Welcome to part five of our six-part series to figure out the greatest player in NBA history. The four initial brackets: Floor Generals, Men in the Middle, Sensational Scorers and the All-Around Athletes have been won.
We have traversed the different eras and periods in the NBA’s illustrious 68 year history to find the four most talented, legendary and accomplished by position.
Our NBA Mount Rushmore by position is as follows: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.
These four legends of the hardwoods have a combined 19 NBA titles, 18 MVP awards, 13 NBA Finals MVP awards and 38 1st Team All NBA appearances (I’m counting a 9th appearance for LeBron which should be announced in the next few weeks).
Without further ado lets breakdown the final four.
Magic Johnson vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
These two greats formed the most accomplished and talented super duo in NBA history throughout the 1980s (it really wasn’t fair for the rest of the league) and won five NBA championships together. To think that potentially the greatest point guard and center, arguably the game of basketball’s most important positions in a traditional sense, played together for decade is mind-boggling.
Kareem transformed the game with his unbridled longevity and production as a player who played at a high level for about 19 seasons, while Magic took the league and the American public by storm with his flash and charm on and off the court and era defining and revolutionary talent. He along with his rival Larry Bird helped save the NBA from the dark days of the 1970s which was filled with hard drugs, competition from rival leagues (the ABA) and a league struggling to reverse a poor perception problem and become a mainstream American sport on the level of Major League Baseball or the NFL. People forget even in the early 80s NBA Finals games were on tape delay.
Let’s breakdown the tale of the tape:
19-11-7 52% from the field over a 13-year career that included five NBA championships, three MVP awards, three NBA Finals MVP awards, nine 1st team All-NBA appearances and an incredible nine NBA Finals appearances
24-11-3-2.5 on 56% shooting over a 20-year career that included six NBA championships, six MVPs, two NBA Finals MVP’s, ten 1st Team All-NBA appearances, 19 all-star appearances. NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Five year peak:Magic: 21-12-7 49% from the field and 87% from the free throw line with three MVP awards.
Kareem: 30-15-4-3 54% from the field 72% from the free throw line and three MVP awards.
As great as both of these players were individually and as a duo, and as tough as it is to make this decision, because of his sheer breadth of work including six titles, six MVP awards and status as the leading scorer in NBA history, Kareem wins this battle and moves on to the final two.
Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James
After “His Airness” slayed Kobe Bryant in the elite eight round to get to this point, he now faces the other legendary and worthy adversary at the wing position to come since him, the most polarizing, scrutinized and gifted player the NBA has seen since Jordan: I’m talking about LeBron James of course.
This is another heated and passionate debate (although still not a great debate at this point) that is heard throughout barber shops, school halls, arenas and gymnasiums and living rooms around the world. Will LeBron surpass Jordan?
Their games, traits, personalities and size don’t match up as much as Jordan and Kobe do, but LeBron is a true athletic and cerebral freak of nature sent right out of the future and somebody’s perfect create a player body and skillset on 2K.
Until the age of 30 their numbers and accomplishments are very similar:
Jordan before 30: 31-6-5-2 on 84%-52%-25% shooting with two NBA titles and Finals MVP awards, three regular season MVP awards and six 1st Team All-NBA appearances and a postseason PER of 28.6 (first all time)
LeBron before 30: 28-7-6-2 on 75%-50%-34% with two NBA titles and Finals MVP awards, four regular season MVP awards, nine 1st Team All NBA appearances and a playoff PER of 27.7 (2nd all time)
Here is their overall career comparisons:
30-6-5 on 50% shooting including six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVP’s, five regular season MVP’s, ten 1st Team All-NBA appearances, nine scoring titles and nine 1st team All-Defensive appearances
27-7-7 on 50% shooting with two NBA championships, five MVP’s, two NBA Finals MVP’s, nine All-NBA first team appearances, five 1st Team All-Defensive appearances and one scoring title.
LeBron is on par with Jordan’s level of accomplishment before the age of 30 and one can argue he has had the better career before the age of 30.
Jordan won four more NBA championships and Finals MVP awards and two more regular season MVP awards after the age of 30 so LeBron still has quite the trek make it atop the NBA mountain top alongside Jordan.
Although LeBron has the potential and opportunity to someday be viewed as the greatest player to ever play the game in my opinion, being able to match Jordan’s dominance and success, not to mention global impact on the game and sport of basketball around the world will be incredibly difficult to do. This sets up a battle between Jordan and Kareem to determine the best player in NBA history.