As LeBron James passes the 40,000-point mark, the age-old GOAT debate has taken a turn

This author’s story of his childhood crush on Michael Jordan is not unique.

If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you couldn’t help but be drawn to MJ’s mystique. When I was a kid from the Bay Area, I used to photocopy every article written about the Bulls star and organize them in a three-ring binder thicker than a King James Bible. The local “Run TMC” Warriors were fun, but nothing could compare to the basketball magic Michael provided from the time I was 7 until I retired in a Wizards jersey at age 26. He even provided one of my favorite pieces of basketball magic, albeit unknowingly, as my late mother took me all the way to the University of Kansas with then-Jayhawks coach Roy Williams and his special guests — Jordan himself attended a high school training camp together, but this is a family memory.

Sitting in the stands at Allen Fieldhouse, seeing him from hundreds of feet away and getting an autographed photo from a training camp staff member afterward was almost as good as meeting him in person. He was a basketball god then and now.

But when you see LeBron James eclipse 40,000 points on Saturday night against the Denver Nuggets, you realize that he is truly alone in the annals of basketball history. With 4,890 players taking the court since the NBA’s founding in 1947, neither Jordan nor anyone else can touch upon the legacy he left behind.

Of course, scoring is only part of James’s prowess, but to understand the significance of this latest ridiculous feat, it’s best to take a moment to appreciate the elite team he now leaves behind. Only seven players — LeBron, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Jordan (32,292), Dirk Novi Tskyi (31,560) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) — once reached the NBA’s 30,000-point club. Calling this group the “cream of the crop” would be an understatement, as they only make up 0.0014% of the league’s total players. Now, with James’ left-handed layup in the second quarter, he stands alone in the 40k club.

Mind you, the glowing praise for James’ resume comes from a loyal Jordan fan who owns the “Come Fly With Me” video, the “Wings” poster on his bedroom wall, the Jordan shoes, and the “Michael Jordan to the Limit” collection we have in our homes today DVD, and even a sign hanging in his office that says “You’ll Miss All the Shots You Don’t Take,” inspired by Jordan’s epic 1997 “Failure” commercial. Over the past 20 years, covering the league, I have always believed in Jordan’s perfect performance in the Finals and his impact after Larry Magic, especially on a global scale, on the NBA that put him on the map. A throne that can never be reached.

But this final chapter that James is putting together, this sweeping curtain call that sweeps through history, is enough to convince me that the age-old debate over “The Goat” is over. Not because James is the winner, though, but because their stories have become so different that endless comparisons become increasingly meaningless as time goes on.

Jordan’s two retirements – the first after the death of his father James in July 1993 and the second after winning his sixth championship in 1998 – meant he A total of four seasons were missed. We can play the what-if game from now on forever, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jordan’s body of work is much different than James’ in terms of durability and longevity.

Meanwhile, James has somehow managed to live up to all the “Chosen One” hype while also withstanding the increased scrutiny that the internet age has brought – two decades in a row. He followed a very different path than Jordan, becoming one of only four players to win a championship on three different teams with the Cavaliers, Heat and Lakers (while the others – John Salley, Robert · Horry and Danny Green – neither is a leading figure, so speak).

What’s more, the structure of “GOAT” is tired and flawed, which takes its toll on both of them.Contrary to popular belief, it’s OK to admire Picasso and Meanwhile da Vinci, so be it. There are enough flowers to go around.

Alas, even with these differences, the discussion should die down, but the debate that usually energizes two distinct camps will continue to rage. On one hand, there are those who purely focus on the championship when comparing the two. Jordan’s six games surpassed James’ four games. and He has the best playoff scoring average ever (33.45 ppg; James is sixth at 28.45), and that’s about it.

On the other hand, there are those who look at James’ entire resume and finally acknowledge the fact that he makes it so irresistible. No one — not Jordan, not Kareem, not Wilt, not Russell, not Kobe or anyone else — has ever played at this level for so long. A quick glance at this season serves as the latest evidence.

Only nine players have averaged at least 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a season — 32 total times — and James has done it for the 12th time in his career. Jordan did it once.

Viewed through this lens, though, James’ continued impact as a historic playoff player has earned him some of his best points in as many years. For example, his last playoff game was a masterpiece of 40 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals in the Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets, but he only played for four seconds. That’s a far cry from the 30-something Jordan who failed to make the playoffs in each of his two seasons with the Washington Wizards (the teams went 37-45). Just look at the overall postseason effort.

James holds the all-time record for playoff appearances (282 games, Derek Fisher ranks second with 259 games, and Jordan ranks 19th with 179 games). He leads in scoring (8,023 points, Jordan is second with 5,987 points). He ranks second in assists (2,023; Magic Johnson ranks first with 2,346 assists; Jordan ranks 12th with 1,022 assists). He ranked fourth in rebounds (2,549, Russell ranked first with 4,104 rebounds and Jordan ranked 45th with 1,152 rebounds).

More importantly, he ranks third in Finals appearances (10) (behind Russell and Sam Jones of the Celtics). For what it’s worth, his 50% Finals shooting percentage (entering this season) is better than Jordan’s (42.8%; 6 of 14).

It’s this unprecedented durability, combined with the continued excellence of a record-setting 20th All-Star Game selection last month in Indianapolis, that is most The Lakers recently shared, he has played against 35% of NBA players. By the time he takes the field next season after turning 40 on December 30, he will tie Vince Carter’s record for longest career (22 seasons) while making an even greater impact.

The list, like LeBron himself, goes on. Even MJ had to be surprised at this time.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” James told reporters Thursday night.

Me too, LeBron. Me too.

(Photo: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

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