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.
Sep 17, 2014, 9:01 AM EDT
He may not start but he will get plenty of run this season.
Sep 17, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Dominique Wilkins is one, but you know the hedge fund guys are in, too.
Dwight Howard’s drivers’ license in Florida suspended, he racked up 10 red light violations in Orlando
Sep 17, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
He has 10 citations for running red lights. Impressive, I don’t care how many sports cars you own.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
Well, it’s better than his golf swing.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:45 PM EDT
There haven’t been many better.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
Germany qualifying for the Olympics, even with Nowitzki, is an uphill battle.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT
It seems fitting.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
Guaranteed Duncan likes this better than another trip to the All-Star Game.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
Half his salary the first year is guaranteed, a sign he is expected to make the final roster.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
We’re sorry to do this to you.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
The guaranteed deal is huge but the Wolves are deep at the three. He’ll struggle to get minutes.
Sep 16, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Orlando also announces signing of Peyton Siva
Sep 16, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Stojakovic’s 3-point bombing made Sacramento better for quite some time
Sep 16, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Kirilenko played by far career-low 19 minutes per game last season
Sep 16, 2014, 1:11 PM EDT
Will the Suns take advantage?
Sep 16, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Mavericks star could help Germany qualify for 2016 Olympics
Sep 16, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA draft square off against each other, expectations
Sep 16, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Williams, who plays both forward positions, now favorite to replace Josh McRoberts in starting lineup
Sep 16, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Plenty of changes, but enough to make the playoffs?
- Dwight Howard’s drivers’ license in Florida suspended, he racked up 10 red light violations in Orlando 2
- Tim Duncan to appear in “The Punisher” comic book 6
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New York Knicks 10
- Klay Thompson’s agent: Thompson better two-way shooting guard than Kobe Bryant 47
- Report: Greg Oden’s drinking an issue during season, alleged domestic assault 29
- Kevin Durant calls Allen Iverson “pound for pound” best ever 29
- PBT Extra: What players looked good at World Cup? 4
- Time for FIBA/NBA to adopt soccer model: Only one major tournament every four years 16