I just want to start this off by saying that since 2003, LeBron James, is the best player I’ve seen in the NBA during this 15 year strech. Now that we got that cleared, today I want to make my case as to why placing LeBron James in the Michael Jordan discussion is not only premature but disrespectful to four of the game’s other legendary players.
5. Bill Russell: 12x All-Star, 5x NBA MVP, 11x All-NBA, and 11x NBA Champion.
Bill Russell is not only the greatest winner in NBA history but in the history of team sports. Russell does not possess the gaudy stats of LeBron James. In fact, his box score contributions are much in line with Draymond Green x 10 in this modern era of NBA Basketball. Bill Russell played a key part in the Celtics being who they are today. The franchise has won 17 NBA titles and Russell is responsible for 11 of them. The reason why Russell isn’t higher is because he played in an era in which there were only 8(won his first title in 1957) to 14 teams (retired in 1969). Back then only 6 to 8 teams qualified for the playoffs and therefore, I can only rank Russell 5th on my list.
Career Avg: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, and 4.3 APG (Blocks was not a stat back then).
4. Larry Bird: 12x All-Star, 10x All-Star/All-NBA, 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 3x All-Defensive Team.
From one Celtic legend to another, Larry Bird was a problem during his day. While I wasn’t alive during Bird’s prime years, me being a historian for the game of Basketball, I can appreciate true greatness when I see it (thank you YouTube). In his rookie year, Bird took a 29-53 Celtics team to the top-seeded record in the Eastern Conference with a record of 61-21 and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in which they were beaten by Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers.
For comparison’s sake, LeBron didn’t make the playoffs until his third year in the league. Bird’s career was cut short due to a derailing back injury but he still retired as a 3x NBA champion in 12 years as a pro and helped bring the Celtics back to glory a decade after the retirement of Bill Russell.
Career Avg: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 6.3 APG
3. Magic Johnson: 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 3x NBA MVP, 3x Finals MVP, and 5x NBA Champion.
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was such an impactful basketball player that if his name was in a hat with the two other names ranked ahead of him and I drew out his name, I would say alright cool who are we going up against tonight. The league is currently fascinated with players like Ben Simmons but Magic was Simmons before Simmons was even a thought in his parent’s mind. Prior to Magic, the Lakers were known for their big men. Names such as George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes to mind. However, once Magic came to Los Angeles the team became the ‘Showtime Lakers’. The league had never seen a 6’9 point guard run the point with great pace and efficiency prior to Magic.
Magic paved the way for big guards and forwards such as Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Ben Simmons to orchestrate NBA offenses. Magic also wasn’t all flash, he had substance to his game as well. During Magic’s career, he won 5 NBA championships and also took a beat-up Lakers team to the 1991 NBA Finals without Kareem as his big man against the young Bulls led by Michael Jordan. Magic’s HIV illness cut his career short but he retired as a 5 time NBA Champion and the greatest point guard in NBA history.
Career Avg: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 11.2 APG
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 19x All-Star, 15x All-NBA, 11x All-Defensive, 6x MVP, 6x NBA Champion, and 2x Finals MVP.
For years we’ve heard that Shaq was the most dominant big man in NBA history and while in his era he was indeed dominant, if we are truly analyzing the game then we must agree that the most dominant big in league history is the man with the unstoppable sky hook shot. Kareem retired as the all-time leading scorer in NBA history in 1989 and while his record total of 38,387 PTS might be threatened due to Bron defining father time, his spot as the greatest Center in NBA history will remain intact for much longer.
Career AVG: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, and 2.6 BPG
1.Michael Jordan: 14x All-Star, 11x All-NBA, 10x Scoring Champion, 9x All-NBA, 1 987-88 Def.POY, 5x NBA MVP, 6x Finals MVP, 6x NBA Champion.
Was there any doubt that the”Ghost from Chicago” was going to be number 1? You could honestly flip Jordan with Kareem for the number 1 spot and based on your argument, you might be correct. What put Jordan over the edge for me is how he turned the NBA from a national game to a global game. Jordan also shifted the paradigm in the terms of the formula for a championship team. Earlier in Jordan’s career, he was known as a gunner who was going to score 30 pts a night and lose in the playoffs because he didn’t trust his teammates. Jordan was back then what players such as Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, and currently Russell Westbrook are to modern in NBA fans. Jordan won 6 championships without playing with an all-star caliber center and went a perfect 6 for 6 in the Finals. And what game 7 pressure ? Jordan never played in a game 7 in the championship rounds which only enhances his assassin mentality that later a certain Mamba in Los Angeles would later try to adapt.
Career AVG: 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 5.3 APG
How much higher does he have to go?
I feel at this point I must give a disclaimer on the difference between greatest and best. Greatness is defined by individual accolades and team accomplishments and currently based on his accomplishments, LeBron is currently a top 10 player all-time. In terms of pure talent, LeBron is definitely on the mount rushmore with not many in front of him. I currently have LeBron 8th on my list with Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan ranked ahead of him along with the 5 names mentioned in this listicle (Sorry Kobe fans). If LeBron could will this Cavs team back to the Finals, I would have to elevate him up to 6th on my all-time list due to he already has more rings than Hakeem and when Duncan won his 5th title, he was well past his prime. If the Cavs were to win this year’s NBA Finals, I would have to elevate LeBron passed both Bill Russell and Larry Bird for the fourth slot on my All-Time List due to the magnitude of this potential championship victory assuming he beats Golden State or Houston in the Finals. But if ands and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas now, would we?
Do you agree with my list? Sound off on your picks for your TUC 5 Greatest NBA Players of All-Time in the comments below.