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Great Athlete Debates: If LeBron played Jordan one on one, to 21 points, who wins?

NBA fouls; half-court; make it/take it in effect.  What say you?
David LeeDavid Lee, Journeyman
15 upvotes by Sean Rose, Matt LeVeck, Jonathan Brill, (more)
I think it's clearly LeBron only because size is such an advantage in 1:1. I am the biggest MJ fan but people forget that LeBron is 6'9" and 280 pounds. To put that into context, that is Karl Malone's weight at his prime. LeBron is also able to guard power forwards like Tim Duncan and guards like Nate Robinson.

Jordan in his prime is the better player in a team context and obviously more accomplished (titles, MVPs, DPOY). You could also argue that LeBron will never match him because he lost twice in the Finals. But LeBron could slow down Jordan defensively whereas there is no way Jordan could guard LeBron on the low post.
John DeMarchiJohn DeMarchi, Amazed daily by the insightful... (more)
13 upvotes by Quora User, Shivu Sharma, Sean Rose, (more)
LeBron wins, comfortably.

But you have to keep in mind that LeBron is 28 and Michael Jordan is 50 years old as I write these words.

If this is LeBron 2013 vs. Jordan 1991, for example -- you have to go MJ.

Physically, LeBron's ceiling is higher.  He's bigger, stronger, faster.

But.

Jordan REACHED his ceiling; LeBron is still getting there.

What made Jordan a legend is that in the hottest fires, he was cold as ice.  The more than was on the line, the better he played.  And on rare occasions when someone got the best of him, G-d help that player on the next time down the court, or the next game.

Jordan enjoyed abusing people.  LeBron, for all his otherwordly talents, is still too nice to opponents.  He doesn't seem to relish the mind games of totally destroying people the way Jordan did. 

If LeBron and MJ are in the same pack, MJ is the alpha.  Not on talent -- on personality.

And in one on one, that's huge.

LeBron is a better rebounder, passer, ballhandler -- clearly.

LeBron is a more versatile defender -- he can defend any position on the court -- but that versatility doesn't give him an edge in one on one; let's call this part, at best, a draw for LBJ.

Jordan was a better scorer.

Jordan undeniably was a more cold-blooded competitor; he's arguably the greatest competitor in NBA History.

And mentally?  No one was tougher than Jordan.

Jordan wins here, 21-16 or so.  Probably scores the last 7 or 8 points, too.
Hunter McCordHunter McCord
3 upvotes by Newace Shu, Chris Sun, and Quora User.
Assuming it's in both their primes, I have to take Michael Jordan. Michael had the greatest drive to win in the NBA ever. If you look up clutch, you would see Michael Jordan. He is the standard to which every NBA player is compared to. Lebron has the size on MJ no doubt but Jordan was a great defensive player, 9 nine all Defensive team and 3 time Steals leader. I think Jordan's quick hands would impact a 1 on 1 game. Also throw in that Jordan was a scoring machine (10 time scoring champ) and I think that overcomes Lebron's size advantage. I could see a 21 to 15-17 game with MJ winning.



William PetroffWilliam Petroff, Mostly Harmless
7 upvotes by Jonathan Brill, Cole Fun, Quora User, (more)
I think that, more often than not, LeBron squeaks out a close victory over Jordan.

Since a lot of this is all conjecture predicated upon per-existing notions of how two players, who obviously never played one-on-one in their prime, would match up, this is what I believe:
  • I believe that Michael Jordan is the best player ever to play basketball.
  • I believe that between Jordan and James, Jordan is the superior defender.
  • I believe that Jordan's drive and determination were both greater than LeBron's are.

But here's the thing, for every one of those things that I believe, there are things that I know that puts all of that in context:
  • I know that LeBron will at worst be considered one of the fifteen best players ever to play the game.[1] And I know that the gap between Jordan's skills and James' skills isn't the gulf that some might want to believe it is.
  • I know that Jordan didn't exactly rack up defensive accolades guarding people like LeBron. That's not to say that he didn't guard elite players, just that he didn't guard players of LeBron's size all that often.[2]
  • I know that the idea of Jordan's competitive drive "willing" him to victory in a one-off game is kind of silly. The ethereal notions of "drive" and "determination" are surely something, but they're likely each something that manifests itself over the course of a long season, not in a quick game of one-on-one.

Look, LeBron isn't stupid. At some point he's is going to realize that he can just bully Jordan in the post area, and spend most of his time utilizing his size advantage on offense, rather than relying on jumpers.[3] LeBron is also a good defensive player (as has been noted in answers like the ones by Jonathan Brill and Dave Hogg in support of LeBron, and conceded in answers that favor Jordan by User, and Andrew Miller). So, on one side, we've got Michael Jordan, the superior player on either side of the ball, but who faces a size mismatch on the defensive end.[4] On the other side, there's a larger LeBron James, whose physical skills give a greater chance of having his defensive skill impact his opponent's offensive outcomes.[5] All James has to do is frustrate Jordan a little bit more than Jordan can frustrate him, and his physical skills give him the toolbox to accomplish that task.

Jordan is, hands down, a better player and I don't know of many people who will dispute that statement. But that doesn't mean he can win any one-on-one match up (nor does losing mean he isn't the best player ever); there will be times that he would just be given an opponent that sneaks through what few cracks he has in his armor. And, in a one-on-one situation, James is one of those opponents.



[1] I say at worst because there's an outside chance (a very, very small outside chance) that James either never wins another title or never wins a title without Wade and Bosh, and that ends up making us view what will probably be top-five statistics in a diminished light.

[2] Let's get real for a moment, Jordan won Defensive Player of the Year guarding the likes of Clyde Drexler (6' 7", 210 lbs), Isiah Thomas (6' 1", 180 lbs), Dominique Wilkins (6' 8", 230 lbs), Bernard King (6' 7", 205 lbs), Magic Johnson (6' 9", 220 lbs), etc; all players that had a similar physical stature as Jordan (6'6", 216 lbs). LeBron is two inches taller than Jordan, has thirty to forty pounds on him (and possibly more, given that many people often believe that James is actually heavier than his listed weight), and has a wingspan that is three inches longer than Jordan's. At some point, technical skill can be overcome by sheer physical force, and this is kind of that point.

[3] And while I wouldn't argue that Jordan was a bad low-post defender, he certainly could be taken advantage of in that area by larger opponents. During the time that both Jordan and Magic were active, Magic posted pretty good numbers against that Bulls. Now, presumably Jordan wasn't checking him every time, but Magic still succeeded more often than he failed against the Bulls. Penny Hardaway, certainly a lesser player than Magic, also saw some measure of success against the Bulls during the time that both he and Jordan were active. Both were players that Jordan would have seen regular time guarding and who both were generally prone to trying to take advantage of size mismatches in the low-post area. And neither were as physically strong or gifted as James.

[4] I reject the notion that Jonathan puts forth in his answer that James is the better offensive player because he scores more efficiently; James also has had the advantage of playing with two other top-tier offensive options (say what you will about Bosh but in today's NBA, he's top-tier) to not only take the usage load off of him, but who also impact the way defenses scheme against James on offense. Look no further than the recent Roy Hibbert discussion during these playoffs (2013 NBA Playoffs: Should the Pacers have played Roy Hibbert on the last possession of overtime in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals?) for an example.

[5] Jordan isn't all that much faster than James, isn't as long as James, and probably can't out jump James (and if he can, it wouldn't be by enough to overcome James' longer wingspan). Oh, and then there's all of this:
Jonathan BrillJonathan Brill, Writer Relations Lead at Quora
Here are some things that should be factored in:

Defense
As User states, Jordan was DPOY and LeBron has never been. But Jordan won DPOY in the mid-eighties, when defense was played occasionally and individually, hand-checking on the perimeter was allowed, three point shooting wasn't nearly as prolific, and comparing the defensive and offensive strategies of that time compared to now would be like comparing Bear Bryant's three yards and a cloud of dust playbook to the modern New England Patriots precision passing attack. To deny this is to make the assumption, one can only assume from a sense of nostalgia, that the athletes and coaches who get paid millions of dollars to win have failed to evolve the meta game over the last 30 years.

LeBron came in second in the DPOY voting this year and for the second year in a row garnered the most votes for the All-NBA Defensive first team. The player who beat him out for DPOY didn't actually make All-NBA Defensive first team. How would late eighties Jordan have done this year? He wouldn't have made the list. Not any of the defensive ones anyway. He wouldn't have the skills. He wouldn't know how to defend a perimeter player without hand-checking and wouldn't be close to understanding the defensive sets they're teaching in college these days much less the stuff LeBron and Battier are working on in Miami. It's not that Jordan couldn't figure it out but it's a bit unrealistic to ask him to catch up during the course of a game. Defense back then was still measured in steals and rebounds and we understand now that those things are not only not an indicator of good defense but can oftentimes be counter-productive. The metrics that got Jordan his DPOY are now as obsolete as the RBI is in baseball. You have to give defense to Bron.

Offense
Jordan was the most potent offensive player since Wilt and Kareem. And those guys are probably better than anybody. Dude scored a ton. Even when league wide scoring decreased as the defensive intensity ramped up in the nineties Jordan still put up an impressive amount of points. I guess you could make an argument for Shaq or even Hakeem, but those guys needed to be fed. Like LeBron, Jordan had to kill to eat. As great as Jordan was, LeBron is already a better shooter from every range, is just as athletic, and has post moves that Jordan had, but post size that Jordan didn't. LeBron also scores more efficiently than Jordan ever did with lower usage. Again, this isn't to say that LeBron is a better human or even a better competitor, but Bron has the benefit of modern day statistical analysis and advanced scouting at his disposal that Jordan never had. LeBron intuitively understands that threes and dunks are super high percentage shots and so he naturally concentrates his shots in those places.

Jordan would certainly get the better of LeBron when driving to the basket. If he can get around him, and most of the time he probably would, LeBron's only hope would be to get one of those patented come from behind blocks. But Jordan's just as fast and can get up just as high.

On the other hand, LeBron would be able to back Jordan down similarly to how he did Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. George, a DPOY candidate in his own right, is about the same size as a young MJ and is considered one of the league's best defenders. But LeBron was unstoppable on the block, using his post moves and 260' frame to get as many as a dozen dribbles before tossing it in. I'd call offense a draw.

Intangibles
Jordan and LeBron have remarkably similar stores: both had to climb a mountain to get their rings, and both were members of a great team that was constantly getting retooled to stay a step ahead of the competition. Jordan's competitive fire is legendary, but I'm not sure what you'd call LeBron, who has become the best player of the game, is coming off a championship season, and is a four time MVP and just almost led his team to breaking the league's winning streak, if not competitive. Jordan certainly won more over his career than LeBron has so far, but Bron's only about halfway done.

LeBron's competitive wrath is becoming legendary in its own way. After D.Rose took what should have been LeBron's MVP, Bron covered him personally for a whole series and destroyed him, often rendering him useless as they beat his team in five. Similar to Jordan overcoming the Pistons, LeBron has overcome the Pistons, the Celtics, and now the Pacers on his way to the top of the mountain.

For most of us, Jordan is Paul Bunyan at this point. Nobody could ever be bigger or better or more memorable. How dare they even try. But I think Bron could do it.
What rules are we playing under? In Jordan's time, a defender could hand check his assignment. Under these rules Jordan has a legitimate claim to greatest wing defender of all time. Lebron is also an excellent defender but Jordan was a level above him defensively.

Both players are gifted isolation players. However, Jordan's jumper was better, as was his post up game.

But most importantly Jordan was obsessed with winning. As a competitor, Jordan would will himself over the bigger, stronger James. Jordan's numbers and victories in the NBA Finals alone show he is truly one of the ultimate competitors in the history of sport. Jordan was simply more vicious than Lebron could ever dream.
Dave HoggDave Hogg, Covered the Pistons since 1990
7 upvotes by Jonathan Brill, Quora User, Mark Rogowsky, (more)
Two great offensive players. Two great defensive players. One's a lot bigger. He wins.
Andrew MillerAndrew Miller, Lifelong fan.
Jordan.

LeBron is an immensely talented physical specimen whose game is still improving.

However, Jordan possessed a will power and competitive fire unlike we have ever seen.

Jordan is legendary for blowing up (or even inventing) perceived slights into fuel to decimate his opponent. The fact that this question is even being asked would light an insatiable fire under Jordan.

Jordan took defense personally. Next level defense is not something that can be taught. Heightened defensive prowess is a result of superior willpower. LeBron is a great defender, but he doesn't take it personally. It is still just a game to him. Jordan turned defense into a life and death endeavor.

Jordan was competitive in every thing. Poker. Checkers. Golf. After-practice trick shooting. He even entered the dunk contest so he could prove his flash was superior to all takers. LeBron scoffs at the notion of the dunk contest. It's a small example, but it shows you that it doesn't take much to whet Jordan's competitive appetite.

LeBron is just an amazing basketball player.

Jordan is a competitive genius who found a way to exploit every player and team who ever threatened him. LeBron would be added to the very long row of fallen ballers.
Chris SunChris Sun, Weekend Warrior
1 upvote by Charles Ting.
We'll never know the answer, but I think Michael Jordan would win because

  • Jordan had a better post up game.  His fadeaway jumper was pretty awesome in the latter part of his career.  Lebron's post up game is rarely seen in NBA games.  It's improving, but isn't at Jordan's level.
  • Jordan was a better jump shooter than Lebron has ever been.  A simple stat to prove this is career FT%.  Jordan shot 83%, Lebron 74%
  • Jordan is simply hungrier.  He wants to win every time at anything: poker, golf, Monopoly, and 1-on-1.

Don't get me wrong.  Lebron is the best player in the NBA today.
He'd definitely score points on Jordan, including power dunks and some jumpers.  He'd also block some of Jordan's fadeaway shots.  The score might be 8-8 early on.  But eventually, Jordan would get on a roll, scoring 6 or 7 consecutive baskets.  Eventually, the score will be around 18-10.  Lebron will start pressing, trying out new creative ways to score.  The final score will be 21-13.
Alec WilsonAlec Wilson, Die hard NBA fan. The Sonics w... (more)
1 upvote by Daniel Picciotto.
As of today, I'd probably go with Jordan, since he's simply a much better shooter than LeBron.  LeBron would give him a ton of trouble, and likely could score very easily on him in the post, but Jordan's jumper and ability to hit 3's consistently at a higher rate than LeBron would probably favor him.  If LeBron's jumper continues improving, however, Jordan will have to watch out.

Also note that one of LeBron's biggest advantages over Jordan, his ability as a facilitator, is removed in a 1x1 game.
Shivu SharmaShivu Sharma, plays, coaches, watches, & dig... (more)
1 upvote by John DeMarchi.
When two men step into the ring, and only one man will survive, give me the psychotic killer who had an addiction to winning.

If they are playing 1-on-1, MJ has the homecourt advantage, so I think he gets the win. Jordan was perhaps the greatest isolation player in NBA history.
Michael Jordan.

Yes, LeBron has the physical advantage over him (he's 6'9" and 280 pounds). But basketball is a whole lot more than your physique. You need to be able to use your body effectively to actually make your body factor in a game of one-on-one.

LeBron is very smart, knows how to use his body and is definetly the most versatile player in the NBA. But Michael Jordan is no slouch on the defensive end; infact, he was one of the best on guard ball defenders during his era. Aside from Drexler or Payton, MJ was a go to lock down defender.

MJ's tenacity is heavily undervalued and would come in handy against a bigger body like LeBron.

On the defensive end, Jordan would obviously have a difficult time. LeBron is that type of player that can take you off the dribble and to the hole, pull-up from the three point line and in, get you in a mean poster dunk and even post you up.

But Jordan is masterful at using his hands and popping the ball out of LeBron's hands. At 6'9, it becomes harder for LeBron to control the ball especially with Jordan hounding him every second.

On the offensive end, Jordan would have an easier time (it would still be difficult to go up against LeBron).

There is an important distinction when we talk about Michael Jordan on the offensive player. He was a guard who played with force and power while also having the nimble skill of a point guard or a scoring focused-guard. LeBron doesn't have AS much skill, he is mostly a brute force player who can simply freight train his way into the paint.

Jordan was the greatest offensive guard to play and he had quickness LeBron simply doesn't have. He has an elite jumping ability and crafty tricks up his sleeve that could let him avoid LeBron's block attempts.

It's valid to say that LeBron would slow down Jordan and tire him out on the offensive end.

LeBron can post opposing guards up, but Michael Jordan was a physical specimen at his position and he was incredibly strong. He's a savage defender and understands when to make the steal attempt or apply constant pressure.

Also, LeBron has primitive post moves. I mean, they are effective moves but they aren't all that sophisticated. He is not Hakeem Olajuwon. Given that, Jordan would have a much easier time reading the offense and picking the ball.

But if this was only one game, not multiple (like a best out of 5 games), I'd bet on Jordan. It would be close. 21-17.
Lot of good points being made here. Seems to be coming down to Lebron's size and versatility versus MJs focus and drive. I think if you repeat this experiment enough times, Lebron would come out ahead because size is more consistent than focus.

I think MJ could beat Kobe for sure (sorry that this isn't the right question for this opinion, but I couldn't resist). He would be in Kobe's head from the first check.
Dave HoggDave Hogg, Sportswriter for more than 20 ... (more)
In one game? Impossible to say. In a series of 50? LeBron.

Michael Jordan was an incredible basketball player on both ends of the floor. He was a brilliant scorer and a fantastic defender.

But he's two inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than LeBron, who is pretty talented on both ends of the floor as well. Michael would be shooting jumpers while LeBron would be backing him into the post, and LeBron would also have a sizable advantage on the boards.

It wouldn't be a blowout, and it wouldn't be easy - beating Michael Jordan is never going to be easy - but people underestimate LeBron's physical gifts.
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