I have to begin with this although it doesn’t have anything with what I am writing next – LeBron in a Liverpool FC jacket!!!
It could be fading memory but I don’t recalling that Magic Johnson was said to be the greatest basketball player ever. That’s despite of winning five NBA titles while leading the LA Lakers to nine NBA Finals appearances. I heard that GOAT tag on Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. When Michael Jordan began to win all those rings, he was right up there in the discussion. Kobe was later thrust in that debate and as much as I also root for Black Mamba, I believe that was eliminated from that sentence for his team losing in the finals of 2004 and “giving up” against Boston in 2008. That has been forgotten in the light of the last two titles for the Lakers. He may be in the same sentence as Jordan as one of the game’s greatest closers but that’s it right there.
So I am shocked that Scottie Pippen said this: “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game, but I may go as far to say LeBron James is probably the greatest player to ever play the game.”
He is right in the first phrase – Jordan probably being the greatest scorer – because that rightfully goes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as they really put up tons of points. As for the greatest player – I’d put Bill Russell in that hat along with Jordan. But trying to be objective about James, he sure is some specimen – an incredible blend of height, power, skills, and athleticism – but at this point, he cannot be anywhere in that same sentence. If athleticism is characterized by flying in the stratosphere and sweeping in for a death defying dunk then that eliminates Magic Johnson too. The Laker great was of the same height (and maybe a bit taller), but he played multiple positions. He even started at center in the Finals during his rookie year. And he played defense too (rebounds and steals are part of that and remember he was a triple double king). Anyone remember how he broke up a Portland play by tapping the ball to the opposite side of the court in the game’s final seconds and a Blazer (not sure if it was Terry Porter) desperately giving chase as time ran out.
LeBron might go on to break more records and all but let’s save that praise until his career his over. The ace of spades in this discussion is how many championships one has won while being a huge standout in all of those wins. If we don’t then we will have to include Robert Horry in all this talk.
And… this is me eating humble pie now – I am happy to see Bron in a LFC jacket but even the Reds will have to concede right now that we may have King Kenny back (hmm LBJ is called “King James’ as well so there’s the royalty connection in a Royal Wedding year) but the current king of English football is Manchester United. And I am wondering how John Henry feels about the United fans jeer of 19-18 (which sounds a lot like the New York Yankees' derisive chant against Boston Red Sox fans for quite some time until their World Cup wins in 2004 and 2007).
So back to NBA hoops, I think the talk right now should be (especially after this season) – not if LBJ is the GOAT because he may be the best in the game right now, but which team will form it’s own Big Three wing to challenge for an NBA title.
And on cue, New York it’s your turn to join this discussion next season.
photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images