My belief system has forever included three absolutes.  Salsa is the greatest condiment in the world, red wine goes with everything, and Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player that has ever lived.

Now I am not so sure.

After winning his fourth NBA Championship last October, and continuing to dominate at the age of thirty-six, my belief system is now in question as Lebron James continues to dazzle while the debate grows ever closer.

To solve that debate, I developed a method to answer the question once and for all.  A mathematical process if you will.

The first step was to select a small sample size of players that were truly in the GOAT conversation along with Jordan and Lebron, just to make things fair.  Bill Russell and his eleven championships made the list, as did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Wilt Chamberlain would round out the finalists as the NBA’s all-time leading rebounder.

In-depth statistical analysis (checkmarks and Google) kept names like Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neil, and Kobe Bryant among others from making the final cut.

The process was simple.  Choose a statistical category, assign a value of five to the player that leads that category among the group, a four to the next player in line, and so on.  Add up the total points at the end of the process and decide who the GOAT is.  The analysis results as followed.

Games Played – It is often said that the best ability is availability, and Lebron has played around 200 more games than Jordan ever did.  With almost 1300 games played and a two-year contract extension, Lebron scores four points statistically and could end as the all-time leader before his career is over.

Points Scored – Lebron has close to 35,000 career points, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) for the second-most in NBA history.  If Jordan wouldn’t have taken time off to play baseball or decided to retire early before making a comeback, things may have been different.  But add four more points to Lebron’s score.

Rebounds – Wilt Chamberlain scored five points in this category as the all-time leader with 23,924 career rebounds, but Lebron (over 9,600) easily outnumbered Jordan (6,672) to score an additional two points.

Assists – With Lebron’s passing ability, it’s not a surprise that his 9,569 assists (and counting) lead the group in this category.  What is surprising is that Jordan’s 5,633 total are 27 less than Kareem.

Blocks – The centers dominated this category as expected with Bill Russell scoring the five points, but Lebron’s 6’8 frame gave him a statistical advantage over Jordan, and two more points.

Steals – Michael Jordan is third all-time when it comes to thefts with 2,514, trailing only John Stockton (3,265) and Jason Kidd (2,684). Trailing by 450 steals, and averaging around 1.5 career steals per game, Lebron would have to play at least four more seasons to catch MJ.  That’s possible, but doubtful.

Field Goal Percentage – Lebron’s 51% shooting is slightly better than Jordan’s 49.7%, but the surprise in this category is that Bill Russell was only a 44% shooter during his historic career.

Free Throw Percentage – Jordan had little trouble getting five points in this category shooting 83.5% from the line, as Chamberlain (51%) and Russell (56%) struggled with the others.

Win Shares/Player Efficiency Rating – Win Shares (WS) is defined by an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.  Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is defined by a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.  I don’t know what that means either, but all five players had scores so I threw it in there.

Defense – It’s difficult to compare players from different eras, that play different positions.  Especially in a category that is tough to measure, like defense.  But Bill Russell is known as the greatest defender in history and scored the five points, while Jordan easily bested Lebron to score four.

Championship Titles – A challenging category in that winning a title needs to be worth more than five points, or someone’s free throw percentage.  The equation decided was 1.5 x titles, giving Bill Russell a whopping 16.5 points to add to his tally.  Giving titles any more points than that could mean adding Sam Jones (10) as a finalist.

Activism – If you don’t believe that social activism is a measure of athletic greatness, then you probably were unaware that Muhammad Ali lost five fights and is still considered the best.  Bill Russell wins this category despite strong humanity work by all.  Lebron has built schools and been a leading activist in the community.  Jordan received criticism when he failed to back a democratic challenger in a 1990 senate race suggesting, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”  But has made up plenty of ground since then.

The Results – After adding up all the totals to finally provide closure to the Jordan vs. Lebron debate, I double-checked the math.  Total points for Jordan 45.  Total points for Lebron 45.  It was a tie.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, all-time leader in games played, six-time NBA champion, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, finished first with a total of 52 points.

Is it possible for Lebron to grab a couple more titles, score a few more points, and change the math?  Sure.  Is it possible to add a category such as movies and adjust scores based on films like Space Jam, Airplane, or Trainwreck? Maybe.

But for now, statistically, it’s not Lebron or Jordan.  It’s Kareem.

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Alan Tapley is an educator, author, and blogger who has lived just outside of Boulder for the last twenty years.  His published work includes two novels, two children’s books, a series of cartoons in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and multiple sports related articles. His love for family and the state of Colorado is only matched by one thing, his passion for sports.  The first baseball game he ever attended was at Wrigley Field, before there were lights.  At the final Bronco game at the old Mile High, he allegedly cut out a piece of his seat in the South stands.  But regardless of being here for the Avalanche’s last Stanley Cup, the Rockies only World Series appearance, and all the Broncos’ Super Bowl Victories, his wife never fails to remind him that he wasn’t at the University of Colorado in 1990, like she was.  The year the Buffs football team won the National Championship