Croatia and, internationally, his reputation was through the roof.

The Bulls got a steal when they were able to nab Kukoč in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft. At that time, there were very few, if any, 6’10” players who could shoot the three and handle the ball as effortlessly as the 1995-96 NBA Sixth Man of the Year could.

Serving almost entirely in a sixth-man role until Jordan left the Bulls, Kukoč was able to put up All-Star worthy per-36 minute stats. Over seven seasons with the Bulls, the three-time NBA champion held per-36 minute averages of 17.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists.

He was the left-handed Luka Doncic, 20 years too early. A wide-open play style, and having his own team, would have allowed him to post similar numbers to that of Doncic.

4 – Dennis Rodman

So, here’s the thing. Dennis Rodman has the argument of being the greatest rebounder of all-time. He is in the same breath as Moses MaloneWilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell. If Rodman played in the same era as Chamberlain and Russell, his rebound numbers would be even higher than what they already are.

Rodman didn’t come to Chicago until later in his career. He spent three seasons in the Windy City, the first of which he was 34 years old. In those three seasons, he appeared in 199 games and averaged a whopping 15.3 rebounds per game.

Combine that with the fact that his defensive rating was an incredible 98 over those three seasons, and it just goes to show how good he was, without having to score.

As good as Jordan and Pippen were during the second three-peat, it likely doesn’t happen if not for Rodman.

3 – Kyrie Irving

The case can be made that Rodman should be above Kyrie Irving. It is incredibly difficult to compare Rodman and Irving from an impact standpoint because of how incredibly different their games are.

In three seasons in Chicago, Rodman averaged 5.2 points per game and 4.8 field-goal attempts per game.

In three seasons as James’ teammate, Irving averaged 22.4 points per game and 17.7 field-goal attempts per game.

How can the impact of each player on each of James and Jordan be distinguished between? It’s nearly impossible due to the vast difference in play-style and an argument could certainly be made for Rodman to be above Irving.

Irving gets the nod for one reason. The shot. Irving hit the game-winner in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors to help give the Cavaliers their first NBA title. Obviously, without many other plays throughout that series, by many other players, the result could have been different. But in the clutches of moments, it was Irving and not James who took the shot, and he buried it.

2 – Dwyane Wade

The best and most influential teammate of James’ career is Dwyane Wade. James, Wade, and Bosh changed the landscape of the NBA when they teamed up in Miami. The shift of superstars teaming up to play with each other, instead of trying to beat each other was made during that summer.

Wade helped James win his first two NBA titles and got him the one thing his already storied NBA career was missing.

However, the thing that separates Wade from every other player on this list, including Pippen, was the fact that he was able to win a title without James (or Jordan). Wade, is arguably a top-five shooting guard in the history of the NBA. He was likely already a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame before James and the two additional titles.

Although Wade battled injuries in James’ last season in Miami, he was incredible as James’ teammate. Over the course of four seasons as his teammate, Wade had per-game averages of 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. He was also named to the All-Star team in all four seasons.

1 – Scottie Pippen

“There wouldn’t be Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen.” This quote came directly from Jordan’s mouth during the premiere of The Last Dance. It made Pippen an easy choice as the number one teammate of either Jordan or James.

Going into Pippen’s final season in Chicago, the 1997-98 season, he was the 122nd highest-paid player in the NBA. Pippen was underappreciated and underpaid for the majority of his career. Now, signing a seven-year $18 million contract is partially Pippen’s fault. Shortly into that contract, NBA TV revenue skyrocketed and so did player contracts.

The impact Pippen had on the franchise, and Jordan’s career is immense. Not only is he the greatest number two option in NBA history, but he also showed he could carry a team as the number one option. When Jordan took his 18-month sabbatical, Pippen rose to the occasion. The Bulls won 55 games in the 1993-94 season and Pippen was the main reason.

He averaged 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.9 steals per game that year. He finished third in MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. Pippen won the All-Star game MVP. He was also named first-team All-NBA and first-team All-NBA Defense that season.

The most important aspect of Pippen’s number one ranking here is the fact that he was a major factor in all six NBA championships Jordan has. As Jordan said, there is no Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen.

Michael Jordan or LeBron James – Better Teammates Conclusion

This can be debated until people are blue in the face. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish who had better teammates throughout their illustrious careers. But the goal here is to try. It’s not as simple as listing and ranking them out, unfortunately. It all depends on the perspective of how individuals view “better.”

From a pure talent perspective, James has had better teammates. However, again, the argument is almost always “six versus three.” From an impact on winning perspective, the nod is clearly Jordan’s.

It’s impossible to say whether Jordan has six titles if one of his key teammates went down with an injury. They were always healthy during the playoffs. James, on the other hand, especially with the Cavaliers, hasn’t had such fortune.

For this argument, for now, it appears as though Jordan had the “better” teammates.

Main Photo
Embed from Getty Images

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.