Who is the greatest NBA player of all time?
When Michael Jordan made his final shot for the Chicago Bulls 20 years ago next month, that question was easy to answer. While cases could be made for Bill Russell based on championship rings, Wilt Chamberlain on statistical dominance and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on longevity, the consensus was clear: Jordan was the greatest basketball player who had ever lived.
And then along came LeBron James, a challenger to the throne unlike any before him. The comparison between James and Jordan, once premature, is now fair to make. This is James’ 15th NBA season, matching Jordan’s total, and he has already played 71 more regular-season games and an incredible 49 more playoff games. With James still established as the league’s best player at age 33 and adding playoff game winners to his résumé seemingly by the week, the question is worth asking: Jordan or LeBron?
Championships added: James closing fast
Two years ago, when ESPN was ranking the best players in NBA history (result: Jordan first, with James third behind Abdul-Jabbar), I developed a metric that could evaluate the league’s greatest stars throughout the decades on a level playing field. The result was championships added, which uses Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares to estimate how much a player added to his team’s chances of walking away with the title that season based on regular-season and playoff performance.