Commentary

Is LeBron more like Jordan or Wilt?

Debating which legend is a better historical comparison for the Heat's superstar

Originally Published: June 3, 2011
By Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher | ESPN The Magazine
Wilt Chamberlain/Lebron James/Michael JordanNBAE/Getty ImagesIt's a legit question: Who will LeBron's legacy more closely resemble, Wilt's or MJ's?

The only thing Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard like to do more than report on the NBA is argue about the NBA. So we decided to combine those two skills for Insider's weekly One-on-One series, in which they'll debate the hottest topics in the association.

Question: Who is the better historical comparison for LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan?

BUCHER: The sensational playoff run LeBron James is on has resulted in comparisons being made once more to Michael Jordan, comparisons that were largely abandoned after he left Cleveland. I find it a little amusing that merely returning to the Finals has prompted this rush to raise the same banner, a banner that never made much sense to me in the first place. LeBron, without question, has been the most impactful player in these playoffs, but everything about him -- his game, strengths, demeanor, leadership style -- is so vastly different from Jordan's that even if he wins multiple rings I'd be hard-pressed to see them as kindred spirits.

To me, the superstar from the past that LeBron most reminds me of is Wilt Chamberlain. As with LeBron, Wilt's physical freakishness was a cut above even the NBA's physical freaks. As with LeBron, he put up historically phenomenal individual statistics from the minute he stepped into the league but didn't win his first ring until his eighth season (that is if, of course, LeBron and the Heat take care of the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals). And as with LeBron, presuming he does get a ring, it will not be with the team that drafted him.


BROUSSARD: The comparisons between LeBron and MJ have nothing to do with them being "kindred spirits." It's about greatness and impact on the game, and there's little question that LeBron has the chance to impact the game nearly as much as Jordan did. Sure, their games are different, but LeBron's game is different than Wilt's, too. Saying that because LeBron didn't win a ring with the team that drafted him makes him like Wilt is ridiculous. In that case, LeBron would be more like Shaq, who like LeBron and unlike Wilt left his first team (Orlando Magic) as a free agent then won a title (with the Lakers). Or like Oscar Robertson, who was regarded as an otherworldly new breed of player but who never won with his original team.

But since you said Wilt, let's stay there. I think your real belief is that LeBron will put up crazy numbers like Wilt and take the game to new heights physically but be largely regarded as a non-winner. That's the case with Wilt, who was widely believed to have wilted (no pun intended) under the pressure of the Finals. I'd say LeBron has shown and is showing that he doesn't wilt on the big stage. He clearly has a chance to be the best player, key figure and linchpin on a dynastic team. That's Jordan-esque, not Chamberlain-ian.


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Ric Bucher

NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer