LeBron James joined elite company today, winning his fourth MVP award. James joins a list comprised of arguably the four greatest players in NBA history. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan have equaled the feat that James accomplished today. Only Russell and James have won four in five years. While Chamberlain, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, and Jordan are arguably the four greatest players of all time (I would listen to the argument for Oscar Robertson, but that's about it), it begs the question: Does James deserve to be talked about in the same class?
The NBA is a game that is all about championships. One player can so dominate a game that you have to win multiple championships to be considered among the all-time greats. Assuming that James seals the deal this year and wins his second championship, I think he absolutely belongs in the same class as the previously mentioned four, and here's why. James is one of the greatest all-around players that the NBA has ever seen. Let's look at scoring: James averages 27 points per game, which is more than Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, and Russell. This number is also only 3 points per game behind Chamberlain. Not only that, but it's nearly double the points per game that Russell put up in his career.
Now, let's take a look at what makes James not only a scorer, but an all-around player. James averages more assists per game (6.9) than any other player on this list. Michael Jordan is generally considered the best player in NBA history, but consider this: James averages more than one assist per game more than Jordan did over the course of his career. His assists per game average is also better than Russell and Chamberlain by two assists per game and better than Abdul-Jabbar by three per game. When it comes to rebounding, which didn't become an official stat until the 1973-74 season, James is better than Jordan again by more than one rebound per game and trails Abdul-Jabbar by only 0.6 per game (though it should be noted that Russell and Chamberlain played before rebounds were official, otherwise they would be far and away better than James, but I have to go with what I'm given).
"But Chris," you say, "what about championships?!" James will, assuming his team gets it done this year, have two championships under his belt, which is four behind Jordan and seven behind Russell. Let's forget Russell for now. No one is ever going to equal eleven championships and it's unfair for us to base our argument solely upon that number. But it is a fair question. I would argue that James' other stats makes up for his lack of championships. Everyone considers Chamberlain in this discussion, but he only won two championships in his career as well. I am of the opinion that James having the edge on Jordan in rebounds and assists per game has to have the same weight in this discussion as at least two of Jordan's championships. Jordan was also surrounded by better talent in his career than James has been. While much is made of the "Big 3" that James plays with, they are nothing when compared to the big 3 that Jordan played with. Scottie Pippen is one of the 50 greatest players of all time and possibly the best "wing man" to ever play. Dennis Rodman was a better rebounder than anyone in the game today and miles ahead of Chris Bosh. I feel like this discrepancy in talent needs to nullify at one more of Jordan's rings.
By every statistical measure, LeBron James belongs in the discussion as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. If you're looking at the statistics without a bias, you can even come to the conclusion that, despite not having the amount of titles as some on the list, he belongs at the top. Do I think he's there yet? No, but the case can be made.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.