Lebron James 1.0: What LeBron did better than Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Duncan, and Shaq

13 Seasons8 Finals appearances  3 Championships
4 MVP’sTotal games 1278Total minutes 35505
0 Major Injuries  

Lebron James has been considered by many to be the best player in the world for the better parts of the last ten years and there is more than enough evidence to validate that claim including 3 NBA championships, 8 Finals appearances, numerous individual awards, and two Olympic gold medals. James recently stated that at this point in his career, he is now essentially chasing the records of Michael Jordan (the ghost in Chicago) as he now perhaps feels he has surpassed all of his contemporary peers by a long margin (Jenkins, 2016).

LeBron’s has also faced vast criticism throughout his career as is the case with many sporting geniuses. James has been criticized for many things such as his selfishness, immaturity, arrogance, or being a complainer (Herbert, 2015). However, the most popular and recurrent criticism against LeBron is that he has repeatedly failed to rise to the occasion during numerous defining moments of his career, which includes losing in the NBA Finals five times out of his eight attempts (NBA Staff, 2017). It is argued that this makes him far more inferior to Michael Jordan who had a perfect record of 100%, i.e. six championships in six Finals.

Despite being a big LeBron fan, I too have often felt that LeBron is an underachiever at least to some degree and 3 championships look quite bleak against his name and certainly do not do justice to all his superhuman basketball abilities. The NBA community has often been quite divided on the issue of just how much credit LeBron should be given for his accomplishments (Schwartz, 2017). But that is not what this article is going to focus on. I am not going to touch on the LeBron vs. Jordan debate in terms of skills or accomplishments at all. I will, however, bring forth certain areas where LeBron has clearly transcended his contemporaries and provide evidence for it.

Whether you are a faithful Lebron devotee who is always defending him, or a blind hater who is always pointing out his flaws while arguing how Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry are all better than Lebron, a real basketball fan will always agree that LeBron has endured at the highest level better than any of his famous predecessors and his modern day counterparts.

In his 14 straight seasons between 2004 and 2017, he has competed in 1278 games, and played over 35000 minutes without an extended break. And in these 14 seasons (NBA.com, 2017), he has accomplished something that no superstars of recent times including Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, or even Michael Jordan has accomplished – he has advanced to the NBA finals seven years in a row, something no one has done in the NBA since the 60’s (except for LeBron’s own teammate James Jones).

Many fans and experts actually see this as a besmirch to his illustrious career because LeBron lost 5 out of his 8 finals appearances which is obviously less than Michael Jordan’s strike rate of six out of six at the NBA Finals. But from the perspectives of fitness, endurance, and mental acuity, LeBron’s streak of 7 straight finals journey should be rated higher than Jordan’s six finals appearances for a number of reasons:

  • Jordan won his 6 champions in 8 years
  • Jordan debuted at the age of 21, 3 years older than the debutant LeBron of 18 years
  • By the end of 13thseason, Jordan  had played fewer combined games 
    (1069) and minutes (42,303) than LeBron. 

Records of some recent NBA stars after their 13thseason: 

            PlayerTotal GamesTotal MinutesPlay-off GamesPlay-off MinutesNBA Finals
LeBron James118646,537.951998,406.858
Michael Jordan110942,303.741797,538.656
Tim Duncan114742,289.881706,689.506
Kobe Bryant114642,118.891987,597.117
Magic Johnson109640,793.201907,543.009
Shaquille O’Neal107640,421.581947,570.484

(Basketball-reference.com, 2017)

  • LeBron has participated in at least six game 7’s in his 13 year career compared to Jordan’s 3
  • LeBron has suffered more playoff failures than Jordan, including his struggles against the early 2000’s Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, and of course lost 4 Finals as Skip Bayless would often point out.

Despite playing more minutes LeBron has never suffered from a serious injury compared to each individual listed above. For example, Magic Johnson had missed significant number of games due to injuries throughout his career including the time when he pulled his hamstring that caused his Los Angeles Lakers to lose against the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals. Tim Duncan had suffered a meniscus injury in 1999 that caused him to miss the entire 2000 Playoff and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. Both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had missed substantial amount of games due to injuries and were pushed to retirement due declined abilities caused by injuries. Michael Jordan had also suffered from a serious injury in his 2ndseason that caused him to miss a total of 64 games. LeBron is the only man on that list who has never suffered a severe injury that caused him to miss a significant number of consecutive games.

Comparison of regular season games played each Season

Player LeBron Jordan Duncan Kobe Magic Shaq
Season 1 79 82 82 71 77 81
Season 2 80 18* 50* 79 37* 81
Season 3 79 82 74 50 78 79
Season 4 78 82 82 66 79 54*
Season 5 75 81 82 68 67 51*
Season 6 81 82 81 80 77 60
Season 7 76 82 69 82 72 49
Season 8 79 80 66 65 80 79
Season 962** 78 80 66 72 74
Season 10 76 17 80 80 77 67
Season 11 77 82 78 77 79 67
Season 12 69 82 75 82 79 67
Season 13 76 82 78 58 32 67
Season 14 74 60 76 78 Retired 73
Season 15 82 82 58 6* X 59
Season 16 X Retired 69 35* X 40*
Season 17 X X 74 66 X 61
Season 18 X X 77 Retired X 75
Season 19 X X 61 X X 53
Season 20 X X R X X 37

*Season shortened due to injury

**Season shortened due to NBA Lookout

Least Number of Regular Season Games played in a Season

NameGamesSeasonCaused by
injury
LeBron62*9thN/A
Jordan182ndYes
Duncan502ndYes
Kobe618thYes
Magic372ndYes
Shaq4016thYes

*In 2011-12 season, 62 were the most regular season games played by each team due to lockout

And lastly, Michael was never hated as much as LeBron. Despite his gambling issues Michael Jordan has always maintained his status as an untouchable god to basketball fans all over the world. LeBron, on the other hand, has endured tremendous amount of backlash and hate throughout his career, often at the hands of his own fans who went as far as to burning his jerseys when he signed with Miami from Cleveland. Yet, he came back after each setback only to look hungrier and stronger than before.

But the question is how did LeBron do it? How did he grow stronger from those painful losses against the Pistons, Celtics, and Spurs during his years as an underdog? How did he endure all the criticism during his post-Cleveland days especially after losing to the Dallas Mavericks despite having formed a super team in Miami? And, how is it possible that at the age of 32, LeBron still shows no sign of fatigue or aging despite having gone through everything in his career?

The answer lies in a number of behavioural qualities that LeBron has developed throughout his life and career which I believe has been instrumental to his enduring success at the top. Having followed LeBron’s entire career, I have identified a number key moments which I think best reflects LeBron’s psychological prowess.

Please read the other articles here that analyze LeBron’s behavioral and psychological attributes that have proven to be the secrets to his sustainable success at the top.

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