The truth about LeBron James is that he is like no other player that has preceded him. He is the best player in the National Basketball Association currently, and with four Most Valuable Player Awards he has already earned himself a Hall of Fame career. James is now a two-time NBA champion, and he has solidified his place in history as one of the best players to ever professional basketball, but basketball commentators and sports analysts are now asking if LeBron James is the best player ever. The answer is simple. No. LeBron has all the physical tools to be the best player in the history of the NBA, but he is not even close to being the best basketball player in NBA history. Granted, he is huge, agile, and skilled. He combines the size of an NBA center with the efficient post game of a power forward, the speed and shooting accuracy of a shooting guard, and the vision and ball-handling of a point guard. LeBron James is a once in a generation type of player, however he lacks the statistics, the hardware, and the heart to be compared to Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, the players that he is compared to most often.
Pundits of the league continue to compare LeBron James to Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Michael Jordan. But, the truth is that James’ game is not like either player. Magic dominated games by facilitating the “Showtime” offense and throwing assists to his teammates on fast breaks for easy baskets. Magic averaged 11.2 assists per game. His job on the basketball court was to make shots for others. He did not just get shots for his teammates haphazardly or defer to other scorers. Magic purposefully created easily converted baskets for players in an era where assists were more difficult to attain. LeBron does make some easy baskets for his teammates, but he does not direct his teammates and run the offense or dominate games by creating buckets for others. He is not Magic Johnson. LeBron James plays in a period where players can take a dribble after he passes them the basketball and he still records an assist if they convert the field goal. His teammates can hit a contested shot and James still gets an assist. In order for Magic to get an assist, he had to pass the ball to a teammate for an open shot. If they hesitated to score for any reason, he was not given an assist and despite this Magic recorded over 4 more per game than Lebron. James’ career assists per game average of 6.9 does not measure up to Magic Johnson’s average. LeBron’s natural ability to score the basketball gets James a lot comparisons to Michael Jordan, too. But, that is also a poor comparison. Michael Jordan decimated opponents through constant barrages of scoring which eased the pressure on his teammates. Because Jordan carried the scoring load in every game, his teammates only had to hit shots occasionally in games and could concentrate on the defensive end of the basketball court for the team to be successful. They took wide open shots because Jordan made himself the focal point of every NBA defense. Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game over the course of his career despite two lackluster seasons with the Washington Wizards when he was well past his prime after his second retirement. Though LeBron is one of the most talented scorers in the league and possibly the most physically gifted player to ever play in the NBA, he does not always command the attention of the defense. He averages almost three points less than Jordan with a 27.6 ppg average though he is bigger, stronger, and just as skilled. Dwyane Wade, his Hall of Fame Miami Heat teammate puts more pressure on defenses consistently than James, despite being considerably smaller and less talented than James. Scottie Pippen, Jordan’s (more physically talented, and bigger) teammate, rarely got more attention than Jordan, but Wade outshines James regularly. LeBron James is not Micheal Jordan either. Michael Jordan dominated through scoring and Magic Johnson dominated through passing, but LeBron James does not dominate through either category. For LeBron to be effective fro the Miami Heat, he has to do a little scoring and passing. He is actually statistically closer to a NBA great with whom he is never compared, Larry Bird. Bird averaged 24.3 ppg., 6.3 apg., and 10.0 rebounds per game with his last few years hampered by a bad back, and James’ career averages are 27.6, 6.9, and 7.3, respectively. Bird rebounded the basketball better, LeBron scores more, and the assists are relatively the same so far. Bird was never considered to be the best player to ever play professional basketball, though he has long been considered the best small forward to ever play. Similarly, the statistics bear that LeBron should be considered an all-time great, but those stats only put him on par with the best players in history, not above them. In order for LeBron James to be the best player in the history of the NBA, he would have to improve significantly on the last two years of his career, which were by far his most efficient years.
And, to move past the three aforementioned players in the annals of history, LeBron James would have to attain at least a few more rings. Most sports officials and historians believe that he needs two to three more rings just to enter the conversation of “best ever”, because NBA greats are measured by how often they win it all. The difference between Hakeem Olajuwon’s position in NBA history and Patrick Ewing’s place is two rings. They have similar numbers across the board in points per game, rebounds per game, and blocks per game. However, Olajuwon lead his Houston Rockets to two NBA championships in the mid nineteen nineties and Ewing fell short. Rings matter. The difference between Shaquille O’Neal and Olajuwon in the course of history is also two rings. Their statistical numbers are almost identical, but Shaq anchored a dynasty in Los Angeles and won one more championship in Miami. Olajuwon never returned to the Finals after his second consecutive title in 1995. To the same point, both Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins were flashy, power dunking, high-flying, volume scorers in the mid eighties and throughout the nineties. In their prime seasons, Dominique was usually second in scoring to only Michael Jordan and actually rebounded the basketball better. The difference between Jordan and Dominique is six championships. So, the number of National Basketball Association championships that LeBron James has won does nothing to push his legacy past his competition. James has been to four separate NBA Finals, and has only won two. Bird in comparison won 3 championships in 5 trips to the Finals, Magic won 5 rings in 8 occasions, and Michael Jordan won a championship ring in each of his 6 visits to the Finals. These players defined a generation by winning championships, filling the stat sheets, and earning individual awards. So far, LeBron James has been proven to be better at winning awards based on personal statistics rather than winning championships.
The biggest deficiency that LeBron James has shown when being compared to the best players in National Basketball Association history is in the most subjective category, heart. People find it difficult to define this character trait, but heart is obvious when it is witnessed. Heart is the ability to rise to the occasion and the desire to take the most important shots in the biggest moments. It is having the countenance and character to rally your team in dire situations. Heart is defined by what a player does under intense pressure, and though LeBron shone in moments in Game 6 and 7 of these 2013 NBA Finals, he has withered away in some of his biggest games. In the 2006, when LeBron faced the Spurs for the first time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was effectively taken out of the game by the Spurs defense. The backed off of the young star and forced him to play over the top of their defense with his inconsistent jump shot and nonexistent post game. The Cavaliers were swept and LeBron who had averaged 28.2 points, 7.6 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game on 47.6 percent from the field that season averaged 22 points per game on 35.6 field goal percentage and 20.0 percent from the three point line with the same assists and a slightly smaller rebounding average. LeBron James withered under the pressure of the Spurs. Against the Mavericks, in his 2011 Finals games with the Miami Heat, his current team, LeBron James played even worse than he did in his first Finals. Over the last three games of the series, James looked tentative, passive, and often overwhelmed. In those games he averaged 17.8 points per game and constantly deferred to both Wade and Chris Bosh. In Game 4, LeBron had more turnovers than field goals, 3 and 4 respectively, and only scored eight points in a loss to the Mavericks. The NBA greats whom he is compared never played such pitiful games in the playoffs. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan showed determination, aggression, and clutch shooting in every meaningful game of their career. In Game 7 of his first NBA Finals in his rookie year, Magic Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and handed out 7 assists to go with a game-winning jump hook. Bird battled in every Finals that he entered, and he only lost to Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. Bird is a two-time Finals MVP. Michael Jordan holds the highest Finals scoring average in NBA history and seemed to hit every meaningful shot in the NBA playoffs during his reign. These men fought when the games were most important and most of the time, they won. LeBron James has been disappointing in some of his biggest moments until the 2012 season. In fact, he languished to dominate games until the last two games of the Finals this year. After he had stretch of 12 consecutive points in Game 6 of these 2013 Finals to bring his team from a seemingly insurmountable deficit against the Spurs that swept him in 2007, he deferred to Wade and the Heat almost lost the game.Fortunately, for LeBron and his legacy, the Heat persevered. In Game 7, LeBron played like the best player in basketball. He carried the Heat on his shoulders from the beginning of the game through its finish scoring, passing, and rebounding, and he won his second NBA championship.
LeBron James has the potential to be the best player that ever lived. He has the basketball skills, he has the athletic ability, and he has the intangibles, but until this season of basketball he has lacked the determination and focus to hold the title of “best ever.” Whether James will surpass the likes of Magic, Bird, and Jordan in status still stands to be seen. He is on the right path to NBA immortality, but as of now, LeBron James is not close to being the best player ever. He would need multiple championships and many more scoring titles and MVP’s to enter the conversation. The truth about LeBron James is that he may be the best player of his generation, but he falls short of the heroes of the 80′s and 90′s.