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LeBron says rings alone don’t define a player’s career

Feb 16, 2013, 11:30 AM EDT

Miami Heat's James listens to a question during media availability for the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston Reuters

HOUSTON — The argument has been the fallback of Kobe Bryant defenders (he needs defenders?) for years. That it’s about the rings, that’s what makes him better than his peers.

Michael Jordan himself even went there in picking Kobe over LeBron James in a recent interview, saying the five-to-one title disparity decided it.

LeBron was asked about that Friday in Houston for the All-Star Game and gave a smart but kind of long answer. That answer has been reduced by many to a simple sound bite of “rings don’t define me” and people have run with that. Welcome to the modern media (and we have certainly played that game before here).

But LeBron’s full quote makes more valid points — it’s more than just rings.

“That’s his own opinion,” James said of Jordan’s comments. “At the end of the day, rings don’t always define someone’s career. If that was the case, then I would sit up here and say I would take (Celtics legend Bill) Russell over Jordan. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t take Russell over Jordan. Russell has 11 rings, Jordan has six. Take, I don’t know, Robert Horry over Kobe. I wouldn’t do that. It’s your own personal opinion. Rings do not define a person’s career….

“You look at a guy (Jordan era Bulls backup) Jud Buechler, he has multiple rings, Charles Barkley does not have one ring. He’s not better than Charles Barkley. Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all time, Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all time. Sometimes it’s about the situation you’re in, the team you’re in and it’s about timing as well.”

He’s not wrong. But the truth as always lies somewhere in the middle — Barkley and Ewing will forever in part be defined as great players who could not get over the hump. That doesn’t mean they were not legends and do not belong in the Hall of Fame, they unquestionably do.

But rings are still part of the equation. If LeBron’s career ends with just one ring, will we not look back at that as wasted potential and opportunity lost? Of course. But right now we don’t know how many rings LeBron will end his career with.

The problem with comparing Kobe and LeBron is part situation (Kobe landed on a team close to winning titles, LeBron) and part how they adapted and dealt with that. And those are not questions we can fully answer for either of them yet, both are still elite franchise players in the game. Both have a shot at more rings in the coming few years. We can’t fully judge Kobe and LeBron for at least another decade.

Or, we could just sit back, enjoy the moment and say that we are blessed to get to see two of the all-time NBA greats playing at their peak and not try to rank them. We could just savor the moment. That may be the best option of all.

  1. soopreme - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    The real question should be if you were building a team who would you pick.
    You would have to be a straight up nut case if you would pick Kobe to start a team over Lebron.
    Scoring is a push at best but I would still give the edge to Lebron because of the totality of Lebrons offensive skills, scoring, passing. power game.
    But the big difference is defense.
    I heard Spoelstra’s nick name for Lebron is ‘1 thru 5″, meaning he can guard all 5 positions.
    The versatiltiy that this gives a coach is understated.
    Lebron is a coachs dream defensively.
    Lebron is at the point where he is arguably the best defensive player of the year now.
    To me Jordan knows Kobe is really not in the conversation with him as one of elite greats of all time but he’s looking at Lebron knowing that if Lebron stays on the path that he is on he has time to get close to him.
    Jordan figures if he puts kobe ahead of lebron he has a little cushion, but guess what Mike, Lebron is coming!!!!!!!!!!

  2. rodge1 - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Lol… I love that the haters are picking Kobe over LeBron. Good choice haters, you should go ahead and bet on the Lakers to win it all this year too… Go Heat

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 4:45 PM

      Miami still has to get past the Knicks.

      • thenmoveback - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:05 PM

        Miami has to get past the Knicks? Someone is confused on who the champs are! Go HEAT!!!

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:11 PM

      Someone is confused with what year it is. Last year is over. And the Heat have not beaten the Knicks this year. So yes, they still need to get past the Knicks, boy.

      • ferrisdp - Feb 16, 2013 at 6:57 PM

        Hold the phone here, I’m a Knicks fan, but the Knicks have to get past the Heat. The title goes through Miami my friend.

      • thenmoveback - Feb 16, 2013 at 7:57 PM

        Boy? All man here lady! The way it works is teams go through the champs, not the other way. And yes the Knicks had beat the heat twice in the regular season, obviously you dont watch the NBA, a lot of teams beat the heat in the REGULAR season, playoffs are a whole different story lady.

  3. navyeoddavee9 - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    Of course rings matter, LeBron is forgetting his, not 1, not 2, not 3 etc, statement

  4. zen609 - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    First wasn’t legit because he hadn’t a championship. Then he won it.

    Now he’s not legit because he hasn’t won 5.

    If he wins 5, he won’t be legit because he hasn’t won 6, and if he wins 6, he won’t be legit because he hasn’t won 11. If he wins 11, he won’t be legit because he “didn’t win them by himself”.

    No player in NBA history has had as much pressure to win championships as LeBron James. That expectation was on him before his first NBA tip-off, and it was based on his massive talent. Great players have won fewer championships, and lesser players have won more.

    If James had gone to the Lakers, instead of the Cavs, he’d likely have 10 rings by now. It’s a team sport. One guy doesn’t win championships by himself, that also applies to Jordan.

  5. qdog112 - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Cue the tape …” not 1, not 2, not 3, not …” if everyone else is defined by rings, so then should you. LBJ is a great player, but he can’t be the greatest without multiple pieces of hardware.

  6. lemfaxx - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Smart answer bro! Jordan is better coz there is barkley, drexler, stocton, malone… during his prime as well as oneal, duncan, kobe, lebron, durant…. Great player became great coz of other great players…

  7. coltzfan166 - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    MJ didn’t win a ring until his 7th year in the league.

    • cantonbound13 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      Yeah, but if he didn’t take time off to play baseball he easily could have won 8 in a row.

      • 132ave - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:58 PM

        Yeah, if my aunt had balls shed be my uncle.

      • cantonbound13 - Feb 17, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        you’d like that, wouldn’t you, perv

  8. wranglerick - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Long story short, its a team sport. Yes, you need world class talent, and you need to be in the right place at the right time

  9. Maxa - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    I’d guess that people who insist on rings are the same people who still insist on the importance RBIs and pitcher wins in baseball. They still haven’t figured out how to separate team outcomes from their evaluation of individual players.

  10. money2long - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    here is my thinking and i hope a lot of you will understand it.

    lebron said what he said obviously because he felt slighted by his childhood idol picking another talent over him. lebron is only partly correct, what he said is logically comprehensible. he points to less talented players having more rings than far superior players.

    however, to me, the ring argument should ONLY take place when looking at players in the same CLASS. follow me guys, no one should bring up the ring argument when debating darko milicic and hakeem olajuwon. one is a hall of famer who played at a superstar level. the other was bench fodder.

    lebron tries to make the case of picking horry over kobe, but one is a superstar and the other a role player, a very important one, but nonetheless, a role player. we CAN NOT use the ring argument here.

    the ring argument should only be used when looking at players within the same class, and we can use our discretion to determine which players belong in which class.

    there are rookies, vets, all stars, perennial all stars, superstars, hall of famers and anything in between you can think of. we can use the ring argument more accurately when comparing two superstars like kobe and lebron or kobe and jordan. not kobe and horry lebron.

    obviously, both guys (a superstar and a role player) had different impacts to their team and played different roles. we can compare a patrick ewing and barkley because we can safely say both can be in the same sentence at least, the same discussion. darko milicic will never be in a barkley/ewing discussion, so bring up the ring aspect makes no sense in that case.

    i hope this made sense, and this is my thought process on the matter. lebron made good points, but not great ones.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 18, 2013 at 10:05 PM

      You are right.

  11. doctorfootball - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    “rings don’t always define someone’s career”

    That’s exactly what I would expect someone who doesn’t have multiple rings to say

  12. gofishus - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Rings are not the only measure, and neither are MVPs. If Rings were the only measure, then Bill Russell would be the GOAT. If MVPs were the only measure, then Kareem Abdul Jabbar would be the greatest ever. However, Michael Jordan has that combination of Rings, MVPs, Finals MVPs, dominance, and impact that no other player can match. Its everything put together.

  13. kerbyjr1 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    It’s not about the rings so why run your ass to south beach to get one

  14. montanecap - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    LeBron shouldn’t feel badly. He needs to look no farther than MJ’s team to see how badly MJ judges talent. If MJ thinks you are good, you should worry.

  15. cantonbound13 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    When you want to compare yourself with the all time greats, championships are the difference.
    Jordan- 6 rings
    Magic- 5 rings
    Kareem- 6 rings
    Kobe- 5 rings
    Larry Bird- 4 rings

  16. montanecap - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Anyone who plays basketball knows that LeBron is an all around great player, and Kobe is just a scorer, by his own admission. LeBron can score, he is a gifted passer, he is a strong defender, and he makes the players around him better. Kobe can’t win unless everyone around him is also playing exceptionally well, as witnessed by what’s happening this year.

  17. asublimeday - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    Someone is confused with what year it is. Last year is over. And the Heat have not beaten the Knicks this year. So yes, they still need to get past the Knicks, boy.
    Lets not go around calling people “boy”. This isn’t a Klan rally.

    • 00maltliquor - Feb 16, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      TWO Klan references in the comment sections in one day! Oh boy!

  18. justwannawinna - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    I mean though Lebron has made a good argument, the fact still remains when he went to Miami he promised multiple rings and as the best player on the planet i think he shouldnt go back on that now.
    And as for Jordan, someone get this guy away from a mic please, he was the Greatest of all time but with dumb things like this that he says now is exactly why the Bobcats dont want him coaching or in as the GM. The question was Kobe or Lebron right now? Kobe whose been trying to be as good or better than jordan has won 3 rings with the most dominant player at the time, Shaq. Two of those yes it was his team and he did show up as the best on the court.
    Now at Lebrons angle. At cleveland the best player, was MVP twice and carried his team on his back with a very weak roster, something Kobes shown that he cant do( look at the two seasons after Shaq left when he demanded a trade me or get me a better team) but management refused to get him a true 2nd guy or atleast a formidable lineup so he doesnt have to do everything like what the lakers did with Kobe ( Gasol and a LONG list of players that were atleast decent) Lebron finally couldnt take anymore and left. He went to two finals since and won 1. Hes most probably on his way to 2 rings seeing as how hes just realizimg his potential and keeps getting better.

    So MJ would u want presently an old and ball hog Kobe or a better passer and younger better overall Lebron?
    Because if it ultimately came down to titles you would only come after the old celtics with russell.

  19. trimaster1 - Feb 18, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Kobe is near the end of his career. Lebron is just now entering his prime. I could see if they were the exact age and entered the league at the exact same time, but they didn’t.

    It’s best to wait until the end of Lebron’s career to have this debate.

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