The NBA is the premier collection of the best basketball talent from around the world, and within that uber-talented pool of athletes, there are a few that stand at the top. The NBA has been blessed to see global superstars dominate the league, so much so that it’s not so easy to point to who was the best of the best. However, these conversations always feature two names in the discussion for the greatest NBA player of all time: Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Who has more buzzer-beaters: Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Michael Jordan hit 9 game-winning buzzer-beaters in his career, while LeBron James has hit 7 game-winning buzzer beaters. Jordan’s 9 game-winning buzzer-beaters are also the record for any NBA player, while LeBron’s 7 is tied for 3rd-best. James is the leader amongst all active players, and his career total is still not finalized as he is still active, meaning that he can match or surpass Jordan’s total before he retires. These stats only consider game-winning buzzer-beaters, and not any of the game-tying buzzer-beaters and game-winners before the buzzer that Jordan and LeBron have scored.
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What is a buzzer-beater?
A buzzer-beater refers to a made basket that occurs just as the game clock expires, ending that quarter/period of the game. The ball must have left the shooter’s hand before the clock expired for the basket to count. While buzzer-beaters are technically any made shot before the game clock expires, they are commonly used to describe shots that occur at the end of the 4th quarter or at the end of any overtime period, signaling the end of the game.
A buzzer-beater can be game-winning (the game is now over) or game-tying (the game will go to an overtime period). Certain shots are referred to as “game-winners”; the distinction here is that game-winners are usually the last made basket at the end of the game that is near to but still precedes the expiry of the game clock (this also applies to game-tying shots). This article and the numbers above focus only on game-winning buzzer-beaters.
List of NBA Game Winning Buzzer Beater Leaders – All Time
Michael Jordan – 9
Kobe Bryant – 8
Joe Johnson – 8
Lebron James – 7
Paul Pierce – 7
When did Michael Jordan hit all of his game-winning buzzer-beaters?
Jordan liked to punish the same teams with his buzzer-beaters, whether it be in the regular season or in the postseason. The table below contains all of of Jordan’s game-winning buzzer-beaters:
|Buzzer Beater Number||Date||Matchup (bold denotes Jordan’s team)||Description/Notes|
|#1||May 7th, 1989||Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 5 of Eastern Conference First Round (1989 Playoffs)||Known as “The Shot” 1 of only 2 buzzer-beaters in a final game of a playoff series|
|#2||November 13th, 1990||Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz|
|#3||November 11th, 1992||Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons||Jordan’s first 3-point buzzer-beater|
|#4||May 17th, 1993||Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 4 of Eastern Conference Semifinals (1993 Playoffs)||2nd-career buzzer-beater against the Cavaliers Buzzer-beater resulted in sweep|
|#5||March 25th, 1995||Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks||Only buzzer-beater while wearing #45|
|#6||February 11th, 1997||Chicago Bulls vs. Charlotte Hornets||2nd career 3-point buzzer-beater|
|#7||June 1st, 1997||Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz Game 1 of NBA Finals (1997 Playoffs)||Jordan’s only buzzer-beater in NBA Finals 2nd career buzzer-beater against Jazz|
|#8||February 13th, 1998||Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks||2nd career buzzer-beater against Hawks|
|#9||January 31st, 2002||Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers||3rd career buzzer-beater against Cavaliers Only buzzer-beater as a Wizards player|
When did LeBron James hit all of his game-winning buzzer-beaters?
James had a penchant for hitting daggers in the NBA playoffs, and had a particularly strong year in 2018, where he hit 3 of his game-winning buzzer-beaters. The table below contains all of of LeBron’s game-winning buzzer-beaters:
|Buzzer Beater Number||Date||Matchup (bold denotes LeBron’s team)||Description/Notes|
|#1||January 23rd, 2009||Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors|
|#2||May 22nd, 2009||Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic Game 2 of NBA Eastern Conference Finals (2009 Playoffs)||1st career 3-point buzzer-beater|
|#3||May 22nd, 2013||Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers Game 1 of NBA Eastern Conference Finals (2013 Playoffs)||Only buzzer-beater as a Heat player|
|#4||May 10th, 2015||Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls Game 4 of NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (2015 Playoffs)|
|#5||February 7th, 2018||Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves|
|#6||April 25th, 2018||Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers Game 5 of NBA Eastern Conference First Round (2018 Playoffs)||2nd career 3-point buzzer-beater 2nd career buzzer-beater against Pacers|
|#7||May 5th, 2018||Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors Game 3 of NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (2018 Playoffs)||2nd buzzer-beater of 2018 NBA Playoffs|
What other players have scored multiple buzzer-beaters?
Jordan’s record of 9 game-winning buzzer-beaters stands to this day, but a few have come close. Only 3 other players have matched or eclipsed LeBron’s record of 7. Paul Pierce, best known for his time with the Boston Celtics, also had 7 game-winning buzzer-beaters in his career, as “The Truth” was one of the best one-on-one scorers of his era. 2 players have hit 8 game-winning buzzer-beaters: legendary Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was one, a player who played against both Jordan and LeBron, and a player with a mentality and approach to the game that nearly mirrored Jordan’s. The other player to hit 8 was Joe Johnson, fondly known as “Iso Joe” for his isolation scoring for multiple teams including the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets.
The buzzer-beater can very much be seen as something full of luck, but anyone who closely observes the art of the buzzer-beater knows that it requires a high level of mental focus and tenacity to repeatedly make the last shot. It therefore comes as no surprise that two of the greatest NBA players to ever play are some of the most trusted players when the game is on the line. The consistent success at the highest levels is what separates Jordan and LeBron from the rest, and while many try to argue one’s claim over the other, it would be disingenuous to not appreciate the greatness both brought to the court on a nightly basis.