- LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan is often a hotly contested debate among sports TV and radio personalities.
- People often weigh the dominance of Jordan against the all-around play and longevity of James.
- A new INSIDER poll suggests that it is not much of a debate at all, with the vast majority picking Jordan as the “GOAT” (greatest of all time).
- James does better among younger fans, while people over 60 often pick players other than Jordan or James.
LeBron James recently moved into fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, passing Michael Jordan.
The achievement reignited one of the fiercest debates in the NBA – who is the “GOAT,” the greatest NBA player of all time.
Supporters of Jordan pointed to Jordan’s six championships, his undefeated record in the NBA Finals, and his overall influence in taking the NBA’s popularity to a new level as reasons why he’s the best.
Fans of James point to his longevity, his eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances, of which he won three, and his overall brilliance on the floor beyond scoring. James is also still at his peak and passing Jordan in several statistical achievements.
INSIDER polled 1,082 American adults through SurveyMonkey Audience on March 1o, 2019. We asked respondents a few questions. First, we asked how often they watched the NBA, and then we asked who they believed to be the greatest player of all time based on their knowledge of the game. Of those 1,082 respondents, 747 volunteered a basketball player as the GOAT, and we sorted through the responses to clean and consolidate the responses to find out a winner.
Overwhelmingly, Americans chose Jordan as the GOAT.
Two-thirds of respondents, 66%, chose Jordan as the best NBA player of all time. Only 10.4% of respondents chose James. Other names respondents volunteered included Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Stephen Curry. Collectively, those players received just 134 total votes.
The responses suggested a strong correlation between age and the pick for GOAT. For instance, of the respondents who picked Jordan, 74% were between the ages of 30 and 44, and 69% were between 45 and 60.
Comparatively, James polled best in the 18 to 29 age group, receiving 20% of his votes from respondents in that age category. Just 6% of his votes came from people ages 45 to 60 and 60-plus.
Those answers may also reveal something about the viewing habits of respondents and their analyses of the game. Respondents were asked how frequently they watch the NBA, with never, rarely, sometimes, usually, and always listed as answers.
The responses from Jordan voters were fairly even across the board. For instance, 68% of Jordan respondents said they never watch basketball, but 69% said they usually watch basketball, and 63% said always.
Meanwhile, 15% of James respondents said they sometimes watch, 11% said usually, and 15% said always. Only 8% of James respondents said never.
The data would suggest that younger, more-engaged NBA fans lean toward James, as he’s still playing. Older generations who watched Jordan play and tune in less today lean toward Jordan.
What can James do to catch Jordan?
At this point, it seems unlikely that James will be able to catch Jordan in championships. His Los Angeles Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this season.
But could James help build a contender in Los Angeles and win one more championship, bringing his total to four in 10 appearances? That could sway some voters.
James could also continue racking up statistical achievements. He will likely pass Bryant next season for all-time third in points, and if he scores 1,000 points or more for four more seasons (he has scored 1,600 points or more in every season until this one), then he could contend for being the all-time leader in points.
James is also 10th and climbing in all-time assists, could get into the top 40 in rebounds, will likely make the top 10 in made 3-pointers, and could make the top 10 in total steals.
At 34, James doesn’t have a lot of time to continue playing at his peak – some think there has already been a decline in his game. But even when accounting for age and decline in production, James could hit those statistical achievements fairly easily if he stays reasonably healthy over the next three years.
If James can hang around the NBA for a while longer, continue to put up impressive numbers, and perhaps claim another title, his résumé may be too much for Jordan advocates to ignore.
At the moment, however, James has a way to go to catch Jordan in the eyes of NBA fans.
- Read more on Michael Jordan:
- Peek inside Michael Jordan’s houses, cars, and travels and see what $US1.9 billion buys
- LeBron James’ comments about being the ‘GOAT’ have rankled the NBA world
- Here’s Michael Jordan’s 56,000-square-foot house in Chicago, and why it’s still on the market after 6 years
- Zion Williamson weighs in on the NBA ‘Greatest of All Time’ debate
- SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,082 respondents collected March 10, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.12 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.
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