Mar 27, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
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.
Dec 29, 2014, 1:14 AM EST
Dallas, San Antonio pickup quality wins.
Dec 29, 2014, 12:18 AM EST
The Knicks next play Wednesday against the Clippers.
Dec 28, 2014, 10:30 PM EST
Flip Saunders said this a few weeks ago, too, but Rubio isn’t ready to stick to a timeline just yet.
LeBron, after Cavaliers lose by 23 at home to Pistons: ‘Right now we are not very good. In every aspect of the game’
Dec 28, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
An ugly home loss to a dismal Detroit team has LeBron telling it like it is.
Dec 28, 2014, 7:30 PM EST
It had been brewing for a while, but it still caught most of us by surprise.
Dec 28, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Nice move by the Lakers, who pick up a promising big man prospect with an inexpensive non-guaranteed contract.
Dec 28, 2014, 4:29 PM EST
Knee injury suffered on Christmas Day will continue to keep Irving sidelined.
Dec 28, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
Bryant has uncharacteristically sat out the previous three games simply to rest.
Dec 28, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
West shoved Garnett at the time, but was in a joking mood afterward.
Dec 28, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Cousins had it all working in this one.
Dec 28, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
It was a risky move by head coach David Blatt.
Dec 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Western Conference ends season with huge advantage, begins another right where it left off
Dec 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
He was an offensive force Saturday. Who knew?
Dec 28, 2014, 12:28 AM EST
The Magic still won the game.
Dec 27, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
Just like Lance… and you really shouldn’t imitate Lance.
Dec 27, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
He’s done it twice in the last two games.
Dec 27, 2014, 8:02 PM EST
A sports hernia kept him out of training camp and the rookie has never caught up with the learning curve.
Dec 27, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
Stephenson has missed the last four games.
Dec 27, 2014, 5:03 PM EST
Will the Lakers’ offense resort to stagnation?
Dec 27, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
Anthony Davis has arrived.
- PBT’s Sunday Night NBA Winners/Losers: Cavaliers shouldn’t hit panic button, may want to locate it 0
- Carmelo Anthony sits out second half vs. Portland with sore knee 2
- LeBron, after Cavaliers lose by 23 at home to Pistons: ‘Right now we are not very good. In every aspect of the game’ 29
- Paul Pierce ‘shocked’ by Celtics trade of Rajon Rondo to Mavericks 16
- Kobe Bryant will return to Lakers lineup Sunday vs. Suns 15
- Kevin Love benched entire fourth quarter of Cavaliers win over Magic 30
- PBT’s Top 10 NBA stories of 2014, No. 10: Anthony Davis’ breakout 22
- Rumor: Ray Allen leaning toward retirement, not return 12