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: ‘No scenario’ where Kawhi Leonard will pursue offer sheets as a restricted free agent this summer
Apr 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Spurs and Leonard are a perfect match.
Mavericks coach Carlisle rips officials, claims ‘there’s too much physical stuff going on’ after Game 3 loss to Rockets
Apr 25, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Apr 25, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Pierce did the same thing to the Raptors a year ago when he was with the Nets.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team now.
Apr 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
These feel like Stephen Curry’s playoffs.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:28 AM EDT
Leonard was fantastic at both ends of the court.
Apr 25, 2015, 12:18 AM EDT
The Wizards are moving on. That’s the Truth.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Dwight Howard grabbed 26 rebounds, too.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Portland, down 0-2 to Memphis, needs all the help it can get.
Apr 24, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
NBA continues its technological push.
Apr 24, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Parker is going to finish his degree at Duke.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
The Warriors eventually won in overtime regardless.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Looking past the first round to some of the more exciting later matchups to come.
Apr 24, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The long-running rift continues.
Apr 24, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
He’s got to coach whoever they draft anyway, why not?
LeBron James on why Kevin Love gets criticized: ‘When you have a big three, they’ve got to find someone’
Apr 24, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
With Heat, it was Chris Bosh
Apr 24, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Aron Baynes doubtful
Apr 24, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Spurs assistant coach achieved incredible success in Europe
Apr 24, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT
Which is ridiculous
Apr 24, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
Despite the chess match going on, guys still have to just hit their looks.
- PBT Extra: Stephen Curry starting to have his defining playoff moments 8
- Behind 32 points from Kawhi Leonard, Spurs rout Clippers to take 2-1 series lead 13
- The Truth (and Marcin Gortat) will set Washington free, up 3-0 on Toronto after win 6
- James Harden scores 42 points to lead Rockets to Game 3 win, 3-0 series lead over Mavericks 17
- Why can’t the Pelicans foul in a timely manner? 7
- PBT Extra: No Rajon Rondo, no Chandler Parsons, Dallas is in trouble vs. Houston 6
- Stephen Curry hits ridiculous corner three to force OT (VIDEO) 18