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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. 1972wasalongtimeago - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Lebron is right. But trophies define franchises. 2 out if the last 6 is pretty damn good.

    • LilTmac2003 - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      LeBron is partially right.

      When he said he’ll take Jordan over Robert Horry, that’s obviously true. But the thing about Jordan — why his ‘rings’ mean a lot more — is b/c of the era he was playing in.

      So many HoF players never got a ring b/c of Micheal Jordan. Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Gary Payton, Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, and many more never won a ring (at least during that time period) when Jordan was playing.

      I’m probably the biggest LeBron ‘hater’, but one thing I can’t hate on is the way he’s playing right now. The guy is simply unbelievable. But yet again, I think it’s too early to pick LeBron over Jordan b/c of LeBrons last 6-7 games.

      • rg3isvictory - Feb 17, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        To say its too early to compare Lebron vs Jordan is to give partial creditbility to an absurd argument. Unfortunately there is always somebody in the media looking to dethrone MJ. But there isn’t any legitimate reason for there to be a Lebron vs Jordan discussion.

        Kobe vs Jordan on the other hand is the only one worth having at the moment and we all know that Kobe is never going to get the nod over Jordan. He’ll always be 2nd best, A close 2nd but still 2nd.

        In an era where players are negotiating to create all star teams with their competition, it falls short to the Jordan era, where these guys only join forces during the Olympics and/or All-Star game.

        We have started comparing players to Kobe or Lebron right? We compare them to Jordan. The Jordan who has his own era in the NBA.

        Kobe and Lebron facilitate trades for other All-Star players while Jordan made those around him All-Stars.

  2. davidly - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    LBJ’s analysis is spurious, whether he meant it to be or not: He starts out alright, comparing Russell and Jordan, but veering into Horry and Buechler-land is where he introduces a strawman into the discussion: The “ring argument” is not supposed to be the be-all, end-all; it’s meant to be a deciding factor when comparing one or more guys at the top of the game–whose superior skills to the rest of the league involve unique skill-sets that are difficult to compare otherwise.

    Though, you gotta love how Jordan cleverly distances himself from the competition by making it about who the second best would be.

  3. exhelo1 - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Lack of rings for a great player don’t indicate “wasted potential;” it’s only “wasted” if they had opportunities that they didn’t take advantage of.

  4. Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Of course he says that now, sitting there with one.

  5. Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    The Lakers were nowhere near close to winning any title when Kobe got there. It took them four years and two coaches to build towards it.

    • dacapt704 - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      True..but wouldn’t you say its easier to win with Shaq (who just went to the Finals in 95) & Phil (already with 6 chips) versus Big Z & Mike Brown???

      The playing field was not level…I’d like to see if Kobe could have taken that PUTRID 2007 CLE team to the Finals..

      • Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 4:43 PM

        Sure. I won’t disagree there. Just correcting Kurt and his intentional misstatement of the facts.

      • Kurt Helin - Feb 18, 2013 at 9:55 PM

        Then you agree with my point — the Lakers rookie year they won 56 games. And Kobe was getting 15 minutes a night. That was a good team with Shaq, Eddie Jones, Horry, it just needed to get deeper and come together. The Cavs when Lebron got there were in much worse shape. That is a fact.

  6. brutl - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    I’d take Jordan Farmar over Lebron any day. Count the rings, baby!

  7. Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    Of course he says this, sitting there with one ring. And the Lakers were four years away from being legitimate title contenders when Kobe got there. That Portland should have won that 2000 WCF and were the favorites the year of their first title only further underlines this fact.

  8. acdc363 - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    I mean technically he’s right but Kobe, Jordan and Russell are still in a completely different class than LBJ, Ewing and Miller.

  9. losanginsight - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    LBJ still doesn’t get it. Referring to Russell and Big Shot.. This is why Jordan always picks Kobe. Its about having a Championship mind set.How about we let them both finish their careers then we can compare apples to apples.

  10. daddyghi - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    c’mon lebron! horry and buechler?! we’re talkin about franchise players here, not supporting cast… and besides, jordan was asked to choose between you and kobe… MJ clearly stated that you are the most dominant player at the beginning of the interview, he was refering about championships when he chose kobe… its pretty obvious that 5 is better than one… but talent wise, the whole world knows that youre better than kobe.. would have been better if you just zipped up your mouth and just laughed at MJ’s comments…

    • rg3isvictory - Feb 17, 2013 at 4:31 PM

      Or said ” I agree”. Then everybody, including Jordan know that he understand that he needs at least 5 titles for accurate comparison!!! He takes the high road while also stating his understanding of what it will take to truly be the King. A Champions mindset. Plus, nobody made him call his shot of 7 or 8 Championships. Anything less each year is a total failure on his and the Heats part and he needs to understand that he put that weight on his own shoulders and now needs to carry it.

  11. shaner329 - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Damn Mr. Wright chilllllllll

    Honestly the whole argument is so dumb. They’re both exceptional players and legends. Lebron still has a ways to go to accomplish what Kobe did, but he still has so much time left to do it. Let’s just appreciate this while it lasts

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Feb 16, 2013 at 4:44 PM

      lmao I don’t think anyone disagrees.

  12. buffalowned - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    I keep forgetting that Kobe won all those rings by himself..he was finals mvp every time right lakers fans?

    • teambringitstrong - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      Were you?

      • tuberippin - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        ^Incredibly weak retort.

  13. spthegr8 - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    “Kobe landed on a team close to winning title’s”. That is true Kurt. Cleveland NEVER gave LeBron a Real chance @ winning a title, with the average players they put around him. So for the beginning of LBJ’s career you can say that. But the last 3 years LBJ has had a better “supporting cast” then Kobe has had and it doesn’t look like that is gna change anytime soon. They are BOTH ALL-TIME greats!!! But people need to stop comparing them, cuz they are NOT the same type of player!! Just Saying

  14. progress2011 - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    LBJ is right in EVERY facet of his response.

    I personally think MJ in his older age, see’s for the first time, a guy that can truly surpass his legacy.

    Because of kobe’s career average of 47% shooting, less than average assists and locker room cancer…I don’t believe MJ has ever been concerned about kobe. He’s always knew kobe would not surpass his legacy.

    BUT because LBJ possess so many additional “FUNDAMENTALS” (assists and boards) and every player in the league wants to play with him…..COLLECTIVELY Lebron can threaten Jordans legacy, while he is still alive.

    Jordan being the ultimate competitor has to be a bit nervous….looking over his shoulder and the Bigger, Stronger LBJ coming up FAST in the rear view mirror.

  15. cacsemo - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    lebron should be happy MJ didnt pick him, we all know michael isn’t good at picking players

    • cantonbound13 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      ^that’s funny

  16. jayzus - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    This discussion is so stupid yet it keep coming back like a bad STD.

  17. kb2408 - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    LeBron has a point, not that I’m saying he’s better than Kobe. I make the same argument when people try to say Bill Russell was better than Kareem or Wilt. Russell was great but he was not the equal of those other two centers I mentioned.

    • sdlakerfan - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:47 PM

      I for one believe Russell was better than Wilt. Wilt was always the last guy up the floor, his fav shots other than a dunk was a fallaway bank and a finger roll. He was definitely not the measure of Russell as a defender, bb IQ, or all-around game. West was the best player on the Lakers and the guy with Jordan’s will to win. Proof – West was the only guy to win MVP of the finals while on the losing team…amazing!

  18. logneezy - Feb 16, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    sounds like a loser to me if ive ever heard one.. crybaby lebron at his finest

  19. mack10da - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    why did LeBron leave Cleveland? To chase rings right? so wtf is he talking about when he says rings don’t define a career? shut your mouth LeBron and realize Kobe has 5 and you have 1! LeBron wasn’t good enough to win in Cleveland so he had to call all his friends to get a “dream team” together so he could win and put up all these numbers. He should of went to college cause he’s a dumbass! !!

    • Kurt Helin - Feb 18, 2013 at 10:01 PM

      I hate the LeBron couldn’t win it on his own crap because nobody won it on their own. Jordan had Pippen and Rodman and the best Euro of his day. Magic had Kareem and Worthy. Bird had McHale and Parrish. How many HOFers are on the 60s Celtics? And Kobe had Shaq and Gasol. NOBODY wins it alone. You can hate LeBron for leaving Cleveland but spare me the “he needed help to win” is an insult because everyone needed help to win.

  20. miamatt - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    “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.”
    This is the part of the post I most agree with.

    LeBron’s points are well stated, and, indeed, championships should not be the sole factor considered when looking at a player’s place in the hierarchy, whether we are talking superstars or role players. Still, they are a factor; I just find it unfortunately predicatble that every time LeBron gets on a roll a national “Is he as good as Jordan? Is he better? Could anybody be better than Jordan?” debate begins. At age 28 Jordan had but one title himself; let’s watch this thing play out, take a step back, and then have a real debate.

    • cantonbound13 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:34 PM

      Don’t you think we should wait to label him one of the all time greats after he wins at least 4 rings? If he does that then it is fair to give him that label. What ever happened to earning respect? I guess Chauncey Billups must be one of the all time great point guards, he won a ring.

  21. asublimeday - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    Ha, I bet he did.

  22. dadawg77 - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    Using rings to judge who is in the Hall is dumb. However using rings to determine the GOAT isnt that dumb. Your not saying Lebron isnt great because he only had one ring, but that he isn’t as great as Kobe is. Now that statement major hole is measuring careers that havent ended and are of different lengths.

  23. klownboy - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    I hate to say this LeBron, but rings do define a player’s legacy in ANY sport. You’ll have to win a few to crack the greatest NBA players list.

  24. conjecture101 - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    When discussing all time greats its not about rings alone; It’s about Finals MVPs. That’s what Kobe fanatics don’t really understand. Jordan won 6 Finals MVP’s and it never even took him a game 7 to do it. Kobe Bryant has 2 Finals MVP’s. He’s a great player, he’s just not in the conversation with Jordan.

    • aboogy123456 - Feb 16, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      the finals is only one series out of the 4 that were needed for the lakers to win it all. Shaq was great, but just because he won the finals MVP in 2002 does not mean he was more important than kobe that year. They played the bs nets who had no big men, so obviously the gameplan was go to shaq as much as possible. It’s not like the Nets were the second best team in the league that year, just a bad argument by you.

  25. sdemp - Feb 16, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    LBJ is right, but if you want to be the GOAT than you need the rings to go along with the rest of the accolades.

    LaBron is great, but Oscar Robertson makes his numbers look weak than a bitch. Wilt dominated like no other and Bill Russell won like no other, but there is no other Michael Jordan. And yes, Kobe is in that conversation as is Bird and Magic.

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