A lot has been said after putting on a top three in the 2016 NBA Finals we have ever seen. Where does LeBron James rank among the greatest NBA players of all-time?. We have entered uncharted waters even to utter the words of who is behind Michael Jordan and Bill Russell since Magic Johnson retired in 1996. James has made the case to be the third best player ever entering his 14th season in the league. With starting credentials of four MVP’s, three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP, six straight finals appearances, ten times all-NBA first team and five-time first team all-defensive team. Could a current player playing during a time where stats are potentially inflated due to how the game is played now? Good question, join me on this journey of the characteristics of why James is the third best player in NBA history.
At 6ft 8in 250lbs, James possesses the speed of a guard, body of a power-forward, elite athleticism, elite leaping ability, and elite vision add it all up, and his body is built of steel. Attempting to tame James in the open floor at any point in his career is flat out impossible. Nobody on the fast break can keep up with his speed and when he leaps in the air getting ready to reign terror on the rim forget about trying to stop him just ask Jason Terry.
Julius Erving glided around the court with ease possessing elite leaping ability and elite athleticism. Erving’s athletic ability was unmatched during a time when it was a rarity for a player to play above the rim so often. Erving’s physique matches with James when it comes to height, athletic ability and speed. During Erving’s heyday being able to pull off his iconic reverse layup with ease was an incredible achievement defensive personal were not ready to take on a player of Erving’s stature.
He missed 13 games in the 2014-2015 season the most of his career. Otherwise, he hasn’t missed more than seven due to rest at the end of most seasons. Keeping a body like James’ is the up most importance to his longevity. The potential of never suffering a major injury over the course of a career can only help James get closer to the all –time scoring leaders the longer he plays. Injuries are apart of the game. Unfortunately, this cuts promising careers short or hinders the player they should have been. Players like Bill Walton, Kevin Johnson, Tracy Mcgrady, Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose all have had bad luck with injuries that plagued their respective careers. To put in perspective how impressive Lebron’s durability is?? James has played in 199 playoff games in his career without missing a game. This is in the company of Tim Duncan, John Stockton, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan who can say this with at least 100 playoff games played.
Karl Malone played for 19 seasons and was an ironman throughout his career. Malone had 11 seasons playing all 82 regular season games and four seasons playing 81 regular season games. His combination with point guard John Stockton made the Jazz a powerhouse during their respective careers. With a combination of injury luck and a deadly pick and roll game Malone was able to be effective until he retired after the 2004-2005 season as the second leading scorer all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 36,928. He is currently sitting with 26,833 points good for 11th all-time. Could he surpass Kobe for third by the time he retires?? This will be something to keep an eye on.
He has been a point forward ever since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002 as a junior in high school. His court vision comes naturally when major chunks of games his passing is on display. With an array of alley-oops, bounce passes, and of course, no look passes. What is so important about this trait when defenses tighten up in the 4th quarter in the regular season or for the length of the playoffs. James has a big advantage to be able to get his teammates good shots in half court sets. With his speed and sheer mass of his body, teammates can find their sweet spot on the court where James can hit them with ease with a simple chest pass like a heat seeking missile or a flashy no-look pass right on the money. When James resorts to this part of his game, it’s a setup for later on where he can get to the rim at will and the defense has to respect that in order not to give up wide open three point looks.
Magic Johnson, who else would it be? Johnson might be a better passer but where the comparison lies is their respective heights. Magic had the flare, charisma, the “it” factor and that smile. Johnson showed elite passing ever since entering the league out of Michigan State. Not even Oscar Robertson could compare to how Magic was a revolutionary figure to the position. The “Showtime” Lakers was a sight to see just imagine a mid-prime Magic stampeding down the court while James Worthy and Bryan Scott are ready to meet at the basket who can get an easy layup. Or Kareem is the trailer ready to break a backboard. The one guy back on defense isn’t thinking about stopping that fast break he is more concerned about how much cocaine he was going to have that night. This was too overwhelming for teams that simply couldn’t run with these Magic lead squads that would out class opponents each and every season.
This is the most important quality you need to be able to lead your team from deficits that look insurmountable. Despite numerous occasions over working James in the playoffs just to not surround him around with enough talent. James predictably left Cleveland for a better chance to win a championship in Miami. During his time in Miami despite the luxury of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh by his side James was able to see what it takes to win multiple titles. His leadership skills were on full display especially when Wade started getting hampered by injuries, and Bosh was a clear third banana.
He carried the Heat to a near third title in the 2014 NBA Finals. Only to be overmatched by the Spurs despite the best efforts of James carrying a broken down Heat team. What people overlook about James is what he demands from his teammate’s the commitment and sacrifice it takes to be a winner. The star preaches this with the amount of passion and drive he plays with when the pressure is on. This paid off when role players like Mike Miller and Shane Battier were the difference in elimination games burying threes from all over the court in both 2012 and 2013 finals to seal titles for the Heat.
None other than the best player in NBA history Michael Jordon. There was nothing Jordan didn’t do whether he was a young kid destroying the Celtics when nobody knew about the Bulls or an older Jordan taking down the Jazz in the late 90’s. Let’s put the argument to rest Jordan is more clutch and you would rather have the ball in his hands to win the game over James. Jordan demanded, and borderline death stared his teammates to make sure they played the very best to put themselves in line to play for the title. Jordan also trusted his teammates to hit big shots and game-winners during his career showing the leadership and what it takes to get it done. Nobody in the history of the league wanted the ball at the most crucial moments and came through as much as Jordan did. Burying the shot over Craig Elio and the jumper vs. Byron Russell will forever be cemented in NBA history as the most clutch individual shots the league will ever see.
Now that we have finished the journey for making a case for James. Just remember James with the game on the line especially currently playing with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will be better suited as a decoy and a facilitator to get his teammates the best shot he can muster up. Let James dominate as many playoff series he can. Play him 78 games during the regular season so he doesn’t tire out and breakdown. If this formula is put in place, he can play another two years as a dominating force and another two or three seasons of not having to be the best player on his respective team. After his career is over you can expect one more title run, move to third on the all-time scoring list and chip in five all-star selections.