Four NBA championship rings as well as four regular season and four finals MVPs. Nineteen All-Star game appearances, eighteen All-NBA selections, two Olympic golds, and just recently, the most points in the NBA with 38,388. Basketball fanatics (and readers of the title alike) will know that the one player who has earned each of these accolades is none other than LeBron “King James” James. Although the King has had a formidable reign over the kingdom of the NBA for the past twenty years, the question must be asked: is LeBron James the greatest of all time (GOAT) as far as basketball is concerned? While this article offers no definitive answer, it provides some food for thought for the reader to taste and construct their own opinion.
Arguably an equally difficult but necessary question is “Who are the other candidates for GOAT of the NBA?” Similarly, this question lacks a clear answer, but there are certainly a handful of players (past and present) who make a considerable case for the greatest of all time.
The first player (other than James) that rushes to the forefront of minds across the world when “GOAT” and “basketball” are mentioned in the same sentence is Michael Jordan. It’s no question that His Airness’s influence is quite impressive and even extends past the game of basketball. However, we need to have a look at what the numbers say to attain a better understanding of who might rise victorious in the Jordan v. James GOAT race. Although James outcompetes Jordan across the stat sheet as far as career totals go, MJ has scored more points per game throughout the duration of his career. Furthermore, Jordan has a higher player efficiency rating and plus-minus value than LeBron does; these are common measures for a player’s impact on the game beyond the consideration of the “cold hard stats.” Jordan also claims more championship rings, more finals & regular season MVPs, and more scoring titles. Given the fact that James is currently in his nineteenth season while Jordan did this in a matter of 15 seasons, Jordan offers several convincing reasons as to why he is the greatest of all time.
Another common contender for GOAT of the NBA is fellow Laker Wilt Chamberlain. Again, James dominates as far as career totals go. He also towers over Wilt the Stilt with regard to career accomplishments, earning more NBA championship rings, more finals MVPs, and more all-star game selections. However, some of the more nontraditional career accomplishments that Chamberlain has accumulated suggest that it would be foolish to exclude him from the GOAT conversation. A record that has thus far stood the test of time, Wilt Chamberlain scored the most points ever in an NBA game during a 100-point outing against the New York Knicks in 1962. Furthermore, during the same 1962 season, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game … that’s right, averaged. Nowadays, when a player drops 50, it’s often regarded as a career night, and it’s also normally reserved for only the best of the best. However, Wilt Chamberlain was averaging 50 for a season, a feat that’s extremely unlikely to be matched.
The list of GOAT candidates is far more extensive than what’s mentioned in this article. Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Magic Johnson, and Shaquille O’Neal are just a few more of the players that raise rather convincing arguments for the greatest of all time.
On a somewhat ironic note, I’d like to offer a counterargument to the essence of this article. There will never be a definitive answer as to who the GOAT of basketball is. Not only is the sheer amount of GOAT candidates daunting, but the three players examined in this article (James, Jordan, and Chamberlain) all played in vastly different eras (2010’s, 1990’s, and 1960’s respectively). Basketball is not a stagnant game; it evolves and with it the players themselves. Hence, instead of contentiously debating who might be the greatest or most influential, it may be best to just appreciate the uniquities that each generation of basketball offers.