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Kareem says Oscar Robertson better than Jordan or LeBron

Oct 3, 2013, 7:18 PM EDT

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While most current NBA fans give Michael Jordan the nod in the hypothetical “best player ever” competition, but a lot of that is simply due to timing — most hoops fans alive today saw him play, or have heard the mythology of his era at least.

Basketball is a game that is hard to compare across eras and generations and most of us didn’t see the greats of the 1960s or 1970s play. Those that did have the same bias for the players of their generation as people who came of age in the 1990s do for Jordan.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on ESPN’s Collin Cowherd radio show on Thursday and was asked about the greatest — and he went with the first major star he ever played with (transcription via LakersNation).

“LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome — but I think Oscar Robinson would have kicked them both in the behind,” said Abdul-Jabbar when asked about James and Jordan. “Absolutely. Oscar was awesome. He had brains. [...] He had all the skills.

“He could rebound and box out guys four and six inches taller than him. He was ruggedly built. He had fluid, quickness, and just understood the game. No flair, he just got the job done every night. Who’s going to average double figures in points, assists and rebounds?”

I don’t think anybody sane questions that Oscar Robertson belongs among the all-time greats. He is a perfect example of why the “rings” argument is a poor judge of a player — he carried bad teams pretty far, not winning until he was past his prime but Kareem joined him in Milwaukee. Robertson AVERAGED a triple double 1962, he was ridiculously good. He should be front and center in the Hall of Fame. But he also played in an era when the pace of the game was much faster, which boost his per-game numbers.

How does he stack up to Jordan and LeBron? I don’t know. I wasn’t alive when Robertson was at his peak and the grainy Youtube footage of him likely does not do his game justice.

It’s easy to say Jordan is the best or LeBron could challenge them, or that Magic Johnson belongs in the conversation, because we saw them — not in an unbiased way, but we saw them. We can form conclusions we just can’t with Robertson.

By the way, the guy always shortchanged in the GOAT conversation in Kareem himself.

  1. whitdog23 - Oct 4, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    glaring misspelling in final sentence ruins an otherwise good read. SMH proof read

  2. rumar1989 - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    Sportsfan18, andKB2408, Shooting Percentages Kobe shot in the finals, don’t matter, the other stats is what matters the most, points, assists, &rebounds. So i think that’s wasted analogy of both of yalls parts. KB2408, you mention Kobe was second best player, when Shaq was there, Yea at the time it was Shaq’s team. But as the years went by, It became Kobe’s team, and that’s why the Lakers traded Shaq, so the team can build the team around Kobe, cause it was his time to be the leader of
    the team. Kobe since Shaq was traded, won 2 titles, Shaq 1. Still Kobe has more chances to get another ring, to even Shaq with 3 rings as Laker leader. You two guys, should remember, that it’s not about the type of percentage that you shoot in the finals, but its the other stats, points, rebounds, and assists, is what decides the finals mvp, for the series.

  3. milkcan44 - Oct 4, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    In Robertson’s day hand-checking was legal and part of the game. Much tougher defense with more 7-footers to go through to get to the basket. Besides the biggest stars – Lanier, Bellamy, Thurmond, etc. Today’s players more mobile, not as tough.

    • sdlakerfan - Oct 4, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      milkcan – agree, the comments about fg% don’t take into consideration that hand-checking was a big part of the game.

      Cool topic and I did see them all play – starting in the late 60’s at least.

      From my perspective, the Big O was a smaller, smarter, and less athletic version of Lebron and the great player Lebron most resembles.

      For my money, the GOAT is Magic, Bill Russell, Kareem, or Jordan

      If I was starting a team and could choose one of the above it would be Magic or Russell. I think they’re tops in making the players around them better and instilling the kind of teamwork it takes to win championships. These guys all won championships in college and the NBA.

      Jordan is the most skilled individual player.

      2nd tier would be: Dr J, Kobe, Wilt (most overrated), Bird, West, Robertson, Havlicek (most underrated), Shaq, Lebron, Duncan

      Lebron may be worthy of moving up to the 1st tier at some point. Honorable mention to Wade, Malone, and a few others

      …and apologies – I’m sure I missed two or three 2nd tier guys.

    • 618t - Oct 4, 2013 at 7:48 PM

      milkcan44- totally agree with your comment about more 7 footers. Add this as well not only were there more 7 footers but teams had true power forwards to go along side those 7 footers.

  4. lemfaxx - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    ….better than jordan, lebron & kobe… is he afraid to say that….

  5. phoenix - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    It was a much more physical game back back back. So those of you talking about shooting averages need to understand that the rules changes over the years have mostly favored the offense. Last year when Chicago broke Miami’s winning streak LeBron got pissed off and slammed into Boozer. Boozer, who barely moved, looked at LeBron incredulously as to say WTF…..and that was just one play. Sorry folks, although the athletes of today are modern marvels of physicality, they would mostly get their asses kicked by those old guys.

    • antistratfordian - Oct 9, 2013 at 4:42 AM

      Hey… Carlos Boozer is a big, strong dude himself (FOR YOU). He’s walking around at 6’9 270. Nobody from 1962 is messin’ with either LeBron or Boozer. Not happening.

      About that play: LeBron was frustrated because the Bulls were trying to LeBron Rules him. Yes, LeBron typically faces standard “Jordan Rules” treatment from teams in almost every game. But Chicago took it to another level. Thibs newer “LeBron Rules” is an update from your everyday Jordan Rules in that the unnecessary physical roughness is not only multiplied but, unlike the Bad Boys Pistons version, it’s now backed with a legal zone defense.

      Jordan never lashed out at the Pistons physically on the court like that though – he just took it, and then talked trash about them in the press between games. But LeBron will push back (Danny Granger was about 2 inches away from having his nose moved to the side of his face by LeBron’s elbow because of his tough guy antics). James doesn’t worry about putting a dent in his shoe sales like MJ did.

      In any case, I leave you with this:

      “The players today can do things they couldn’t do twenty years ago… [we're] bigger, faster players who jump higher.”

      That’s a quote from Michael Jordan in the 80’s stating the obvious (pg 62, Jordan Rules). It still applies – but now we’re talking 1962 to 2013 so that’s 51 years ago. Those boys from ’62 wouldn’t stand a chance in any aspect.

  6. imakcds - Oct 9, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    who’s better than…who’s the Best player….
    that’s all debateable.
    I saw everyone from the early 60’s on
    And I start my team with Magic Johnson and build around him.

    • antistratfordian - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      Better hope Magic comes with Kareem, Worthy/Wilkes and Cooper.

      I think Magic has too many holes in his game to want to build a team around him out of everybody. If you start with Magic, you’re still without one good defender. If you start with Magic, you’re still without one good shooter. Etc. No matter how many good defenders and shooters you add, you could’ve had one more if you started with someone else.

      I’d go with LeBron. He has Magic’s playmaking ability and he’s better at everything else. You have so much less ground to cover if you start with James because he does everything very well and can fill any need.

      For example, with Jordan, you need a Pippen (lead in assists, key defender) and a Grant/Rodman (lead in rebounding) or else Mike may not even make it out of the first round. But, unlike MJ, LeBron has led multiple championship teams in scoring, rebounding and assists himself – he doesn’t need other guys to come in and do those things for him.

      Start with LeBron and you’re already so far ahead of everyone else.

      • revo74 - Oct 30, 2013 at 9:02 PM

        Magic was a better defender than you give him credit for. He lead the NBA in steals two years in a row and was an excellent defensive rebounder. The guy was 6’9” tall and was forced to cover smaller, quicker point-guards every night. That’s very difficult, but he managed. His team defense was excellent though.

        Magic wasn’t a great shooter early in his career, but he became a very, very good shooter by the middle of his career and on. His career FG% was .520, which is much higher than the Big O, Jordan, Bird, Lebron or whoever. Bottom line, he was a very efficient scorer.

        Magi was also very clutch. WAAAAAAAY more than LeBron will ever be. If it wasn’t for Bosh’s big time rebound and Ray Allen’s huge 3 pointer the Heat would of lost to the Spurs in 6. LeBron came that close to being 1-3 in the NBA finals, he’s 2-2 as it is. Magic, as a 20 year old rookie was in the NBA finals when Kareem suffered a severe ankle sprain and was knocked out of the series. Everyone thought that Dr J and the 76ers would win game 6 and force a game 7, likely winning that too. Magic ended up starting at center and played all 5 positions. He scored 42 points on 14-23 shooting (.608%), was 14-14 from the line, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steal and 1 block shot. He won MVP and a championship! 20 year old rookie! Who else in NBA history even came close to putting up that kind of performance in a clinching game of a final, let alone while being that young and a rookie? NOBODY!

        Magic has 5 rings, 3 league MVP’s and took his team to 9 championships in 12 years. People forget he could have easily won 6 just like Jordan with a 3 peat. He beat the Celtics in 87 and Detroit in 88. In 89 in a rematch vs Detroit he pulled his hamstring in game 1 and was knocked out of the series. If he played good chance they would have beaten Detroit again and he would have had 6 rings with a 3 peat.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 3, 2013 at 6:10 PM

        Leading the league in steals doesn’t make you a good defender… in fact it could mean the exact opposite because you’re probably gambling too often, getting way out of position. That severely weakens the defense behind you because now all your teammates have to rotate out of position to make up for your gamble. Allen Iverson led the league in steals several times and he was not a good defender.

        “If it wasn’t for Bosh’s big time rebound and Ray Allen’s huge 3 pointer the Heat would of lost to the Spurs in 6.”

        No. If it wasn’t for headband-less LeBron completely taking over the 4th quarter of Game 6 there wouldn’t have been any Bosh rebound or Ray Allen three – the Heat would’ve lost by double digits in regulation.

        LeBron had a 32 point triple double in that game, 18 of his 32 points coming in the 4th quarter and OT. Ray Allen scored 9 points. Don’t get it twisted, homeslice.

        As far as clutch – Magic doesn’t have ANY clutch playoff games that competes with LeBron’s best. Not even his finals game as a rookie. Let me explain: There was not the type of pressure on young Magic in that situation as there has been for LeBron – Magic’s entire legacy wasn’t on the line then then like it has been for James – he was just a young kid playing loose and free.

        Magic has never delivered under the type of pressure and insane scrutiny that LeBron has been consistently delivering through – in fact, no one has. Not Jordan, not Magic, not Bird, not anyone. Just LeBron.

        The overload of pressure, attention and scrutiny actually started to become overwhelming for Jordan as early as 1992 – when he first considered retirement. And LeBron is dealing with at least twice that and playing through it at an insanely high level.

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