Michael Jordan or LeBron James? For NBA fans, the debate over the better NBA player will never end — but at the moment, MJ clearly has more fans in his corner.
A new poll commissioned by ESPN found 73% of NBA fans believe Jordan is the superior player overall, and the Chicago Bulls legend swept all 17 questions comparing him to James by metrics both on and off the court.
To account for the generation gap — Jordan last played in the season before James entered the league in 2003 — the 600 respondents were split evenly into two age groups: 18-34 and 35 and older. Jordan naturally led by almost 4-to-1 (79%) in the older half, but even in the younger group, Jordan was preferred by nearly 2-to-1 (66%).
There’s little doubt fans would rather see the ball in Jordan’s hands with the game on the line, as 76% thought he was the better choice than James to take a game-winning shot, and 74% trusted His Airness to come through in the clutch.
Fans also said Jordan was the better offensive player (65%), more spectacular to watch play (74%) and would beat James one-on-one in a game to 21 points (67%).
James fared better in the questions asking which player was the superior defensive player, as Jordan won by only 18 percentage points, 59% to 41%.
Fans also were more evenly split on who was the better passer, with James receiving 41% of the votes, and which player fans trusted more to pass them the ball, for which the Los Angeles Lakers’ star came in at 43%. However, fans still said they would prefer Jordan as a teammate by a 26-point margin. Jordan was also favored as the first pick with which to start a team (66%).
Basketball aside, 65% of fans said they would rather have a drink with Jordan than James, and 62% said Jordan — now the owner of the Charlotte Hornets — has had a more positive impact off the court. And when it comes to shoes, there is no debate: 79% of fans think Air Jordans are more fashionable than LeBron’s Nike line, and 77% think they perform better on the court, as well. Fans even like Jordan’s overall “look” — preferring his shaved head to James’ signature headband by a 30-point margin.
But what about the argument that James faces stiffer competition in today’s NBA than Jordan did in his prime? The poll dismissed that point, with 71% saying the league was all-around better during Jordan’s playing days.
So Jordan topped James in the head-to-head poll, but does that make him the GOAT? The respondents said yes, albeit by a slightly smaller margin — 65% say Jordan is the greatest of all time, while 14% say it’s James, and 13% said it was too close to call. Only 8% chose someone other than Jordan or James.
The nationwide online study among 615 NBA fans ages 18-and-over was conducted May 8-11 by TideWatch Research.