LeBron James is the G.O.A.T. Only haters will say it’s not true. Let me detail a few things about my criteria supporting my position before you Jordan STANS go brazy. Championships have to be included the equation for greatness, but how much weight do they carry? Are they the most important thing? Because if that is the case you have to bow down to Bill Russell and his 11 rings. So if you don’t concede it is championships alone, then what is the metric? Stats? LeBron has more points, rebounds and assists than Jordan at the age of 31 (we’ll get back to the comparison by age discussion in a few, I know you Jordan stans are infuriated reading that) and is on pace to surpass him in all major statistical categories. The answer is there is no universal metric for greatness, so we will look at a few different factors I believe set the greats apart and why is LeBron is the greatest.
1. He’s the most durable superstar we have ever seen.
2. He always makes his teammates better.
3. He’s clutch.
4. He gives his team the best chance to win on a night to night basis, and to be in the Finals every year.
These are sort of intangibles. But that is what sets the best players apart, they can put the team on their back, bail you out of tough situations and make everyone else better. I know to be the greatest, you have to be skilled offensively, defensively and have a high basketball IQ, as such, I didn’t want to argue back and forth about how LeBron was .03% better in this statistical category or that statistical category than Jordan. Let’s look big picture, kind of like if you could pick from a pool of all former and current NBA players why LeBron should be the first choice based upon the criteria above.
But I want to serve up this appetizer before I get to the meat of my argument, there is one concept, I don’t understand why Jordan fans won’t acknowledge.
· Evolution. A quick Google search returns two definitions for evolution – the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth; the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.
In everyday terms, as time goes on and a process is repeated, more progress is made and advancement occurs. We see evolution in every aspect of our world. In the cars we drive, the homes we live in, the offices we work at, the phones we use, the shoes and clothes we wear, every aspect of human life is progressing over time. That being said…..is this not the case in the NBA??? Everything in life is improving but basketball?? We have more technology, better training, better tools and worse players? I know people think today’s NBA is too soft, too many guys are friends, the competition isn’t as fierce, the league isn’t physical, these guys wouldn’t make it back in the “good ol’days”. Nostalgia is stupid. Let me tell you something, a muscle car from the 70’s is a beautiful thing to see. A perfectly restored Chevy Camero will turn heads every time. You see those vintage lines, you hear that big block engine roaring…350-400 horsepower ready to go. And you know what? A Cadillac XTS your grandfather would drive to evening service made in 2016 would blow the doors off of it. You know why? EVOLUTION. Please go back and watch a game from the 80’s or 90’s. It’s horrible. Isolation offenses, holding on defense, if 90’s NBA basketball was a song, it would be that song you loved growing up, and you hear it now, and you cringe and think, “Oh my god, how did I like this song??” There were no Steph Curry’s pulling up from 35 feet, Kevin Durant? They would’ve had him shooting hook shots Kareem style if he played in the 90’s. No power forwards with Dirk Nowitzki range. No big men who could protect the rim and push the break like Anthony Davis. The game is smarter now, it flows, efficiency is at an all-time high, and it’s tougher to win.
· The league has never been more competitive than it is right now, especially considering the rise of the western conference in the 2000’s. That is not a knock against Jordan, he had no control over his opponents in the Finals, you play who is in front of you. But facts are facts, Jordan never faced a team with more than 2 Hall of Fame players while LeBron hasn’t played one with less than 3 in the Finals. Is that Jordan’s fault? Absolutely not, but remember what I said about evolution, the game is better now, the west is a juggernaut. Yes, LeBron also had Hall of Famers on his side during the Miami years but let’s not forget so did Jordan in both Pippen and Rodman. Pippen’s numbers during the first Bulls three-peat are nearly as impressive as Jordan’s when you consider Scottie nearly averaged a triple double.
Now let's get to it.
Make sure you are seated, I’m about to say something mind blowing. The most important thing for a player is to be able to stay on the floor. Through the age of 31 LeBron has played more regular season and playoff minutes than any player in NBA history. 13 seasons and he has not sustained a serious injury *knocks on wood*. Who else have we been able to pencil in to carry that kind of load without breaking under it? If you are picking a player to build around, the first thing you need him to do is be on the court. Nobody has done that better than LeBron.
No player has entered the league with higher expectations than LeBron James. We’ve seen case after case of 18 year olds who couldn’t live up to their own standards, let alone deliver well enough to satisfy fans, commentators and even the doubters. What was the most pressure you had to deal with at 18? He surpassed expectations. He’s carried the load year after year. He’s the surest bet in the league. Even with a ravaged roster, you can never count him out (see the 2015 Finals). And until the end of his late prime, you can pencil him in for an NBA Finals appearance every year. How many players could you say that about?
He Makes His Teammates Better
LeBron came into the league as an 18 year old, took charge a 17 win team and in his third year led them to 50 wins and a playoff birth. In his fourth year, he took them to the Finals.
Now, let’s think about that first Cavs team LeBron dragged to the Finals. Without searching on Google, tell me who was the second leading scorer on the Cavs Finals team in 2007? You’ll never guess. It was Drew Gooden ….let that sink in. Look at the roster for that team.
LeBron pushed THAT roster through the Detroit Pistons who had recently broken through to win a title of their own, dismantling Kobe and Shaq, the greatest one two combo in the 2000’s, in their primes. Those Cavs were in the Finals. LeBron didn’t have a chance against Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in their respective primes, oh and don’t forget Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the league.
Oftentimes, in the NFL, wide receivers have breakout seasons, far surpassing their typical output. We see these guys and think man, look at those numbers and conclude they must be a great receiver. They move on to other teams, and their production drops off. What happened? The truth is the wide receiver didn't become great out of nowhere, it was actually the Pro Bowl caliber quarterback who made the wide receiver seem great. LeBron is the Tom Brady of the NBA. I call Timofey Mosgov to the stand. Four years, $64 million dollars. I call Matthew Dellavedova to the stand. Four years $38 million dollars. The list goes on and on, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, even Kyrie Irving. The greatest weapon in the history of the sport has propelled these players and more to pay and performance levels they would have never reached without sharing a roster with him.
He Gives You a Chance to Win Every Night
I see you clutching your pearls Jordan disciple. Let’s break this down. Through age 31 Jordan and LeBron are equal in terms of number of championships won. Three for each. Now, lets tackle the next biggest thing you Jordan stans going crazy about. JORDAN NEVER LOST IN THE FINALS. Alright, listen.
Nick Wright made several very interesting arguments regarding the comparison between the two. I love his idea of comparing championship wins and appearances to medaling. In this instance, at age 31 Jordan would have 3 gold medals and LeBron would have 3 gold and 4 silver. Now, it goes without saying you would love to be 100% when it comes to finishing first in every appearance, however, wouldn’t you rather have a chance every year? Wouldn’t you rather be in the big game 7 of 13 years than 3 of 10 years? Win lose or draw at the end of the day you want as many chances as possible at the big prize. That is what LeBron gives you.
As we have mentioned, at the age of 31, LeBron has more points, rebounds, assists and regular season MVP’s than Michael Jordan. Now, Jordan fans will tell you this is not a fair comparison, LeBron has played 13 seasons compared to just 10 for Jordan. There are multiple reasons why comparing accomplishments by age instead of seasons makes sense.
· Don’t punish LeBron for his durability. One of LeBron’s greatest attributes is his durability, as we have discussed. He’s played more minutes in the regular season and playoffs than anyone else at his age.
· Pay attention because this is the most important reason. Comparing players by age provides the most accurate measure of accomplishment because age defines the arc of NBA players. Typical NBA players hit their prime in their mid to late 20’s. For a “star” that prime usually lasts into the early 30’s. For the superstars, the prime lasts until the mid 30’s. See players like Kobe, Duncan, Garnett, and others who were not at their apex, but still in their “late” prime when they won championships. As the saying goes, father time is undefeated. No matter the athlete, once they hit their mid 30’s the prime is over and they are supplanted as the best in the game. So, when you are comparing LeBron and Jordan at age 31 what you are saying is at this point in their prime, LeBron has accomplished more than Jordan. LeBron has three, possibly four more seasons in his late prime to be in the upper echelon of the league’s elite. The same was true with Jordan. Mike won his last championship, and retired for the second time at the age of 34, the end of his late prime. It does not matter that Jordan went to college for three years and entered the league at the age of 21, your prime ends in the mid 30’s period. It does not matter that at 31 LeBron has played 13 seasons and Jordan had played 10, when a player hits their mid 30’s it’s a wrap being the alpha on a championship quality team.
LeBron is Clutch
· There is a misconception that LeBron is not clutch, but let’s dig a little deeper into the numbers. There is no greater pressure an NBA player can face then playing in an elimination game. Back against the wall, win or go home, legacy altering games. This pressure causes players to do things outside their nature, crushing their ability to perform. In these types of games, LeBron has delivered, averaging 31.9 points per game the highest average of any player in elimination games. Clutch.
· The second point, LeBron has given us the two greatest finals performances ever by a single player these past two seasons.
2015 NBA Finals
36 points 13 rebounds and 9 assists, his average for the 2015 NBA Finals. Clutch. If his performance was a song, it would’ve been What More Can I Say – Jay Z. If you are a basketball fan, you know losing Kyrie Irving in game one of the Finals, after already being without Kevin Love, the Cavs would be hard pressed to win one game. But after back to back victories in games two and three, your mind shifted to, “is he really going to be able to pull this off?” LeBron transformed his game, from the likeness of an Italian sports car, to a heavy duty pickup truck. These games weren’t pretty, if they were a movie scene, they would be the final round of a Rocky fight. Ultimately, the Cavs came up short against a healthy and poised team, but you could not watch that series, that performance and think there has been another basketball player that could’ve carried that group of role players to the brink of a championship. Check out some of his highlights from the series.
2016 NBA Finals
If LeBron’s performance in the 2016 Finals was a song, it would be March Madness – Future. A classic. An anthem. A song so glorious, that it breaks all rules of time and space. He was that good. Don’t believe me? LeBron became the first player in Finals history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks….BOTH TEAMS. Still not impressed? After going down 3-1 to the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron averaged 36.3 points 11.7 rebounds 9.7 assists 3 steals and 3 blocks, a line never seen in Finals history. For the series he averaged 29.7 points 11.3 rebounds 8.9 assists 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks. In the mood for dessert? He led the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship, a feat previously unachieved in the NBA Finals. Need a cherry on top? He became just the second player of all-time to win Finals MVP for two teams. So Jordan and Kobe stans, save me the “not clutch” narrative…..and don’t make me pull out Kobe trash “clutch” numbers…maybe my next post….anyways. LeBron took down the mighty Golden State Warriors. The greatest team in NBA history. The first unanimous MVP. Clutch.
LeBron is the greatest weapon in the history of the league. Need a bucket? He can get you one. Need a floor general? He has court vision unrivaled for a player his size. Need a stop? He’s long guarded the best player on the opposing team. Need a rim protector? I present to you the greatest block in NBA history. There is not another player in NBA history who could have made that block. Not one.
We’ve never seen another player that can fill as many roles as LeBron James. If I were starting a team from scratch, and I had my pick of any player in NBA history, I would want the guy who had all the tools, who was durable, who made his teammates better, who was clutch and who gave me the best chance to win every game and put me in the Finals every year. That guy is LeBron James, and you should pick him too. But if you still feel some type of way, Bron give the haters a little music to whine to, you do everything else.