Mar 27, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
LeBron James put Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson on his NBA Mount Rushmore. And he said someone would have to come off to make room for himself. So, we’re already up to five players.
But what about Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell?
Another all-time great who at least belongs in the discussion, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, takes up their cases.
Abdul-Jabbar, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“LeBron James was talking about how he’s the best ever, but he never saw Wilt play,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “If he had, he wouldn’t say that. Whenever he averages 55 points a game, then I might want to listen to what he has to say. I’m not trying to put LeBron down. He’s awesome. He’s the best player in this era at this point. But he didn’t see Bill Russell play. When his team wins eight consecutive NBA championships, maybe I’ll compare him to Bill Russell.”
LeBron is quickly climbing the list of all-time greats, but he’s passed neither Chamberlain nor Russell. Chamberlain and Russell are two of the best players in NBA history, and they’re rightfully remembered as such. They’ve also completed their careers.
LeBron deserves a chance to pass them as he keeps playing. If Abdul-Jabbar sets the standards, though, he never will.
LeBron can’t compete with numbers produced in another era.
Yes, Chamberlain scored 50.4 points per game in 1961-62 (shy of the 55 Abdul-Jabbar credits him for) – in large part (literally) because he was ahead of his time. In his first season, the NBA had only one other 7-footer, Walter Dukes. Only one season in Chamberlain’s career did more than half his opponents have a single 7-footer.
Now, there are 40 7-footers in the NBA.
Here’s how far the number of 7-footers per team during Chamberlain’s career (purple) fell short of the bar set this season (gold):
LeBron has a tremendous physical advantage over his opponents. His combination of size, speed and agility is unmatched in NBA history. But it doesn’t compare to Chamberlain’s advantage.
Russell too had a era-related advantage. During his run of eight straight titles, there were eight or nine teams in the NBA. Now, there are 30.
Beating a field of 30 for a championship is, all other factors equal, more impressive than beating a field of eight or nine.
Numbers are a valuable tool in ranking players, but it’s never easy to compare eras. Using the numbers as Abdul-Jabbar does – insurmountable bars – gets us nowhere.
It wasn’t always better back in the day. It was just different.
Report: Tom Thibodeau not interested in coaching Pelicans (because he fears Anthony Davis leaving), Magic or Nuggets
May 29, 2015, 10:21 AM EDT
My money is on Davis outlasting Pelicans’ next coach in New Orleans
May 29, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT
Gokul Venkatachalam predicts Cavaliers in 6
May 29, 2015, 9:08 AM EDT
Iowa State coach reportedly had concerns about NBA jump due to health
May 29, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
They want Fred Hoiberg, but does he want them?
Report: Kevin Love going to “look around” this summer as free agent; Celtics, Lakers, Rockets possible
May 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
I expect Love will stay with the Cavaliers this summer, but a lot of people around the league are not so convinced.
John Wall kicked off plane in Las Vegas after someone in his group allegedly threatened another passenger
May 29, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
No charges were filed, but …
Bulls GM: Permission would have been granted for other teams to talk to Thibodeau, but ‘nobody called’
May 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Maybe because they knew Thibodeau would be available eventually.
May 28, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Tough to see him as a stronger candidate than at least two others. Unless …
May 28, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
Thompson was throwing up after the game.
May 28, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Players supposedly said they’d avoid team facility this summer if Thibodeau remained the head coach.
May 28, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
How this was handled raises questions.
May 28, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Thibodeau was fired as Bulls head coach on Thursday.
May 28, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Wade wants a bigger contract when he opts out this summer.
May 28, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
The 2012 first-round pick has played in three NBA games.
May 28, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Okay Bulls, now find someone better.
Bulls front office on Tom Thibodeau firing: “We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we won a championship”
May 28, 2015, 4:28 PM EDT
The team believes not beating the Cavaliers was a missed opportunity.
May 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
As he should
May 28, 2015, 2:42 PM EDT
American president tweets about LeBron James and J.R. Smith
May 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
Two words: Vivek Ranadivé
May 28, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Clippers center reportedly interested in signing with Dallas
- Three coaches who may replace Tom Thibodeau in Chicago 5
- Report: Kevin Love going to “look around” this summer as free agent; Celtics, Lakers, Rockets possible 16
- PBT Extra: Did Chicago make the right move in firing Thibodeau? 22
- Bulls front office on Tom Thibodeau firing: “We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we won a championship” 11
- Bulls fire Tom Thibodeau 62
- Dwight Howard: “I’m still a champion. And I won’t let anyone tell me anything different.” 72
- Rockets had an excellent season. Are they content with that? 22
- Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years 43