Lebron passes Jabbar record. How the league has evolved. Is it bigger, faster, stronger than ever?
It is a common theme you hear now, "Lebron plays against better competition than Jordan." "Jordan played against a bunch of plumbers." "The players are bigger, faster, stronger, and more athletic than ever before."
Some of that may be true to an extent...except the plumbers part as that would be quite the salary for a plumber in 1997.
The common mistake many make is that while that may be true to an extant, the difference is never nearly as great as they say. Lebron would not average 45 points a game in 1997. Jordan would not average 45 points a game in the this era where the league scoring is up.
Keep in mind, one of those 'plumber' opponents that Jordan played against, with plumber definition typically being a smallish player with limited athletic ability and no above the rim leaping ability, is Steve Nash. Nash played for four years in the 1990's and wasn't very good. Sure he was a rookie at first, but four years is enough to show true ability in the NBA. That 'plumber' ended up winning two MVP's in a Lebron league.
In fact, there are several Jordan opponents in the 1990's that played in the same league as Lebron and they either won MVP's, titles, or individual statistical leaders in a league that featured Lebron James.
So we. know right off the bat that most claims are exaggerated as to "he would do this in that era." "He would not keep up in this era." As is typical in sports discussion, the hyorbole is not typically accurate and it is more minute in the advantages/disadvantages players had in their era or not...but there certainly are differences.
However, that also does not negate that the current NBA has more players with the total package of being similar in size, athletic ability, and skill as Jordan now, as compared to then. There are more Jordan-esqe players now compared to the 90's where it was more center position centric still. That makes sense as Jordan's huge popularity bred people to want to "be like Mike," and they indeed did do just that.
Most certainly the styles of play in the NBA has drastically changed in the last decade with an ever increasing reliance on three point shooting. With that change became less of a need for the Mark Eaton types that had a high level of usefulness at one time.
What about the bigger, faster, stronger etc?? Some of that cannot be measured, but height and weight can, and both play a big role in advantages/disadvantages when measuring the competition:
Below are three years for historical context, 1961, 1997, and 2021. It is broken down into groups of height so the chart isn't so cumbersome.
More importantly the height of the players is measured in the percentage of the league minutes played as opposed to the total number of players a certain height. This makes sense, because in 1961 you had some seven foot players on rosters but they did not play very much.
In this group, the players that were in the six foot to six foot four range in 1961 played 39.8 percent of the league minutes.
6/0-6/4...............39.8.......24.2......29.2 percent of the league minutes.
Clearly the league was smaller in 1961 as there were more players under six foot five than any other time. Surprisingly there are more smaller players in 2021 than there were in 1997.
The Jordan and Lebron range in the six fivbe to six 9 category are pretty similar across the board, with 2021 with a higher amount of players. So look at this, if you were six foot six, then you had it easier in 1961 because your group was less and the smallest group was higher for the pickings.
Of course, the 53.4 percent of players in this group in 2021 are where there are indeed more players like Mike now. While that cannot be seen with the raw height totals, you do see it while watching the games. Jordan would indeed have more athletic people to compete against that had similar attributes as him, but how much of a difference it would make is unknown. It may have cost Jordan a few scoring titles or an MVP.
As for Lebron, he isn't going against taller people than Jordan did. Since the league evolved, Lebron has less competition of players that are taller than him. When Lebron gets closer to the basket, there are less giants to contend with compared to the Jordan era where Jordan actually had more taller big men he still had to contend with. BUT, the guys guarding Jordan and Lebron are a tougher first wave to get past to begin with.
Of course, with the three point shooting now, players don't go down there as much. So that throws a big unknown into all of it.
Looking at that chart it is pretty easy to see that Wilt Chamberlain would not realistically be scoring 50 points a game in 1997 because that drastic height difference in the competition between 1961 and 1997 would make it much harder for chamberlain to dominate as he did.
Chamberlain in 2021 would be odd. Any traditional center from before 2000 back then in 2021 would be odd because the game is so different now, so who knows how that would shake out. If they couldn't shoot from the outside they wouldn't be used as much or relied on as much. So it would be the centers most affected by the level of competition and size changes, whereas Jordan and Lebron comparisons are less so different.
Afterall, Jordan and Lebron are only a five years apart from Jordan's last MVP and title to Lebron's entry into the league. There is truth to the league having evolved to 'more like Mike' players and it would be a touch more competitive for Mike having to play against 'himself' more so than before. Wheras lebron would have to contend with more trees when he got to the basket making life a little harder for him.
Jordan and lebron are not as far apart as any hyperbolic claim, but there are differences in competition, some easily measured, and some not so much. The final verdict has many unanswerable aspects between the two.