It is almost universally recognized that Michael Jordan is the greatest professional basketball player ever because of the six titles he won with the Chicago Bulls in eight years.
There are some who consider Bill Russell because of the Celtics’ dominance in the 60’s, and others who will name Oscar Robertson’s all-around game, Wilt Chamberlain’s unbelievable numbers, and those who will talk about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as well.
Jordan’s rep comes from elevating those teams to championships without other great players on his team. Yes, Scottie Pippen was a perfect compliment to him, but if let’s say Larry Nance replaced Pippen on those teams, would they still have won? We would say yes.
This brings us to LeBron James. Can James pass Jordan as the greatest player ever?
Right now, James has been in seven Finals, one more than His Airness. The difference, of course, is that the Bulls never lost when they got that far, while James’ teams have suffered four defeats, two each with the Cavaliers and Heat.
One argument used against Jordan is he never defeated another great team in The Finals. The Bulls first title was against a Laker team on its last legs. They didn’t win the Western Conference again with this group, led by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
Probably the closest foe to Chicago were the Utah teams they won their last two titles against. The Jazz were led by two all-time greats in Karl Malone and John Stockton and repeating elevates that squad.
James’ team lost twice to the Spurs dynasty team (’07 with the Cavs, ’14 with the Heat) led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. They also defeated that same group in 2013.
And, of course, LeBron led the Cavs over the team with the all-time best regular season record this past summer, beating the 73 win Golden State team.
So, let’s say James takes the Cavaliers back to the Finals the next three seasons. That will give him ten appearances in the championship series. The most by any player who never played for the Celtics or Lakers (Bill Russell played in 12, Magic and Jerry West played in 9), and second most all-time.
And let’s say he wins two of those seasons, giving him five titles. Could we then say he surpasses Jordan? We say yes.
The main reason is the victory over the Warriors in June, and we presume one of those other wins will also come against Golden State, the 73 win team that also added another at least top 25 player of all-time in Kevin Durant.
As for Russell, the playoffs weren’t as tough then. Basically, if the Celtics defeated Chamberlain’s team they were in the championship round. Like Russell, James is surrounded by better talent than Jordan was with the Bulls, but getting to the title round four more times would tilt the scales in James’ direction in our opinion.
So, that’s what James is chasing now. He’s universally recognized as a top ten player in NBA history, probably top five.
Can he get to #1? Getting to more Finals will insure that chance, as well as moving up the lists in scoring and assists. He may very well be the all-time leading scorer or be second by the time he hangs up his sneakers.
The fact he has help from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.