From King to G.O.A.T.
LeBron James in my opinion is the greatest player of basketball to have ever lived. If there is one thing I have learned from my time on the high school debate team (shout-out to Samuel Gompers High School BX baby!) it’s that you cannot just make matter-of-fact statements. You must present your premise and use facts and figures to back it up, so let’s discuss the number of reasons as to why LeBron is the true Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.) in NBA history.
First, let's talk about the burden of expectations. In life and in sports, the burden of expectations is real. There is an expectation for a certain level of success or accomplishment, and when the goal is ultimately achieved it will not be as celebrated because it was projected. When an underdog comes out of nowhere and achieves moderate, or even exorbitant amount of success the view of the accomplishment is lauded completely because it wasn't foreseen. So how does this relate to LeBron James you ask? LeBron has had the career that most people predicted but so very few achieve, and is seemingly penalized for simply living up to the promise we saw over 20 years ago while he attended Saint Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.
When you ask the average basketball fan “who is the greatest player ever?” You hear a lot of answers, some say Kareem Abdul Jabbar who possessed what some experts believed was the most unstoppable shot in the history of the game, that being the Sky Hook. Others may say Magic Johnson, one of the game’s most spectacular players of the and the leader of the Showtime Lakers. When you say G.O.A.T. there is usually one consensus opinion. We all have bowed to the sneakers of one man, Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Yet Michael Jordan was cut from his High School team, was the number 3 overall pick in the draft. The Portland TrailBlazers thought that Sam Bowie was a better choice at 2nd overall. Hakeem The Dream Olajuwon was the number 1 overall pick in 1984 NBA Draft, a sure fire Hall of Fame player but no Jordan. Michael Jordan wasn’t drafted to his hometown team and expected to be the basketball Messiah for the city. Michael Jordan didn’t have shoe companies having bidding wars over a High School sophomore and have his high school basketball games televised on ESPN. Michael Jordan didn’t have to endure the social media age, the 24 hour news cycle from day 1, or dickheads like Skip Bayless. Guys who will literally use any reason imaginable to try and damage his reputation, performances, and character. The point is Michael Jordan was never expected to be the level of athlete, businessman, and ambassador for the game that he became. He also never endured the level of scrutiny and criticism on and off the court for as long as LeBron has which has routinely stifled other athletes put into that same position.
After Michael Jordan’s second retirement in 1998, and even during his career expectations mounted on other athletes who had the potential to become the “NEXT” Jordan. The hunger, thirst, and desire to see who could potentially become the most electrifying athlete in pro sports was too good not to consider. Yet, a combination of the lack of MJ’s extraordinary talent, the inability to stay healthy, lack of his competitive desire, personality, team infrastructure, and burden of expectations placed on these young men ultimately destroyed most of their chances. Since the tender age of 16, LeBron James has been in the national spotlight. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated where he was called “The Chosen One”, his high school games were must watch television on ESPN, he inked a 90 million dollar Nike deal before playing a single NBA minute, skipped college, was the number one pick in the NBA draft and was drafted to his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sheesh Bron you’re really making this hard on yourself huh? And yet! Not only has he met the expectations that so many other athletes have proven to not be able to handle on the court, off the court he is even more special. LeBron lived up to and has exceeded the expectations in every way, shape, or form.
Let’s talk about the stats that you probably already know. In the midst of his 19th pro season in the NBA, LeBron is currently (at the time this piece was written) 3rd all time in career points, 7th all time in assists, 10th all time in steals, a 4-time NBA Champion, 4-time NBA Finals MVP 4-time NBA MVP (and we can argue he should have at least 6 of them thangs!), an 18 time NBA All-Star, 17 time All-NBA selection 13 of those times he was on the 1st team, 6 time All-NBA defensive selection, Rookie of the Year, 3 time NBA leader in minutes with 2 of those times being in his 14th and 15th NBA seasons, 2 time Olympic Gold medalist. But here are some accolades you may not have known.
LeBron James is the and/or has the:
-1st in career Value Over Replacement Player
-Most points scored combining the regular season and playoffs surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
-Only player in NBA history to record at least 36,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 9,000 assists. No other player has at least 27,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 9,000 assists
-Only player in NBA history to post at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, and 100 steals in a single season for at least eight seasons.
-Only player in NBA history to average at least 25 points per game for 17 consecutive seasons.
-Only player in NBA history to be in the top 5 all-time in points, top 10 all-time in assists, and top 10 all-time in steals, no other player is in the top 10 in both categories.
-One of two players in NBA history to win four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards in a span of five years, the other is Bill Russell.
-One of two players in NBA history to win NBA MVP, Finals MVP, and an Olympic gold medal in the same year, the other is Michael Jordan in 1992. (Have a Year Bud!)
-One of two players in NBA history to record a triple double against all NBA teams, the other is Russell Westbrook.
-Only player in NBA history to score 10 points or more in 1,000 consecutive games
Frankly, that’s a lot of shit, and we haven’t even begun to talk about the playoff performances he’s had and playoff records he owns.
In the playoffs LeBron James is the and/or has the:
-Most all-time playoff Points (7,631)
-Most all-time playoff Wins (174)
-Most all-time playoff Games (266)
-Most all-time playoff Minutes (11,035)
-Most all-time playoff Steals (445)
-First and only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP with three different franchises (MIA, CLE, and LAL)
-Most playoff games with at least 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists (92)
-Only player in NBA history to be in the top 10 all time in career playoff points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals
-Only player in NBA history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists in a playoff series (twice, 2015 and 2016 NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors)
Now even with reading all of those career achievements and accolades and omitting many more the naysayers will still look for reasons to discredit LeBron in favor of Michael Jordan. The first reason is championship rings. “Well Michael Jordan has 6 Championships rings so he’s better!” If that is the logic, where rings are the testament to player greatness shouldn’t Bill Russell be regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time? Bill Russell has 11 Championships. Would we dare say Robert Horry aka Big Shot Bob is a better player than Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Dirk Nowitzki? Robert Horry has 7 Championships, more than Shaq, Tim, Kobe, and Dirk. Rings aren’t a testament to greatness because if they were players like Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujačić would considered greater than Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. Does anyone think these things? Absolutely not!
The next reason naysayers use to discredit LeBron is “Well Michael Jordan never lost in the Finals! LeBron’s NBA Finals losses take him out of the the discussion!” Well let's consider the NBA Finals loss in 2007 where his Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the San Antonio Spurs. In 2007 LeBron James was 23 years old and made it to the NBA Finals with a team consisting of:
Daniel “Boobie” Gibson (more known for his relationship with R&B star Keyshia Cole than his NBA exploits)
and David Wesley
That Cavaliers team featuring LeBron James and the Pips team MADE the NBA Finals! That should be enough! But alas for all of their success that season they had the pleasure to face the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were led by Hall of Fame or future Hall of Fame players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, coached by Gregg Popovich along with defensive specialist Bruce Bowen and slasher Michael Finley. Man talk about an “evenly matched series” and predictably the Cavs were swept. But in all honesty and objectivity how in the hell would the Cavs win that series? Let us NOT forget that Michael Jordan did not ever win or reach the NBA Finals without Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson (you know the greatest coach of all time). NO ONE WINS WITHOUT HELP! Yet this 23 year old player made it to the NBA Finals with the basketball equivalent of the other 4 members of N’SYNC (everyone not named Justin Timberlake). Now if you thought LeBron would never be undermanned ever again in a Finals series let me remind you of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. LeBron James with no Kyrie Irving who was injured in Game 1, and no Kevin Love who never returned after being injured in the first round just averaged a pedestrian 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists (sarcasm heavily implied). The Cavaliers NBA Finals roster going against these Warriors consisted of:
Kyrie Irving (injured and did not play)
Kevin Love (injured and did not play)
Anderson Varejao (him again?)
and Dion Waters
They had to play against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala (who won Finals MVP), Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut, with Shaun Livingston and David Lee off the bench. NO ONE WINS WITHOUT HELP. The very next season that Warriors team won 73 regular season games a NBA record had the Cavaliers down 3 games to 1 in a 7 game series and the Cavaliers WON, which led to the Warriors bringing Kevin freaking Durant to a 73 Win team and defeating LeBron two more times in the Finals. The mere fact you can place LeBron on a team of lesser talent and he can still get you to the Finals is a bad thing somehow? Ask MJ what life before Phil, Scottie, Horace Grant, and Dennis Rodman was like. You’re saying that it would be better to miss the playoffs or lose before reaching the Finals would be better than making it to the biggest game of the year? By the way MJ fell short of the Finals 10 times in a 16 year career. LeBron has been to the Finals 10 times himself!
The last and my favorite reason the naysayers use to discredit LeBron is “Well, LeBron isn’t a clutch player! In the biggest moments and the biggest games LeBron doesn’t show up.” For this rebuttal allow me to post an excerpt from an article titled “Michael Jordan versus LeBron James: Who is The G.O.A.T.?” Written by Jesse Unk published to HowTheyPlay.com
“LeBron, when facing a chance to eliminate his opponent, boasts a record of 36-11, or a 76.6% winning percentage. Of the eight main statistical categories, he improved in four and remained the same in one…..His free throw percentage falls only .2%, his overall field goal percentage falls 2.9%, and he turns the ball over exactly the same as he does for his career. James simply gets a little more involved in games where he can finish his opponents, but many of his numbers only slightly increase in these situations. When James is facing elimination he completely changes. Of the eight main statistical categories, he improves in seven…..LeBron plays at a completely different level when facing elimination. He improves in his on-court efficiency in every way imaginable; scoring, rebounding, getting others involved, he vastly improves defensively, and he turns the ball over less…In conclusion, LeBron is much more clutch than Jordan. When the two smelled blood and had a chance to eliminate their opponents, LeBron wins 1.6% more often. When their backs are against the wall, LeBron wins 16.7% more often…..To say LeBron doesn't play better and more clutch in crunch time situations is absurd. LeBron James has also hit more buzzer beaters than Jordan, and more go-ahead shots with five seconds to go in the game. His field goal percentage on these shots is also higher than Jordan’s.” NUFF SAID.
Finally, let's discuss the longevity of LeBron’s career playing at the highest level. LeBron is currently in his 19th season in the NBA. Currently (at the time this piece was written) LeBron is averaging 29.1 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, and 6.5 assists per game. He has unequivocally had the longest prime in the history of the game. Let us also not forget he is playing an average of 36.7 minutes per game his highest in 3 seasons and is playing the 5th most minutes per game on average this season. LeBron has spent more time in the NBA playing at the highest level than years on Earth. More than half of his life he has been in the NBA! No other player in the history of the league have been this good for this long. Please do not let me remind you of Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Washington Wizards. And comparatively speaking he has 4,267 more points, 4,329 more assists, 3,403 more rebounds, 129 more blocked shots, and 10,552 more minutes played than Michael Jordan. The minutes number was absolutely crazy to me then I remembered “oh yeah MJ retired THREE times from the game” dare I say he couldn’t handle the workload?
Let me be clear. Michael Jordan isn’t a bum or scrub, he is one of the most amazing, electric athletes of all time in any sport. He has inspired so many generations to excel not only in basketball but in life. No one should ever argue the merits of Michael as an all time great, no one should ever make Michael Jordan out to be anything else but an amazing athlete, expert business person, and great man. But LeBron James is the greatest player of basketball for the longest amount of time to have ever lived. Records are meant to be broken. LONG LIVE THE KING.
Stats courtesy of:
Elias Sports Bureau