We understand that currently, the state of sports is based on the present and the recent past.
Many football fans think the NFL started when the Super Bowl did in the mid 1960’s. A lot of basketball fans think the NBA started when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came into the league.
Baseball may be the one sport that still embraces its past, but most records today are compared with those of post World War II.
At least that goes back 60 years.
That’s why it is amazing to me that many hoops fans want to anoint LeBron James as the greatest to ever play the game.
For the early time since we remember, Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest player ever. Just look at the raw numbers, the man averaged 50 points per game for a full season. Today, a 50 point game is looked at as extraordinary.
Yes, Bill Russell had more rings, but he also had a better supporting cast, players like Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, and John Havlicek.
Wilt the Stilt wound up with two rings, both with teams ranked amongst the NBA’s best ever, the 1966-67 76ers and the 1971-72 Lakers.
Then Michael Jordan came along.
Perhaps possessing the greatest will to win ever, Jordan won six NBA titles and the next best player on any of those teams was Scottie Pippen, who in our opinion is considered a great player because he played with Jordan.
There were solid players on those teams, but no other superstar talents.
Meanwhile, Jordan never played with anyone as good as Dwyane Wade, a legitimate superstar player who led the Heat to a title with Shaquille O’Neal. Wade was the best player on that team.
Yes, Jordan won only four MVPs, but the perception at the time was the writers were tired of voting for His Airness every year.
There was no doubt who the best player in the NBA was, and at that time there were players like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, and Hakeem Olajuwon in the league. All of those guys were superstar players.
James is recognized as the best player in the league now, universally. Does today’s talent compare to the guys who competed against Jordan?
Most basketball experts would agree that Kevin Durant is the next best talent, but who’s third? Or the next five best players?
James can’t control who is playing today, but the league doesn’t have the same amount of great players in the game, as there were when Jordan was in his heyday.
While the Heat are the favorites to win this year’s NBA title and make it two straight crowns, they haven’t won it yet. And even if they do, that would give LBJ two rings to MJ’s six.
You don’t need “The Diff” on the scoreboard at Quicken Loans Arena to know that James needs four more titles to tie Jordan as leaders in the “modern era” of the game.
Heck, Kobe Bryant has five rings, although he wasn’t the best player on all five of those Laker squads.
Note: You can’t hold guys who weren’t key players on their teams who have won a similar amount of rings, like Robert Horry or Steve Kerr.
When James gets to four, then start the conversation. Until then, shut up. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever.
That’s not a slight to James, but let’s slow down the temptation to put him on the top of the heap.