National Basketball Association
Does LeBron James lack the 'clutch gene'?
National Basketball Association

Does LeBron James lack the 'clutch gene'?

Published Feb. 8, 2022 7:44 p.m. ET

When a great player retires, thoughts naturally turn to legacies — and where players rank against each other in the pantheon of sports legends.

That's what happened last week when Tom Brady opted to walk away after 22 seasons in the NFL. Only with Brady, comparing him to NFL legends wasn't good enough. 

Observers had to think bigger, asking questions like: "Who had a bigger impact on sports in the 21st century, Brady or LeBron James?"

And while the debate might be settled on Brady's position in NFL history, the same can't be said for James, as many still regard Michael Jordan as the best player to ever take to the hardwood.


"What!?," an incredulous Skip Bayless said on his podcast, "The Skip Bayless Show," in response to a question comparing Brady and LeBron. "The NBA's GOAT retired in 1998, for the most part, with the ‘Last Dance’ in Chicago."

"LeBron was born without a clutch gene" — Skip Bayless

Skip Bayless responds to a listener who asks if Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James will soon consider retirement like Tom Brady.

And Bayless came bringing evidence.

"Michael Jordan won six championships with six MVPs," he said. "LeBron James has lost six NBA Finals."

And he's right about that. Jordan's Chicago Bulls were perfect in six trips to the NBA Finals during his career, notching a three-peat in 1991-93, and another in 1996-98. And Jordan was Finals MVP all six times, a record. The only other play to win Finals MVP three times in a row is Shaquille O'Neal, who did it in 2000-02 for the Lakers.

James, on the other hand, has reached the Finals 10 times for three different franchises, compiling a record of 4-6 (1-4 with Cavs, 2-2 with Heat, 1-0 with Lakers). LeBron won Finals MVP each time his team won the title, but again, that's only four, compared to Jordan's six.

Is 21st century better defined by Tom Brady or LeBron James?

LeBron James reached out to Tom Brady, congratulating him on his retirement, and on a "heck of a career." Seeing one GOAT reach out to another prompts the question: Who had more of an impact on the 21st century: LeBron James or Tom Brady? Chris Broussard makes his choice.

The problem with LeBron, Bayless said, is that he lacks something Jordan had — the "clutch gene."

"Poor LeBron was born without a clutch gene," Bayless said. "LeBron is simply the worst superstar late-game free-throw shooter we have ever seen. He notoriously runs from the late-game free-throw line because he is a notoriously poor free-throw shooter at any stage of the game, especially late. He is a notoriously poor 3-point shooter, way below average. And you dare to call him the NBA's GOAT? Seriously? The closest LeBron will ever get to GOAT ... is in a barnyard."

Despite all of this, James' postseason numbers actually are pretty good, even in relation to Jordan. He has made the most game-winners in NBA playoff history (six), compared to Jordan's three. He has also won more playoff series than Jordan (39-30), and has a better record in both closeout games — 39-11 (.780) to 30-13 (.698) — and elimination games — 14-11 (.560) to 6-7 (.462).

Of course, they played in different eras, so comparisons are not perfect. And as Bayless points out, Jordan was a much better free-throw shooter in the postseason, .828-.740. And on top of that, the 6-0 record in the Finals is untouchable.

Where Bayless was most passionate, however, was the effort to compare LeBron to Brady, who won seven Super Bowls in 10 trips.

"Tom Brady did his part to win two other Super Bowls and [coach Bill Belichick] let him down. Belichick's defense spit the bit twice, in the first Eli [Manning] Super Bowl — 75 yards for a touchdown, two minutes left — and obviously against Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles when Brady threw for a playoff record 505 yards. Put up 33 on a top-five defense and lost 41-33."

"You're putting LeBron in the same sentence as the greatest clutch player ever — beyond Jordan for me only because Brady kept doing it so many more times in his sport's biggest stage. The first six Super Bowls came with six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. That's impossibly great."

You can watch the "The Skip Bayless Show" on YouTube or subscribe on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.


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