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Lakers Offseason 2020: Where does LeBron James Rank Amongst All-Time Greats?

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Fresh off a two-year max contract extension, the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James is now chasing history. His iconic legacy will lead him to be an unquestioned first ballot Basketball Hall of Famer, but where does he rank amongst the greatest players ever?  

 

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Since LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers all he has done is re-establish the organization’s historic winning ways and team up with Anthony Davis to win his fourth NBA Finals, the Lakers NBA record-tying 17th. Since James has been dominant for so many years where does this rank him amongst the best players in NBA history?

In this article, I will compare him to other players and rank them by how good of a basketball player they are, how much they have accomplished and finally, their longevity. 

James was no doubt already a top 5 player of all time even before winning his fourth NBA Finals. People will make excuses saying his path consisted of an injured Damian Lillard, a playoff choking team in the Houston Rockets, a Denver Nuggets team without much conference finals experience and a Miami Heat team without much experience as well. All of those cannot be more false. 

James has proven he can beat the best of the best and he won the Finals MVP Award. If he was not already, this victory for sure puts him above Larry Bird. Bird was amazing, no doubt. But James has put up better numbers, is a better all-around player, and has won more championships. There is a lot of context within those wins that can be discussed for days, but it’s safe to say that James is the better basketball player. He is a better all-around basketball player who has won more championships. 

 

 

 

A comparison that needs to be made is James and Magic Johnson. Johnson is in nearly everybody’s top five basketball players of all-time lists.

 

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Magic led the Lakers to win five rings and was consistent throughout his entire career. Putting James above him would be a hard thing to do, but he is for sure a better scorer.

Arguments can be made for who is a better defender, but James’ dominant scoring outweighs Johnson’s by way more than Johnson’s defense and passing outweighs James’. Johnson averaged at least 20 points for four seasons of his career while James did it for every year of his career, even his rookie year.

Johnson did average more assists than James’ throughout his career, but James has also played in the NBA for more years than Johnson did. The longevity factor goes to James since he has played many more years than Johnson, but that does not give him the edge.

Despite a lot of contexts, the fact is that Johnson has more championships than James and great numbers as well. James has more finals MVP’s, but it is not enough to clearly put him over Johnson. James will need to win one more NBA Finals and win the Finals MVP one more time to be a clear choice over Johnson

With the comparison to Johnson done, it’s safe to say that James has not done enough to be ranked above Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who finished his career winning six NBA Finals. Some of those he was older and not the best player on his team, but he still contributed and was a major reason that the Lakers won those. He even won the NBA MVP Award six times. James is not at the level of his accomplishments. 

Even though James is arguably the best from a pure basketball standpoint, his accomplishments are outweighed by Abdul-Jabbar’s. To catch up to him he would have to win at least one more NBA Finals and NBA MVP Award. His skills as a player along with his longevity outweigh Abdul-Jabbar’s, so that’s why winning only one more NBA Finals is a fair compromise.

 

Comparing James to Michael Jordan has been done for many years. Jordan has accomplished more but James still has time to catch up to him.

 

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James has made it to more NBA Finals than Jordan, has proved he can play for more years and is a better passer than Jordan. Although those are true, Jordan is a better defender, a better scorer, and has accomplished more.

Jordan is the only player in NBA history to win the scoring title, defensive player of the year award, and the MVP Award in the same season.

Leading the league in scoring 10 times puts him above James in that category. There’s a ton of context left to reveal but averaging at least 30 points per game for eight years in an era where teams barely scored 100 points in a game puts him over James.

James is a better passer, but Jordan winning defensive player of the year once and making the all-defensive team nine times compared to James’ six gives Jordan the edge in defense. James needs to win at least two more NBA Finals to be considered better than Jordan. Regardless of what many people say, Jordan was a superior basketball player. 

 

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Lastly, does this victory possibly push James’ all-time ranking above Kobe Bryant? The answer to that is complex but must be no for the same reason as everybody else he is not clearly better than. He needs to accomplish more.

Bryant made the all-defensive team 12 times in his career and could score in more ways than James could. Bryant had the “Mamba Mentality” that led him to take over many games. James technically has better clutch statistics but has many examples of not taking the shot himself. Ray Allen is the one who pushed the series to game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs. Even though the block was clutch, Kyrie Irving was the one who hit the three-pointer. With Bryant, everybody knew the ball would be in his hands.

Winning five NBA Finals is equal to James’ four due to James winning more MVP’s and having the longevity edge over Bryant. They are even at this point in James’ career.

 

James is clearly above Larry Bird and even with Kobe Bryant. All-time rankings are iffy because the ranking itself comes from what the person values more. Personally, my ranking is Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, James, Johnson, Kobe, then Bird. All those spots are extremely debatable as many players such as Shaquille O’Neil and Tim Duncan can be on the list. Even though James winning his fourth NBA Finals put him above Bird automatically, it did not boost his all-time rank by much in my opinion. 

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-Kyle Randolph – Franchise Sports Media

@KyleRandolphFSM

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