Predictions: How LeBron Ranks Jordan on GOAT Standing


Who is the greatest player of all time: Michael Jordan or LeBron James?

These aren't the only two contestants, but they dominate the debate – which received new life this week when the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship and earned James his fourth title.

We asked our ESPN Forecast Panel a series of questions to get at the heart of the GOAT debate.

MORE: Are LeBron's four titles better than MJ's six? (ESPN +)

Here are the results of our ESPN forecast survey:

GOAT or not, many of LeBron James' performances in 17 seasons and counts are unprecedented. Kim Klement / Pool Photo via AP

Where LeBron has the advantage

In our most recent all-time NBArank, Jordan had a distinct advantage over LeBron as number 1 in NBA history.

But that does not mean that the argument is completely one-sided, nor does it make the opinion unanimous.

For three of our questions this week, the panel favored LeBron:

Which is truer?

Almost half of the voters said the difference in epochs wasn't that important. Overall, voters said LeBron had a tougher road.

Who is the taller teammate?

Given that LeBron's most recent championship was alongside Davis – a great all-NBA and first-team all-defensive man – we asked voters to compare AD to Jordan's greatest teammate Scottie Pippen.

This is not the last word that the supporting cast was stronger. But it's a snapshot of how much boost the two GOAT candidates received from two key contributors. According to our panel, Jordan had a better pal than James – at least for LeBron's fourth title.

Which player achieved more overall?

LeBron James: 62%

Michael Jordan: 38%

Here is an important question of what could ultimately give LeBron the edge in the GOAT debate, even if the bulk of our panel is not yet ready to crown it.

This shows the power of LeBron's longevity as a player and his remarkable achievement in reaching 10 NBA finals (including nine of the last 10) with three different franchises.

William C. Rhoden: It is time to end the debate

Michael Jordan still has the aura of invincibility. Steve Freeman / NBAE via Getty Images

Where MJ has the advantage

For most of our panel, Michael is still the man. This was evident in most of the questions where we asked the panel to compare players head-to-head.

Here are the receipts:

Which is the greater achievement?

Six NBA titles: 72%

10 NBA finals: 28%

Jordan's 6-0 record in the NBA Finals gives it the edge here as James has appeared in 10 Finals but has only won four times.

Which is the greater achievement?

Same question, different point of view. The results were closer but still favored Jordan.

Which player had a higher peak?

Michael Jordan: 82%

LeBron James: 18%

One reason NBA fans and our panel struggle to put someone in front of Jordan is because their ability to rise on any occasion seems to be unmatched.

That was clear when we asked which player had reached greater heights.

And here's the big question for any gamer:

Michael Jordan is …

Greatest Player of All Time: 62%

Second greatest player of all time: 32%

A top five player of all time: 6%

LeBron James is …

Greatest Player of All Time: 23%

Second greatest player of all time: 55%

A top 5 player of all time: 21%

While these are the top two players of all time for the majority of our panel, we asked about other nominees. The other five most frequently named GOAT candidates were, in the order of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.

More: What LeBron and MJ are saying about each other



LeBron James and Anthony Davis discuss with Rachel Nichols the emotions of living in the bubble and where LeBron piles up after his fourth title.

What the future holds for LeBron

LeBron just received his fourth MVP award for the finals and is still near his peak. This is noteworthy for a player nearing 36 years of age.

That is why we asked our panel two important questions:

How many titles will LeBron have when his career ends?

Average: 4.95 tracks.

How many NBA titles does LeBron take to overtake Jordan as the greatest player of all time?

Three (he was already the GOAT): 15%

Four (this title did it): 15%

Five (one more will do it): 11%

Six (matching MJ will do it): 28%

Seven (past MJ will do it): 15%

LeBron cannot pass MJ: 17%

3-6 NBA titles total: 69%

Overall, our panel expects LeBron to win another title. But that fifth title might not be enough to tip the scales in its favor, at least in the current view of our panel.

But as these results show, if LeBron can combine a sixth NBA title with his other accomplishments, we could reach a new consensus.

Zach Lowe: Why the GOAT debate is different now