Greatest of All Time.
It’s a discussion that rages on as the day is long. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all are in the conversation as the best player ever in the NBA. Fans have their favorites, based on various criteria, including the era in which each player starred.
James stoked the flames of the conversation recently in an interview for an ESPN special, in which he claimed that leading the Cavaliers to the 2016 championship in a Game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
“That (title) right there made me the greatest player of all time,” James said in the TV special. “I was super-ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year drought.”
It was a shot across the bow of the NBA greats. Of course, James has vaulted up the career lists with his myriad achievements. With three championships and three Finals MVP awards, James has an exceptional resume.
But he’s not on the same level with Jordan — maybe not even with Russell or Abdul-Jabbar. It’s the curse of our time, the need to measure everything and to rank players, even from different eras, to try to figure out who’s the greatest of all time.
That James himself did it is wrought with its own issues. Who does that? Who proclaims that he is the greatest? Well, Muhammad Ali did it, but it was a different era in a different sport. James did himself no favors by calling himself the greatest, at a time that Jordan is still alive and well and has six championships and six Finals MVP selections.
It's the folly of our social media era, with so many measures of greatness and so many opinions. The greatest isn’t just measured by numbers of championships; otherwise mediocre players like Robert Horry and Ron Harper seep into the conversation.
The talk of James’ several losses in the Finals — Jordan had none — and the fact that James had to team with other superstars in Miami for his for championship are also valid pieces. Most important, though, is that James felt the need to say anything at all. That discussion of the greatest of all time has taken place among fans in years past but the players themselves never entered into that conversation.
“It’s just disrespectful for a lot of people who came before you who were great, great players,” former Celtics star Kevin McHale said on NBATV. “You can’t compare eras; all these guys have been so great in their era. I didn’t like the way that sounded to me.”
Former Pistons star Isiah Thomas, also appearing on NBATV, had a similar take: “There’s a certain thing about greatness that demands that you have humility with greatness.”
Humility hasn’t been James’ forte since entering the league after high school career. His “The Decision” announcement that he was leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat may be the only black mark on his career but for an achievement standpoint, he doesn’t compare to Jordan and the others.
By the time he’s done playing, James could add a few more championships and make the question of whether he’s the greatest of all time a real discussion.
It’s just not right now.
Pistons vs. Spurs
Tip-off: 7 Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Spurs (23-17) are recovering, with a four-game win streak, including the Clippers, Celtics and Raptors. DeMar DeRozan (22.5 points and 6.3 assists) is adjusting to his first year with the Spurs.