LeBron's historic six-year stretch rivals Jordan

LeBron's historic six-year stretch rivals Jordan
September 25, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Mark Strotman

It's sometimes unfair and always dangerous to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan.

But right now King James is putting up numbers that rival His Airness.

Before diving into those statistics, it's important to note that James is still a long ways from matching all Jordan accomplished. James is still just 29 years old, so it's understandable that he trails Jordan is championships, MVPs, All-Star appearances, and in just about every major category that Jordan stuffed during his 15-year career. It's fine to say James is on pace to rivaling Jordan's magnificent NBA career, but the fact remains James will need to play at a higher-than-high level for the next eight seasons before an accurate comparison is made.

That being said, James is in the midst of a seven-year run that comes close to what Jordan accomplished during his best statistical seasons.

Though Jordan won three NBA championships in a row at age 32, 33 and 34, his best statistical seasons came before that second three-peat. After a fantastic rookie campaign, a broken foot knocked Jordan out of all but 18 regular-season games as a sophomore.

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In his third season, however, Jordan began a stretch of play that arguably was the most dominant seven-year stretch in NBA history. From 1986 to 1993, Jordan made seven All-Star appearances, won three MVPs and won back-to-back-to-back NBA championships. He led the league in scoring in each of those seasons, missed only seven games and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors once (along with All-Defensive first team marks in six of those seasons).

He was hands down the best player in the league and established himself as an all-time great, not to mention his leadership on the 1992 Dream Team, the greatest team ever assembled. Again, Jordan accomplished more than most players do their entire careers after the 1993 season, but that seven-year span was the most dominating performance the NBA had ever seen post-Wilt, and many assumed those kinds of numbers would never be put up again.

But then James arrived.

His "struggles" in Cleveland were documented in his ability to close down the stretch, and he took a backseat to Dwight Howard's Magic and the Big Three in Boston as he searched for his elusive first NBA championship. But beginning in 2007 at age 23 -- the same age Jordan began his historic run -- James took his game to another level. He led the league in scoring for the first time, finished fourth in the MVP voting and increased his PER (player efficiency rating) from 24.5 to 29.1, which led the league.

James had always been a stat-stuffer, but from that season on he established himself as the game's best. The next season he won his first MVP -- the first of what would be four in five seasons -- and though he couldn't manage to get by the likes of Orlando and Boston -- struggles Jordan had dealt with early in his career against Boston and Detroit -- the writing was on the wall that eventually he would erase his demons and get over the championship hump. The last six seasons for James have included the aforementioned four MVPs, six All-Star appearances, two Olympic gold medals and two NBA championships.

Individually, here's how that six-year stretch matches up against Jordan's seven-year run from 1986 to 1993.

Michael Jordan '86-'93 30.4 33.2 6.4 6.0 51.8% 18.8 33.9%
LeBron James '07-'13 30.2 28.2 7.7 7.3 51.1% 17.2 32.4%

James will turn 29 in December, and if the past two seasons are any indication he's only now entering his prime. With another season on-par with his averages the last two seasons, there's a chance that, at least in terms of PER, his seven-year stretch will be greater than Jordan's. Granted, if James doesn't win a third straight NBA championship he'll still trail Jordan by one in their respective stretches, but individually James has nearly matched Jordan.

This isn't to say that James has overtaken Jordan as the game's all-time best. It can't be overstated enough that Jordan's accomplishments to date far outweigh what James has done, and and the closest thing to an accurate comparison -- there may never be a fair debate -- won't come for a decade.

And playoff performance matters in this debate, perhaps more than anything. Here's a look at those numbers.

Michael Jordan '86-'93 29.8 34.6 6.7 6.6 50.2% 3.4 36.0%
LeBron James '07-'13 28.5 28.3 8.8 6.6 48.2% 4.0 31.5%

As it was in the regular season, Jordan holds a slight advantage in most categories. Another monster year from James could change that, though. James' playoff record through his six-year stretch is 69-36, a 65.7 winning percentage. During Jordan's historic seven-year span the Bulls went 68-36, a 65.3 winning percentage (to account for the different playoff formats). Just as it was for Jordan winning his first two championships, and eventually a third in Year 7 of these numbers, James struggled early but put together dominant performances to lead his teams to championships the last two seasons.

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If James leads the Heat to a third, the numbers tell the story that he may have put together just as good a stretch as Air Jordan. James has a long way to go before his all-time numbers are put into accurate and fair context with Jordan's, but the pace he's at suggests that the gap between the two is closing.