First question is how one defines greatness. Is it defined as being the most dominant in their time? Individual Accolades? Or is it defined by how many championships they have won? Do you strictly look at numbers? Do you look at how much their presence on the team affected their play? Well, let’s take a minute to look at each of these.
Most Dominant for Their Time?
Well let’s go back to one of the first true greats in my opinion and that is Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt Chamberlain holds numerous NBA records. He is the only player to score 100 points in a single NBA game. He also averaged over 50 points in a season!! He is the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a season. Based on those numbers surely he is in the conversation. However, the NBA from 1959 – 1973 was a lot different than the NBA of today. If you watch this 80 second clip from the 1960 finals you will see what I mean. While you are watching this clip just try to imagine a Russell Westbrook playing against these guys.
Based on this, you can clearly see that the skill level of Wilt Chamberlain’s era is nowhere close to what it is today. Was Wilt Chamberlain dominant at the time? Oh yes, he was extremely dominant. Would he even make the NBA with his same skillset now? Maybe, but maybe not. The NBA was young back then and players not fully developed.
I hear this argument a lot. Jordan has six championships and LBJ only has two. This argument has little merit in my opinion. If championships dictated the skill of a player then Robert Horry would be one of the best of all time with seven championships. Winning a championship has a lot to do with the team you are on. LBJ showed this as he went to Miami and all four years he was on the team he went to the NBA finals and won in the finals two of those years. Clearly if titles is your only concern then a player like Jordan or LBJ can just join whatever team is the best fit for them to win.
I’ve mentioned Jordan a few times so let’s touch base on him. He clearly is one of the greats. One of the best pure scorers I have ever seen. I was fortunate enough to see him play live many years ago back in the Skydome. Michael Jordan won six titles. However, zero of those six were without Scottie Pippen (Also Horace Grant and Rodman as 3rd ‘star’). Rodman was defensive player of the year and one of the best interior defenders of his era. Grant was a top 5 PF in his prime. Without those players Chicago was a first round exit from the Playoffs even with Jordan.
While I was watching the NBA finals last night they interviewed Robert Horry and he said that you could never expect Jordan to help get you involved in the game. This as we all know is quite opposite of LBJ and his triple-double threat in every single game he plays.
You can look at MVP’s and sure LBJ has a few of those. However, I don’t think that is a true indicator as in any given year there are a number of players deserving of this award. Championships? See Robert Horry example above. I don’t think that individual accolades can define the greatest ever.
Let’s take a look at LBJ. First and foremost, most would agree that he is the best player in the league right now. If you watched the video above and the 80 second clip of the NBA finals from 1960 you can clearly see that the NBA is MUCH better now. Did it just jump one year to being a better league with better players? No, absolutely not. Every year we have seen improvements in style, aggressiveness, strategy and most importantly, skill. So if you think about it, if today’s NBA is a collective of a better and more skilled NBA players than the past then it makes sense to say that the best player currently in the NBA is the best player of all time.
LBJ is one of the only players I’ve seen to ever be able to play PG, SG, SF or PF. He is virtually unstoppable with a head of steam. Period! If he goes to the rim he’ll dunk on you or break your arm with his insane superathleticism. He also has the courtvision of an unselfish Magic during showtime Lakers run. LBJ can score 40-50pts any game he wants but prefers to get teammates involved and ends up with triple-doubles.
LeBron carried this Cavs team all the way to the finals pretty much by himself. Love injured at the start of the playoffs and Kyrie Irving playing injured and eventually needing surgery LBJ had to do it all. He had to take on a scoring role, PG role, rebounding role. So much in fact that he led both teams in points, rebounds and assists! This is the first time that has ever happened in the NBA finals. He did what other “superstars” like Carmelo and Kobe wanted to do but couldn’t. Both Carmelo and Kobe’s teams finishing almost dead last this season. Sure Kobe is older now and both Kobe and Carmelo missed a number of games this season but even when they did play their teams weren’t that great. Certainly wouldn’t be bringing their squads to an NBA championship series. If you look at the Cavs roster that went to the finals and won two games you see LeBron and you see a bunch of journeymen. Guys like JR Smith, Shumpert, Mozgov (all three of those players former NYK by the way), Tristan Thompson, James Jones, and Dellavedova. Sure these guys are okay but without LBJ that roster would finish absolutely dead last in the NBA over the course of an NBA season.
If we look back to the last year LeBron was on Cleveland before he left they finished first place in the conference with a 61-21 record. The very next year with almost the exact same roster minus LeBron they had a 19-63 record! This is a .232 winning percentage and I believe this is what led them to their first overall pick of Kyrie Irving.
The thing that separates him is the unprecedented physical dominance. He has the strength of Shaq, the speed of Westbrook, ball handling and passing skills of a PG, can steal, block, dunk, etc… LeBron is the same weight as Ben Wallace but has the finesse skills of a PG. Clearly an amazing leader. He is also the best chasedown shotblocker ever I’d say (running down fastbreaking all-stars and stuffing them from behind). See YouTube video of a sample of LeBron James chasedown blocks.
All the superstars I’ve mentioned could do a lot. MJ, Bird, Magic, Kareem could do most everything but none of them could do it all like LeBron can. He’s a force of nature. He expands the limits of what we believe are physically possible.