With LeBron and the Miami Heat winning a 2nd NBA Championship in as many years (the Heat franchise has won 3 in their history), the inevitable talk is if the Heat can win it all next year, and what their legacy is within NBA history. Everyone’s favorite statistician Nate Silver from the NY Times 538 Blog has actually taken that conversation a little further and asked what is LeBron’s chances of matching Michael Jordan’s 6 NBA Titles.
Players like Jordan and James are so rare that it can be risky to compare them to anyone else. Still, one reasonably useful benchmark is to evaluate players who, like James and Jordan, had won at least one Most Valuable Player Award and at least one N.B.A. title as of their age-28 season, meaning that they had achieved the pinnacle of both individual and team success.
It’s tough to say exactly what James’s odds of catching Jordan might be, as the average conceals a wide range of outcomes among the individual players. Four of the players on the list – Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Bob Pettit and Dave Cowens – would never win another championship after their age-28 season. But four others – Jordan, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – would win four or more additional tiles.
While he does not definitively say one way or another if it is statistically possible for James to catch Jordan, he does hedge by saying that while the chances are small, it could be possible for James to snag an ‘easy’ one or two later on in his career depending on how he adjusts his game as he gets older and if the circumstance he finds himself in is optimal for winning a title.
And from the analysis, I was probably most surprised by the realization that all the championships that Magic Johnson won (5 of them) happened before his 28th birthday and after that, he never won another championship. Of course, having to retire prematurely doesn’t help things but still.