In February of this year, LeBron James was asked for the umpteenth time what his list of all-time great NBA players looks like; his Mount Rushmore of basketball, so to speak. James fittingly tipped his cap, or headband, to Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and of course Michael Jordan. But he conveniently left room for a fourth face to be chiseled onto his hypothetical mountainside – to James, that spot belongs to him. But he didn’t stop there. When asked about where he sees himself finishing among the all-time legends of the hardwood, James declared, “There’s no reason I can’t be (number one).”
Many people have scoffed at the very thought of LeBron one-day surpassing Michael Jordan as the unquestioned best player in the NBA. He has become the face of ridicule among fans and players alike, especially after his infamous move from Cleveland to Miami. But aside from his inflated ego, which in my opinion is justified considering his talent level, there is little to hate about LeBron. It’s evident that, even despite consecutive championships and a possible third on the way, LeBron James is still the most polarizing player in the NBA. But you know what? He has a chance to also become the greatest player, not just in the NBA, but ever. Like LeBron said himself, there’s no reason he can’t be. Here are 7 reasons why:
7. LeBron Could 4-peat, Something MJ Never Did
If LeBron wins his third-straight title this year, he’ll be in very select company among players who have won three straight championships. Michael Jordan did it twice (1991-1993, and 1996-1998), Kobe Bryant’s Lakers did it to kick off the 20th Century, and of course, Bill Russell’s Celtics won an unprecedented eight championships in a row. But aside from Russell, LeBron and his Miami Heat might have the chance to do something Michael Jordan never did in winning a potential four straight world championships.
6. Given Current Trajectory, LeBron Would End Up With More Rings Than Jordan
It’s highly unlikely LeBron will ever sniff the 11 Larry O’Brien Trophies that Bill Russell famously accrued over his historic NBA career. However, it is entirely possible for James to surpass Michael Jordan’s six world championships. Let’s quickly do the math. At age 28, Jordan won his first world championship with the Chicago Bulls. He would go on to win five more championships in the next seven seasons, topping out at six total. Now consider LeBron James, who won just wrapped up his second consecutive championship campaign last year at the age of 28. James, now 29, is also on the cusp of a third championship, and likely still has several years left as the unquestioned best player in the league. In a league where championships ultimately dictate success, LeBron has a legitimate chance to usurp MJ’s impressive six championship rings.
5. He’ll Likely Finish With More Career Rebounds and Assists Than Michael Jordan
Perhaps the most impressive thing about LeBron James is his incredible versatility. The guy can play point guard, and then turn around on the next possession and play center. In my estimation, he is the most versatile and unselfish superstar the league has ever seen. According to the league’s all-time PER (player efficiency) rankings, which effectively attempts to condense all of a player’s contributions down to one number, Michael Jordan ranks first all-time, closely followed by LeBron James. While no one is disputing that Jordan still holds the belt, people also have trouble realizing how close in pursuit LeBron truly is. James’ versatility could eventually give him that much-needed edge. LeBron certainly won’t ever beat Jordan out in terms of scoring average, but he does hold key advantages in rebounds and assists, where he averages more than Jordan. LeBron also is a more efficient shooter than Jordan ever was, averaging better than 56-percent the last two seasons. Jordan never averaged better than 54-percent in his entire career.
4. He’s Not Afraid To Speak Out On Major Controversial Issues
Now more than ever, athletes are put in the limelight of stardom and fame. With millions of fans hanging on star athletes’ every word, athletes have more influence than ever before. Such is the case for possibly the world’s most popular athlete, LeBron James. But while many athletes defer from ruffling the political sheets of their respective fans – instead deferring for humdrum politically correct answers – LeBron has done the opposite. James has been a leading in voice in several hot topics near and dear to his heart. For starters, James and his teammates dawned hoodies in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Most recently, though, James didn’t mince words in his bold stand against former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was pushed out by the league for racist remarks. The NBA and professional sports need a guy like James, who holds both the platform and the brains to effect change in a big way.
3. He’ll Play More Seasons Than Jordan If He Remains Healthy
This one has nothing to do with stats or ability; it simply is based on the number of years these two will eventually have spent playing the game of basketball. Jordan spent three seasons playing hoops for the UNC Tar Heels, where his legend was essentially born. James, however, entered the NBA straight out of high school as a wide-eyed 18-year-old kid. Jordan also famously left the big stage in 1993 to pursue his other passion of baseball. In all, Jordan played 15 seasons in the league and racked up a grand total of 32,392 points in that time. LeBron, however, will likely play longer – provided his body holds up. At 29-years-old, LeBron has tallied 23,170 points in 11 seasons – surpassing Jordan’s mark of 21,541 at 29. Not to get too analytical here, but the point is – when it’s all said and done – LeBron has a good shot at surpassing Jordan’s career mark for points scored and likely titles. If only for the simple fact that he’ll end up playing for longer, LeBron’s numbers could be the best ever when the dust settles.
2. Level Of Competition Is Higher In The NBA Now Than It Was In The 90s
Before Michael Jordan entered the league, basketball had supreme talent in Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, along with a complementary slew of players that included Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton, and Karl Malone. It was an era of basketball unlike any other as far as star power was concerned. Because of the stiff level of completion, it took Jordan a few years to snag his first title as Bird and Magic traded titles. However, once the stars of the 80’s faded, Jordan was left to reign supreme. Part of that was due to Jordan’s unmatched talent, but another part was due to the diminished level of talent in the league. Sure there was still talent, but Jordan didn’t have the same level of superstars challenging him each year for titles, as the ones that preceded him. LeBron, however, is playing in a league that has seen the level of stardom rise. Kevin Durant is becoming an all-time great scorer, and could develop a Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson type rivalry with James. You also have up and coming stars like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Paul George, Steph Curry, and Damian Lilliard, to complement aging Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Dirk Nowitzki. If LeBron ends up winning more rings than MJ, he’ll certainly have earned them.
1. He’s The Greatest Athlete Ever, Plain and Simple
This is perhaps the most subjective argument I’ve made in favor of LeBron James. However, I believe it to be the most compelling. LeBron James is the greatest athlete, if not in the history of professional sports, then at least in the history of professional basketball. A case can be made for Bo Jackson, who was another freakishly gifted physical specimen. Regardless, LeBron James’ body is built like a hybrid between a tank and a Ferrari. He’s got speed coupled with otherworldly strength and power. Sure LeBron has talent and incredible court awareness, but it is his freakish body type that allows him to dominate the way he does on a basketball court. Michael Jordan was one of the greatest athletes of all time, but LeBron is on another planet when it comes to physical ability.
With his athletic talent, years left in the league, and diverse skill-set, there truly is no reason LeBron can’t be the greatest to ever grace the hardwood. He’s got plenty of work left, but his current trajectory is better than that of Michael Jordan’s, and that is pretty exciting.