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Before I dive into LeBron James’ selection by The Athletic as the second greatest NBA player of all time, let’s make something very clear.
For this discussion, I don’t care about the man, which way he leans politically, or comments off the court that I often disagree with. Right now, I care about basketball. I’m not considering anything other than the accomplishments I’ve witnessed on the court in my 30 plus years of watching basketball. If by the end of this article you disagree with my assessment, state your case in the comments section. Make a basketball argument. Maybe you’ll persuade me.
So, basketball we discuss.
Last Thursday, The Athletic selected James as the second greatest player of all-time, and I couldn’t agree more.
The GOAT conversation is itself difficult, impossible to settle, and only leads to anger from both sides. I’ve long felt that there should be a “GOAT” of each generation, as the game of basketball is ever-changing, with styles and rules significantly impacting the way the game is played.
The conversations should be whittled down to four to five players, each the greatest of their generation, and if LeBron James is not at the top of your list for the generation in which he plays, you are doing something drastically wrong.
I was in the “I hate LeBron James” camp for many years. His decision to “take his talents to South Beach” in 2010, torturing the Cleveland Cavaliers fanbase for a full hour on live television infuriated me. I saw it as the easy way out when he joined two other All-Stars in Miami.
When James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were introduced as “The Heatles,” and said they’d win “not one, not two, not three, not four…” NBA Championships, I was infuriated.
When James famously choked against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, I reveled in his misery. I remember pointing to that moment as to why he would never be considered among the greats of the game, as to why he should never be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan.
But then James went on to win two championships in Miami, winning two league MVPs, and becoming the best version of himself. The numbers were eye-popping.
2012 season: 27.1 ppg, 7.9 rbs, 6.2 assists
2013 season: 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rbs, 7.3 assists
His years in Miami shed the label that he was unable to lead a team to a championship, that he was unable to get it done in the clutch. It put him among the game’s greats, but not in the same breath as Jordan.
And then James returned to the city that he so painfully spurned, writing an open letter to the city of Cleveland, in search of the city’s first NBA championship.
And he delivered.
I vividly remember that 2016 season. The Golden State Warriors were must-watch television. We hadn’t seen basketball so beautiful in decades, as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson became the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the league right before our eyes.
But when you watch sports long enough, you’ll find yourself going through a bizarre transition.
The greats will wear you down. Eventually, their greatness on the court will be too much. You’ll have no other recourse than to recognize it, and the hate slowly turns to admiration.
During the 2016 NBA Finals, I experienced this feeling, finding myself rooting for James and the Cavs against an extremely likable Warriors team.
Down 3-1 in the series, James did it all, getting the Cavs back to Oracle Arena for game seven of the NBA Finals. In a game that I have watched at least ten times over, James willed Cleveland to their first championship, making the single greatest play I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes.[embedded content]
You can disagree with me, but I don’t think there’s another athlete that makes that play. James hunted down Andre Iguodala, perfectly timing his jump to stop Golden State from taking the lead late in the fourth quarter. People often forget, but neither team was able to score in the final minutes of game seven. Legs were dead, the defense intensity was off the charts, and baskets were impossible to come by. James’ denial of Iguodala at the rim was the championship play. A play by one of the greatest to ever do it.
It was the moment that James entered the pantheon of NBA greatness, and James knew it.
“At that moment I was like I’m the greatest basketball player people have seen in all facets,” James told The Athletic when asked about the 3-1 comeback. “Like I can play them one through five, I can guard one through five, just like literally something that has never been done in the history of the sport … I just felt like ain’t nobody better than me at this. I felt like Jay-Z when he made The Blueprint.”
James is correct in that he entered the conversation with his third championship. And he continues to add to his legacy.
The 2020 NBA Playoffs in Orlando, Florida, was unlike any playoffs we had ever seen before, and yet James came out on top, obtaining his fourth NBA championship. Even in his 19th NBA season, James is putting up absurd numbers. At 37-years-old, James is averaging 29.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game, while shooting 35.% from beyond the arc, on a team lacking in roster talent.
He’s going to finish his career as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, currently sitting just 1,853 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s been to ten NBA Finals — four more than Jordan — winning four championships. And longevity matters. Tom Brady wouldn’t be considered the GOAT if he hadn’t played into 40’s, adding two Super Bowl’s to his legacy late in his career. We marvel at his ability to keep his body in tip-top shape, and James is no different.
My entire point is that James belongs in the conversation as Greatest Of All Time, and I will gladly listen to those who believe his career was better than Jordan’s. He’s very clearly the greatest of his generation, putting him among the five greatest players in NBA history, if we’re going about the GOAT conversation in the way I prefer.
We are lucky to watch James play basketball, and we should appreciate every second of on-court brilliance he has left in him.
Now, fire away with your disagreements. I’m ready.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected].
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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