We hold this NBA truth to be self-evident, that LeBron James' teams were not created equal.
Any time we start to debate LeBron's legacy — and with a few days still left before the 2017 Finals, we're having that conversation on an hourly basis — someone has to bring up The King's superteams.
He might be great, the thinking goes, but LeBron had an awful lot of help on his way to seven straight Finals (eight total) and three championships.
In fact, if you gave Michael Jordan LeBron's history of teammates, His Airness might be 10-for-10 in the Finals — or so his biggest fans would have you believe.
Just how big is LeBron's teammate-based advantage over MJ in reality, though? We're glad you asked.
We ran through the first 14 seasons of each legend's career, ignoring Jordan's final year in Washington, and parsed the five best teammates for both LeBron and Jordan in any given season. We then compared those five comrades on a year-by-year basis — LeBron's rookie team in 2003-04 vs. Jordan's first season in 1984-85, their respective sophomore seasons in 2004-05 and 1985-86, etc.
Our conclusion? While LeBron has had better teammates over his career than Jordan, the margin is substantially closer than you might think. Instead, when we talk about how much help he's had, we really mean something else altogether.
We'll get to that explanation in a minute. First, here's our year-by-year synopsis.
Year One (LeBron James: 2003-04; Michael Jordan: 1984-85)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Carlos Boozer, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kevin Ollie, Jeff McInnis, Tony Battie
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Orlando Woolridge, Steve Johnson, Dave Corzine, Quintin Dailey, Dave Greenwood
Everyone remembers how bad the Cavaliers were when LeBron first came into the league, but we forget that Cleveland actually had a young Boozer and a solid veteran big man in Big Z.
Only diehard Bulls fans could have named one of Michael Jordan's teammates as a rookie, on the other hand.
Year Two (LeBron James: 2004-05; Michael Jordan: 1985-86)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Jeff McInnis, Anderson Varejao, Eric Snow
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Orlando Woolridge, Gene Banks, Kyle Macy, Charles Oakley, George Gervin
The Bulls addded a rookie Oak and employed the Iceman for his final season, but neither player was anywhere near his peak in 1985-86.
Year Three (LeBron James: 2005-06; Michael Jordan: 1986-87)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, Anderson Varejao
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: John Paxson, David Corzine, Gene Banks, Charles Oakley, Brad Sellers
1986-87 was the final year of the pre-Pippen era in Chicago, while LeBron was busy leading his Cavaliers to the playoffs and establishing Cleveland as a potential Finals contender in just his third season in the NBA. Having Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall and Anderson Varejao didn't hurt his cause.
Year Four (LeBron James: 2006-07; Michael Jordan: 1987-88)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Charles Oakley, John Paxson, Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, Dave Corzine
The Bulls 1987-88 roster has a lot of familiar names, but they were still a season away from coalescing into Jordan's first dominant squad. Chicago's youth gives LeBron the win in the same year he made the Finals for the first time.
Year Five (LeBron James: 2007-08; Michael Jordan: 1988-89)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Boobie Gibson, Damon Jones, Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Craig Hodges, Bill Cartwright
Most teams reach the NBA Finals and get better in subsequent seasons. Not the Cavaliers, who started to fall apart in 2008. When we talk about the awful, awful Cleveland teams LeBron dragged to the playoffs, this is the period we mean.
After trading Oakley to the Knicks for Cartwright, meanwhile, the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in Jordan's career, beginning a stretch of dominance that redefined the NBA.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNathaniel S. Butler
Year Six (LeBron James: 2008-09; Michael Jordan: 1989-90)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Wally Szczerbiak
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Bill Carwright, Stacey King
To be fair, that's "former NBA All-Star Wally Szczerbiak" to you.
No, seriously. That happened — in Minnesota alongside Kevin Garnett, but still!
Year Seven (LeBron James: 2009-10; Michael Jordan: 1990-91)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, JJ Hickson, Shaquille O'Neal
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, John Paxson, Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong
Ninety percent of the time, having Shaq as one of your teammates means you have the superior roster.
This is not one of those times. Big Diesel was washed up in Cleveland, and Jordan's Bulls were operating at full power in 1991.
Year Eight (LeBron James: 2010-11; Michael Jordan: 1991-92)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, James Jones, Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong, Stacey King
LeBron's first "superteam" in Miami wasn't all that super, if we're being honest. Yes, the Heat had James, Wade and Bosh, but they still needed to add ring-chasing free agents to round out the roster.
Jordan gets the nod here, although Miami's top-heavy lineup makes this a close debate.
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Year Nine (LeBron James: 2011-12; Michael Jordan: 1992-93)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Will Perdue, John Paxson
From 2011 to 2013, LeBron's Heat were at their best, although Ray Allen didn't join Miami until the summer of 2012.
These are the squads people point to as a sign of just how stacked LeBron's teams have been through the years, and they have a point.
Still, this round is exceedingly close as well. Really, comparing The King's superteams to His Airness' title squads boils down to how you feel about Pippen.
If you think Chicago's second-best player is one of the greatest of all time, you might think this Bulls squad is more talented than the Heat. If you think Pip's overrated, Wade & Co. have the clear advantage.
Personally, Pippen's one of the top 50 players of all time, but I give Miami the advantage for having Wade in his prime.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Year 10 (LeBron James: 2012-13; Michael Jordan: 1994-95)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, B.J. Armstrong, Steve Kerr, Will Perdue
Chicago's success in 1994-95, before Jordan returned from retirement for the first time, is one of the clearer indications of just how talented the rest of the Bulls were. But with Allen in Miami, LeBron racks up another year of having the better teammates.
Year 11 (LeBron James: 2013-14; Michael Jordan: 1995-96)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman
This is one of the more interesting results of our exercise — while LeBron's last Miami team was indeed super, the 72-10 Bulls were even better.
Yet for whatever reason, there seems to be a common assumption that LeBron's Finals-caliber squads were consistently better than Jordan's final three Chicago teams.
At worst, these two teams are neck and neck, with Harper and Rodman just outranking Chalmers and Battier.
Year 12 (LeBron James: 2014-15; Michael Jordan: 1996-97)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper
Just like the first time he formed a superteam, LeBron returned to a Cavaliers team still looking to round into a real championship contender in 2014, while Jordan rode a wave of roster stability to another title.
Basically, no team with Mozgov in its top six players may prosper. That's in the Constitution.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNathaniel S. Butler
Year 13 (LeBron James: 2015-16; Michael Jordan: 1997-98)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr
Two small changes tip Year 13 in LeBron's favor, even though these two squads were more or less unchanged from the year before: Cleveland getting rid of Mozgov, and Chicago suffering injuries to Pippen and Kerr as the Bulls clawed their way to one last championship.
Ken BlazeKen Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Year Fourteen (LeBron James: 2016-17; Michael Jordan: 2001-02)
LeBron James' five best teammates: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson
Michael Jordan's five best teammates: Chris Whitney, Popeye Jones, Richard Hamilton, Jahidi White, Brendan Haywood
It almost seems unfair to compare a Cavs team headed to the Finals for the third consecutive time to Jordan's first Wizards squad, but a career is a career.
This is what happens when you un-retire for a second time, MJ. You end up playing with Popeye Jones and someone named "Jahidi White."
Winslow TownsonWinslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Despite a few close calls — and the late-90s Bulls being a far stronger team than most people realize — LeBron "wins" this argument, claiming the better teammates in eight of the fourteen seasons in our comparison.
Yet even if Jordan and LeBron had tied at seven seasons apiece, The King would take the crown here for one simple reason:
When people talk about LeBron having better teammates, they really mean he has another alpha scorer to rely on, not the overall talent level of his teams.
Scottie Pippen isn't much worse of an all-around player than Dwyane Wade, if he trails the future Hall of Famer at all. However, playing second fiddle to Jordan was in Pippen's DNA. He admitted as much recently, saying he neither had the clutch gene nor a killer instinct.
With the game on the line, the Bulls had to turn to Jordan. Even when he passed to guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr for game-winning shots, he was the defense's lone concern. His gravity created those open looks which turned into championships.
LeBron, on the other hand, has had the luxury of relying on Wade and Kyrie Irving if he's not up to the task of carrying the team in the clutch — and that desire to pass the rock in the closing minutes is the ultimate chasm between LeBron and Jordan.