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The Whiteboard: Who do NBA stars pick in the Jordan-LeBron GOAT debate?

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If you think you’re tired of the LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan, GOAT argument, imagine being a retired NBA player. As your immediate relevancy fades, all you have is the presumed expertise of your playing experience to apply to the biggest questions of the day. So when you’re hocking a new flavor of beef jerky or making a guest appearance on some podcast, you’re going to get the question: Who do you think is the GOAT, Michael Jordan or LeBron James?

(For now, let’s ignore the fact that the question is always presented as a binary choice, excluding players like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Jordan Crawford.)

Every time the question is answered it’s met by a flurry of aggregation, basketball media (FanSided included) rushing to add one more opinion to the historical record. It can be exhausting but it also makes for an archive of opinions that can actually be collated. It’s been done before but nearly every day there’s a new addition so it’s always worth updating.

Below, I have collected every quote I could find from a retired or active NBA player about their Jordan, LeBron preference. Some are clear, some are vague. Some are old, some are fresh. But I did my best to collect them all, translate the sportspeak platitudes and come up with a tally of who their peers actually favor.

Which NBA stars, past and present, prefer Michael Jordan and which prefer LeBron James?

Gary Payton: “If you ask me who’s a better all-around basketball player? LeBron James by far … Two totally different basketball players. Jordan was a guy that he was going to make big shots. He’s going to take the ball every time and shoot it every time he has to. I think LeBron is an all-around basketball player.”

Shaq: “I think LeBron is looking to tie Kobe and tie Jordan with championships. If he tied Mike, I think people will probably lean a little bit more towards LeBron being the best player in the world.”

Charles Barkley: “In my opinion, Michael the GOAT. And LeBron, to me, I’ve always said he’s closer to Magic Johnson than he is to Michael.”

Dwyane Wade: “I come from a Jordan era. I am biased and I’m going to be biased until the day I pass away. Michael Jordan will be my GOAT. I’m not taking anything away from LeBron. LeBron is amazing. But Michael Jordan is my GOAT.”

Allen Iverson: “As much as I love Michael Jordan, like, dawg, man, LeBron James is the one, dawg. He the one, man. That mother f*****r is the one, man.”

Kevin Garnett: “Are y’all serious? Are you serious? Are y’all serious? Michael Jordan was probably the most — out of professional sports — he was here (holds hand up high) while everybody else was here (holds hand way lower). Michael Jordan was revered as a machine. He was selfish. He didn’t trust anybody else, and he still won. You said he couldn’t do it, and he came out he won. And you was like you know what, I’m rolling with this kid here. You saw how hard he wanted it. You saw how hard he was going. And this was with Magic and Bird still in the league!!!!

Paul Pierce: “It’s not easy to make an NBA Finals, and for him to be able to do it 10 times, he’s moving up there in my rankings. I’m gonna keep it real. If LeBron James … wins a title this year, I’ll put him right behind Michael Jordan.”

Chauncey Billups: “I love that he [LeBron] has done that [proclaiming himself as the best ever]. He is on Mount Rushmore but I can’t put him at the top. There is no way I can put him at the top […] Maybe if he had hit that shot that Kyrie [Irving] hit, I could see him saying that […] but I can’t go there, I’m sorry.”

Bill Laimbeer: “I’m very vocal. I think LeBron is the best player that’s every played the game. He’s 6-foot-8, 285 pounds, runs like the wind and jumps out of the gym, and more importantly, when he came in the league, from day one, he knew how to involve his teammates to win. And that’s something that Jordan had to learn for a long time.”

Chris Webber: “Magic was, to me, one of the greatest players that you wanted to play with because of his skillset, along with [Steve] Nash, because they got you involved. Jordan came in and the whole narrative changed that you have to be this killer, you have to do it yourself—six-time Defensive Player of the Year, you have to check everyone. When LeBron came in passing…people questioned his heart and soul. What I love about LeBron is that he didn’t change his personality, and if kids emulate him they’ll have to be a team player. Period. So I put him as probably—I don’t like saying this over Magic—but the greatest team player of all time. By far.”

Tracy McGrady: “I think if you want to start a team, I’m going to go with LeBron because of him being able to take lesser talent and elevate those guys… Because of his pass-first mentality, being able to elevate his team in terms of their style of play. Mike is going out there trying to get 30 and 40 points. He’s not looking to make his team better.”

Magic Johnson: “LeBron James is well on his way. If he wins one more [championship], Michael and him are going to be right there together. If he gets that next [championship], it’s going to be hard not to say he’s right there with MJ. I said the next one, which will be five [for LeBron], because with six [for Jordan] and four [for James], it’s hard to say he’s overtaken Michael at four championships. I think once he wins [a fifth title] and repeats — the key word is repeat — that’s a good argument right there.”

Kevin Durant: “That’s crazy…” [responding to a random fan calling LeBron the GOAT)

Zion Williamson: “Me personally, I’d go with Jordan… that’s my opinion. Jordan’s my G.O.A.T., that’s what my parents taught me.”

The 2018 Rookie Class: Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter Jr.,  Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Deandre Ayton picked LeBron (or appear to, given the video editing). Aaron Holiday, Luka Doncic, Grayson Allen, and Marvin Bagley picked Jordan. Jerome Robinson wouldn’t choose.

Damian Lillard: “I don’t think ppl will ever be able to admit someone is better than Jordan even if they are lol…”

J.J. Redick: He called LeBron the “greatest player to ever play.”

Oscar Robertson: “Is Barkley trying to say that he thinks LeBron is not as good as Michael Jordan? Come on. LeBron’s in a class by himself.”

Isiah Thomas: “For me, I look at the total body of work, what LeBron James is as a basketball player, and if I had to pick one over the other, right now, I’m picking LeBron James over Michael Jordan. Because Jordan would beat you scoring, but this guy beats you at everything.”

Penny Hardaway: “Honestly, I hate to compare these guys. But right now, to me, Michael is the GOAT and LeBron is not too far behind.”

Jalen Rose: “I believe Michael Jordan is the GOAT over LeBron James. Here are five categories I want everybody to always pay attention to: MVP, Finals MVP, scoring title, Defensive Player of the Year, and not only did your team win the championship, you won Finals MVP.”

Gilbert Arenas: “The reason I feel LeBron is the GOAT is because during pressure times he still makes the actual right decision versus what us fans and the public wants him to do. That’s what separates him from Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. If you give Jordan and Kobe those Cavs teams, they would not have made it to the playoffs, they would not have made it to the championship because Jordan would have averaged 60 and said the ‘hell with it’.”

Ray Allen: In my opinion, M.J. is the GOAT. LeBron is a product of M.J., so a lot of what’s in LeBron — in his DNA — comes from Michael. For anybody that says that LeBron is the GOAT, they’re growing up in today’s era, and they believe what they believe based on how it feels and what he means to them, and that’s OK. But the way M.J. affected the game, man, he had a stranglehold on the league and he struck fear in everyone because he was an unstoppable player.

Jerry Stackhouse: “I don’t think it would be fair to give a comparison on them. I played with LeBron at the prime of his career and I played with Michael in the last year of his career. I just think both are unbelievable players. They’re probably one and two in the history of the game. That’s where I’ll leave it.”

Shawn Kemp: “I’mma say Michael Jordan. I think LeBron James has done great, but only thing Michael Jordan ever did was win. There’s players as myself who haven’t won a championship that were very good. There’s guys who I’ve seen win championships, they’re good players, but they had a good team also around them. And I look at Michael Jordan, he played with the Bulls, and he had Scottie Pippen. But without Michael being there, the Bulls wasn’t gonna win the championship. It came from Michael Jordan.”

Hakeem Olajuwon:  “When people start comparing him with Jordan, then that’s not a fair comparison. Jordan was a far more superior player in a very tough league, and he was very creative. That’s not taking away anything from LeBron because he is a great player, but it is not a fair comparison because Jordan is a far superior player.”

Collin Sexton: There are three of them, you can’t really say one is the GOAT because of the different time eras. Gotta say Kobe, LeBron, MJ. Don’t think there’s just one person, don’t know how LeBron would’ve played in MJ’s era or Kobe in MJ’s era. They’re the GOATs in their eras.

Metta World Peace: “@KingJames is the goat. Never thought I would say that over my brother 24 and my favorite mj. I was an Allstar in mj Jersey 23. I changed my number for one season to honor a legend. But the King is the greatest athlete to ever touch this galaxy. Better than the aliens too”

Draymond Green: “I think LeBron yields a lot of power. As he should, I think arguably the greatest player of all time. If you look at his resume, it’s flawless. The things that he’s been able to do on the court, obviously spectacular. But it’s more important, the things that he’s been able to accomplish off the court. and that’s where he gets the utmost respect from me.”

Cedric Maxwell: “LeBron James is the GOAT now. He’s the GOAT because, not only on the basketball side, but social issues: He’s been involved in every social issue that we look at.”


Michael Jordan (18): Shaq, Charles Barkley, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Magic Johnson, Kevin Durant, Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic, Aaron Holiday, Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley, Penny Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Ray Allen, Shawn Kemp, Hakeem Olajuwon.

LeBron James (15): Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Deandre Ayton, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, J.J. Redick, Cedric Maxwell, Draymond Green, Metta World Peace.

Too diplomatic to choose (5): Chris Webber, Jerome Robinson, Damian Lillard, Jerry Stackhouse, Collin Sexton.


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