By DYLAN MALONE
I was doing just fine when LeBron James tweeted that Jordan was the greatest of all time. I even understood when ESPN felt compelled to compare his Airness with LeBron and Kobe Bryant.
It was when LeBron said that championship rings did not necessarily make a player the greatest of all-time. He illustrated that Bill Russell was not the greatest of all-time and he had the most rings (11 championships in 13 years, all with the Celtics).
I have a real problem with that line of thinking.
What started it all is that Michael Jordan turned 50 last week as did Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. It felt like a foregone conclusion that the league would have some sort of tribute to these players and it sparked the age-old controversy about who is the best of all-time.
I thought that we had this solved already but apparently there are those people (mostly those under the age of 25) who see LeBron and Kobe play basketball and think that because of the way they dominate the game and its players today that they must be the best, even better than Michael.
LeBron James is a phenomenal player. No question. Will he be considered the greatest of all time when he’s eventually retired? Maybe, maybe not. I refuse to jump on the bandwagon because he finally won a championship with the Heat.
I totally get why he said that rings do not determine the greatness of someone. I’d say that too if I had just one ring. I’m not saying he does not have the capabilities to be the best ever but you can’t just give it to him because he’s had a good run up to this point. You can’t even get me to say that Kobe is better and he has FIVE rings.
Back to Bill Russell. He has 11 rings and he was the best player on the team for at least six of those championships. Arguably, Russell is the greatest defensive player of all time but because they did not have blocked shots as a stat during his career we may never know just how good.
I think that in order for the ring argument to hold any weight at all, the player in question must be the leader of the team. While this may sound like a given, it is worth mentioning. Robert Horry has seven titles (with three different teams) but nobody is making the assumption that he is even in the top 100 best players of all-time.
Then there is the other extreme involving those players who have never won an NBA championship. Karl Malone and John Stockton come to mind. Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, Grant Hill, Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Nash, Chris Webber, Dominique Wilkins, Pete Maravich, Allen Iverson, and Elgin Baylor to name just a few more.
Getting down to the root of the question, I think it’s unfair to label one man as the greatest of all-time. As it is a team game, there is so much involved in the question of greatness. If I had the opportunity to break it down, I would do so as follows…
Greatest scorer of all-time: 1.) Michael Jordan 2.)Kobe Bryant 3.) Wilt Chamberlain 4.) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 5.) Oscar Robertson (Honorable mention: Allen Iverson, Karl Malone).
Greatest team leader: 1.) Magic Johnson 2.) Larry Bird 3.) Michael Jordan 4.) LeBron James 5.) Bob Cousy (Honorable mention: Steve Nash, John Stockton)
Greatest passer: 1.) Pete Maravich 2.) Magic Johnson 3.) Larry Bird 4.) Steve Nash 5.) LeBron James (Honorable mention: Chris Paul, John Stockton)
Greatest defensive player: 1.) Bill Russel 2.) Wilt Chamberlain 3.) Michael Jordan 4.) Hakeem Olajuwon 5.) Gary Payton (H.M. Dennis Rodman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
Greatest dunker: 1.) Michael Jordan 2.) Julius Erving 3.) Dominique Wilkins 4.) Vince Carter 5.) LeBron James (H. M. Kobe Bryant, Shawn Kemp, Darryl Dawkins)
Putting it all together, I think it takes a lot of everything from these lists to fully come up with a “greatest ever.” I think that what matters in all of this, championships included, is body of work. I can’t call LeBron or even Kobe the greatest of all-time just yet. When they retire we can talk about it.
Until then, this is my list based on the above criteria: 1.) Michael Jordan 2.) Wilt Chamberlain 3.) Larry Bird 4.) Bill Russell 5.) Magic Johnson (H.M. Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
I have yet to see someone dethrown Jordan as the most dominant player to ever play the game. He single-handedly changed the landscape of how basketball was played. How can you tell if a player changes the game? If the league makes rule changes BECAUSE of one player. That’s another conversation for another day, however. I’ve run out of room...