LeBron’s Fourth NBA Title Widens Gap Between Him and Other NBA Legends
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James.
LeBron James is a champion, once again. The Lakers’ megastar won his fourth NBA championship on Sunday night, which ties him with all-time greats Shaquille O’Neal and Robert Parrish. He’s now two rings shy of tying Michael Jordan, and James’ chances of catching His Airness are very much improved.
So over the next few days, the conversation that is always bubbling in the background will boil a little hotter as to which of the two are the Greatest Of All Time. I have my own thoughts, for another time.
But for a moment, for just a second, I wanted to look at the other side of this.
More than 4,800 players have played at least a minute in NBA history, including the ABA. Of all those players, there are two that are unquestionably above the rest.
After the 2016 title over Golden State, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the team with the most wins in NBA regular-season history, there was already the sense that James had permanently inserted himself into the GOAT conversation, and that the discussion was now between him and Jordan.
But if we consider the performance of all players throughout their careers to place them on a scale, there were still many who put James among the greatest ever. There were still arguments for Magic Johnson, arguments for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
I won’t sit here and say that there won’t still be those arguments; there’s one in every crowd. But what’s clear in the wake of James’ fourth title, this one coming with the most iconic franchise in NBA history, is that the gap has never been wider.
Consider how incredible it is that you live in an era where you got to watch a player who is decidedly superior to Tim Duncan. Duncan won five titles with the Spurs over 19 seasons and is considered the greatest power forward to ever play the game.
James is decidedly greater.
James is decidedly greater than Kareem , who won six titles (five with the Lakers) and is the league’s all-time leading scorer. James is, without question, a better player than Kareem was. He’s a more complete player and has played in a more competitive era. Kareem has more MVPs and championships, but James has been so good, for so long, at such an insanely high level that he’s greater than the Captain.
James is greater than Wilt Chamberlain, who put up numbers that defy reason, logic and explanation but was never considered the kind of winner James is. James’ 4-6 record in the Finals will always be held against him, but he simply won at a higher and more sustained rate than Chamberlain did.
LeBron is greater than Hakeem Olajuwon, a two-time NBA champion and maybe the most complete center ever when factoring scoring, passing, footwork and defense. Olajuwon was unflappable and unstoppable, and he dropped everyone from Patrick Ewing to David Robinson to Shaq.
James is greater.
James is greater than Shaq. O’Neal was a four-time champion, a 15-time All-Star, a three-times NBA Finals MVP and was rightfully labeled the most dominant player ever. He absolutely demolished teams on his own. He was the very definition of unstoppable in his prime, and James is a better defensive presence and more complete player.
James is greater than Shaq.
James is greater than Larry Bird. “Larry Legend” was a three-time champion and a three-time MVP, and he was considered to be the second greatest Boston Celtic of all time. But Bird couldn’t hold a candle to James’ defense or his complete scoring ability, despite Bird being a much better shooter. Bird was a sublime passer, and yet, James is better.
LeBron James is greater than Larry Bird.
LeBron is greater than Magic, who is the best point guard in NBA history, a five-time champion, a three-time Finals MVP and a three-time MVP. Johnson put the league on the national map with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s. He is revered as one of the most beloved athletes in American sports history, and he has a statue outside Staples Center. The man goes by one name, and despite it being such a common term, if an NBA hears “Magic,” they think of one thing, and it doesn’t involve Orlando.
James played in a better era, has reached more Finals and faced better teams (though few better than the 1987 Celtics). Magic is among the greatest to ever do it. If you list the five best players in league history, his name must be on it, and some will have him higher than that.
But James is greater. He’s a better defender, he’s nearly as good of a passer, a more complete scorer.
LeBron James is greater than even Magic Johnson.
(Note: This list is excluding Kobe Bryant from comparison for obvious reasons out of respect for the Lakers legend.)
James is greater than Bill Russell. Even saying that is difficult. Russell was a pioneer in the NBA. He brought so much to the league in terms of showing skills no one had ever seen. Russell won 11 titles with the Celtics, a number so astonishing that it is literally incomparable.
But the competition now is so much different. You can hold Russell’s accomplishments and greatness to the highest standards and still see that LeBron is far more of a complete offensive presence than Russell. You can see that his ongoing contributions to his communities, local and global, rival Russell in a way no other athlete may ever have.
Russell appeared in 12 NBA Finals, a number James has a good chance of reaching. James will never have as many rings as Russell, the greatest Celtic of all time, but to the extent that we can compare eras, it’s impossible not to believe James is greater.
James was already considered above these greats. But this year’s run with the Lakers to the title cements him as separate from everyone except Jordan. And the gap between James and Jordan is now closer than ever, and far closer than the distance between James and every other player to ever step foot on an NBA floor.
The men above are all legends. Hall of Famers. Heroes and villains and idols. Yet all of them, for all their greatness, have to look up at James, still battling in his 17th season, still winning titles at age 35, still amazing every fan and critic with what he’s capable of.
We can argue about the GOAT later. For now, take a moment and recognize how many of the greatest ever James has left in his wake.