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A Comparison of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan at the Age of 31
- Updated: January 1, 2016
Having now reached his 31st birthday, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is at an age where discussions of whether he can perhaps be considered the greatest player in NBA history have enough depth to make an accurate comparison.
Trying to determine who the best is among the trio of James, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is a debate that very likely would get split three ways, especially when it comes to fans in either Cleveland, Chicago or Los Angeles. One way to compare the three, however, is to look at their career production through the age of 30, which is where James is currently situated.
In truth, James and Bryant have a clear edge when it comes to the overall numbers given, simply because neither played a second of college ball. Meanwhile, Jordan played three years for the North Carolina Tar Heels, hitting the winning basket in the NCAA title game as a freshman.
With regards to James and Bryant, looking at the 18 categories from this Cleveland Plain Dealer article by Dennis Manoloff, James holds an advantage in 15 of them. The lone areas where Bryant tops him is in games played, free throws and NBA titles. Obviously, the latter category is the most compelling, with each player having played in six NBA Finals and Bryant winning four times in comparison to James’ two championships.
For all the discussion of James being four titles behind Jordan’s six, he’s only one behind him at the same age. James has the opportunity to make up serious ground in the next two years, since at the age of 31, Jordan briefly retired to pursue a baseball career. That ended in March 1995, but his late arrival wasn’t enough to lead the Bulls to a title.
Therefore, James could conceivably add two titles to go past Jordan. That would still put him one behind Bryant, who will end his career at that number, whereas James still has a solid core group playing with him for the foreseeable future. James already has an edge over Bryant for total playoff games, a gap that will only grow wider in the years ahead.
Against Jordan, James’ numbers (by average) rank primarily in second place, with the exception of assists, rebounds and total playoff games, where James has put up better numbers.
As stated earlier, the debate will rage on for years, but James certainly has earned a spot in any conversation.