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Space Jam: Advanced Statistics Determine the "GOAT"

Over the years, I've seen a number of viral tweets cite Michael Jordan's 1996 victory over the Monstars as proof of his superiority to LeBron. The humorous assertion that one basketball player is greater than another because of his fictional accomplishments exaggerates the absurdity of the "GOAT" debate.

And yet there's always been a hint of seriousness in this claim. Basketball traditionalists have said it jokingly, but their tone has always suggested that LeBron doesn't quite have the "IT factor" that inspired studios to create Space Jam. After all, no other athlete's competitive spirit and universal appeal has generated a feature film crossover with characters as iconic as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

That is, until now. LeBron James' Space Jam: A New Legacy adds a modern twist to the 1996 classic at every level. Lil Uzi Vert's AutoTune-laden remake of "Pump Up The Jam" evidences this as do impressive 3D renditions of Bugs Bunny and company. With modern veneer laid over old ideas, Space Jam: A New Legacy remains the same film as Space Jam at its crux. It's one big difference - the switch from Michael Jordan to LeBron James.

The "GOAT" debate has been largely unquantifiable because MJ and LeBron have always played with different teammates and against different competition. There's no way to know how LeBron would have performed alongside Pippen against the "Bad Boy" Pistons. And there's no way to know how Jordan would have performed alongside Dwyane Wade against Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs dynasty.

But in Space Jam, basketball fans see LeBron James and Michael Jordan play with the same supporting cast against the same level of competition with roughly the same stakes for the first time ever.

So to add to the absurdity of the "GOAT" debate, we've applied advanced analytics to determine which player solidified themselves as the greatest ever in Space Jam. Here is how each player compared according to True Shooting Percentage, Efficiency Rating, and Player Impact Estimate measures.

True Shooting Percentage

Michael Jordan: 100%

LeBron James: 66.67%

The TS% measure takes free throw percentage into account along with field goal percentage. Because the fast-moving Space Jam movies lack free throws, this was a rather simple calculation.

Note: Space Jam 2 had a unique and subjective scoring system. In order to maintain consistency in our comparisons, we utilized a traditional NBA scoring system for both players in our TS% and EFF calculations.

Efficiency Rating

Michael Jordan: 42

LeBron James: 6

The NBA Efficiency metric is a simple metric that essentially adds up all the good things a player does before subtracting all the negatives.

Efficiency is fairly comprehensive as it includes a wide range of player statistics. However, the weights used to construct the statistic are too simplistic.


Michael Jordan: .629

LeBron James: .045

PIE represents an extension to efficiency as it adjusts for additional factors such as a team’s overall output and the weights of individual statistics are adjusted.

Because this is a measure of a player's statistics relative to those of his teammates, we included the Space Jam 2 scoring system for LeBron and the 2021 Tune Squad.

The Takeaway

Michael Jordan not only shot better than LeBron James, but he played more efficiently and had a more significant impact on the Tune Squad than the King according to advanced analytics. While controlling many of the variables that make player comparisons difficult, Space Jam makes a strong case for Michael Jordan as the Greatest Of All Time.


The above slides are taken from Professor Mike Lewis's Fanalytics U. View the full course materials and listen to Mike's full breakdown on NBA Advanced Analytics here.


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