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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.

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 NumberDateMatchup (bold denotes Jordan’s team)Description/Notes
#1May 7th, 1989Chicago 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
#2November 13th, 1990Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz 
#3November 11th, 1992Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit PistonsJordan’s first 3-point buzzer-beater
#4May 17th, 1993Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 4 of Eastern Conference Semifinals (1993 Playoffs)2nd-career buzzer-beater against the Cavaliers Buzzer-beater resulted in sweep
#5March 25th, 1995Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta HawksOnly buzzer-beater while wearing #45
#6February 11th, 1997Chicago Bulls vs. Charlotte Hornets2nd career 3-point buzzer-beater
#7June 1st, 1997Chicago 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
#8February 13th, 1998Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks2nd career buzzer-beater against Hawks
#9January 31st, 2002Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers3rd 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 NumberDateMatchup (bold denotes LeBron’s team)Description/Notes
#1January 23rd, 2009Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors  
#2May 22nd, 2009Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic Game 2 of NBA Eastern Conference Finals (2009 Playoffs)1st career 3-point buzzer-beater  
#3May 22nd, 2013Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers Game 1 of NBA Eastern Conference Finals (2013 Playoffs)Only buzzer-beater as a Heat player
#4May 10th, 2015Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls Game 4 of NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (2015 Playoffs)  
#5February 7th, 2018Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves 
#6April 25th, 2018Cleveland 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 
#7May 5th, 2018Cleveland 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.