Can LeBron Become the Greatest of All Time?
Throughout NBA history, there have been players that not only have left a mark on their generation, but an everlasting legacy – one that separates them from the rest of the pack – the other great players the league has seen step onto an NBA court.
These are the players with names that will never be forgotten. Players for which a very strong case can be made for as greatest of all time. This is why we play – to be the best.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – the most devastating move in basketball, the baby hook. The most dominating player to ever step foot on the court – Wilt Chamberlain. Bill Russell, the ultimate champion, the man that doesn’t have enough fingers for his 11-rings won as a player with the Boston Celtics. Or Magic Johnson, the gold standard for point guards, one of the most complete players the game has ever seen.
Then there is Michael Jordan. The man who epitomizes ESPN’s favourite athletic characteristic – the ‘Clutch Gene’. Six NBA Finals appearance and six rings to match. A cold-blooded assassin and the ultimate competitor. When the game was on the line, the ball was in his hands, except for the time that it wasn’t because Steve Kerr was putting in some work.
Lastly, there is LeBron James. The man who entered the NBA in 2003 simply known as ‘the Chosen One’.
But before getting into why the ‘Chosen One’ is on his way to becoming the greatest NBA player of all time, we have to understand how greatness in a game with so many proponents is measured? Many will say rings. Some will say impact on the game, while others judge greatness in terms of dominance on the basketball court.
By that logic, the question of who is the greatest of all-time may be a question that cannot be answered. In football, it’s simple. There is no position that has more impact on the game and a team than the quarterback position. That shortens the list and based on stats, dominance and championship, the greatest of all time can be deduced.
How about hockey? Easy! Wayne Gretzky, end of discussion, moving on.
With basketball, it’s a whole different ball game. You can make a case for Michael. You can make a case for Kareem. You can make one for Russell.
But can you make a case for LeBron? I say yes.
Controversial? Maybe. But if Jordan is widely recognized as the GOAT, then the only way to build James’ portfolio as the next best will be to dethrone his ‘Royal Airness’.
To start, let’s put one thing to rest. Saying that LeBron will never be Mike because of Jordan’s clean Finals record is ludicrous. Have you ever thought about how silly that notion is? M.J. is six for six, while James is three for seven. Therefore because of this one fact, LeBron will never overtake Jordan. So whatever LeBron is to do in the remaining five-eight years of his career will mean nothing as his faith is already sealed as second fiddle to Jordan.
Reverting back to how greatness is judged, when clutch, rings, or impact on the game has been discussed, each aspect of the conversation applies to LeBron.
LeBron James is not the guy who will consistently sink the shot to spell the end for the opposition, but he will do everything else on a regular basis. Clutch is not simply the shot that gives a team the lead or ties a game with seconds remaining on the game clock. Clutch is the key defensive stop, the shots made to stop a run, or to bring a team within striking difference. Expanding the concept clutch, it is clear that LeBron has that quality in his arsenal.
What LeBron essentially is, is a hybrid. Something not ever seen in Jordan, in Magic, or anyone else, which is what will put LeBron at the mountain top of his profession once all is said and done, and the curtain closes on his career.
Accolades? James has them. He will never be mentioned in the same breath as Jordan in that department, but taking trophies and awards out of the equation and just focusing on the best basketball player ever in a vacuum, is it fair to say that there has never been a greater physical specimen, one that can do everything on the court like LeBron James?
Of course rings help boost any resume, but what LeBron has accomplished in the playoffs has never been done by an individual player.
Let’s be clear, LeBron James is the greatest force in a game being catered more to the outside game, a more stretchy offensive approach. The level of competition, the skill base of the athletes has never been better. While only 15-20 years ago, the game was more physical, that physicality has been replaced by skill and finesse. As great as say Alonzo Mourning was, he was never capable of taking the ball up the court, setting up an offence, or shooting shots from long range like some of the big men of today’s game.
While Jordan would still dominate the game today, his isolation-style approach would be far less effective in today’s NBA that relies more on ball movement. As well, should ultimate greatness be judged just by how one player can take over a game individually?
What LeBron has is his court vision and basketball IQ, two aspects of his game that no player in NBA history can compete with. Offensively, he can take over games and he has individually. Like Jordan, his three-point shot isn’t his strength, but he can use his shear strength and physicality to beat any player to the basket. Unlike Jordan, LeBron too can make everyone around him better on both ends of the court and that is something that is not really discussed when James is brought up in GOAT conversations. Jordan of course was a great defender, but James may just be the best two-way player in the game whenever he wants to.
With his passing gift, LeBron can make his team transform into a well-oiled machined that can fire on all cylinders. While the Chicago Bulls relied on Jordan time and time again, the Cavs and the Heat never needed LeBron to consistently put up 40. The greatest scorer and most clutch player ever could very well be Jordan, but LeBron’s ability to score at will and make every player around him better and fit in is what catapults LeBron to an entirely other level.
At the end, basketball is a team game and individual accolades and individual greatness should not be the deciding factor as to what makes a player the greatest of all time. LeBron all-around game and his ability to make an entire team gel around him puts him above Jordan and anyone else who has come before him.
From an accolades perspective, James may not have the chips, but his level of continued excellence in the Eastern conference cannot be disrespected. A LeBron-led team has qualified for the Finals in six straight seasons, and more than likely will see it’s seventh straight Finals berth this season. LeBron has established his team as the gold standard for his conference, leaving the other 14-teams in limbo, waiting for his time of dominance to finally end.
Longevity will be another thing that will catapult him ahead of Jordan simply because LeBron can almost double Jordan’s time in the league by the time he retires.
Again, in a sport like basketball, a case can be made for a few players for greatest of all time, but LeBron James is right up there. Longevity, his ability to not only impact the game on both ends, but to make everyone around him better, makes him on his way to becoming the greatest basketball player of all time.