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.
Mar 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Clippers would need to ink Robinson for the rest of the season, but are waiting to see how quickly he can return after a recent knee injury.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Speights said the Warriors knew the Wizards would quit after Golden State beat them recently, and Washington’s coach responds.
Mar 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Brooklyn is a half-game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Mar 26, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Crawford has been dealing with a calf bruise.
Mar 26, 2015, 6:26 PM EDT
The NBA is the only major sports league featured.
Mar 26, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Mutombo had previously denied it.
Mar 26, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
The Wizards have become stagnant in recent weeks.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Woodson is an assistant with the Clippers now.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Mar 26, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Timofey Mozgov in a backward jersey? Timofey Mozgov in a backward jersey
Mar 26, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Houston own’s Llull’s draft rights
Mar 26, 2015, 1:06 PM EDT
Jazz center makes it look easy
Mar 26, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
Thunder guard again confrontational in post-game interview
Mar 26, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
Jazz guard just suddenly went down
Mar 26, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
Spurs big man apparently earned $100 by making 3-pointer against Thunder
Mar 26, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
Referees miss blatant out of bounds call, clock momentarily stops before restarting
Mar 26, 2015, 9:47 AM EDT
The best matchup of the weekend may be Jakob Poeltl vs. Jahlil Okafor.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:08 AM EDT
That might be fair, but what about all Love’s reasons for being frustrated with Cavaliers?
Mar 26, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Mavericks owner reverses course
Mar 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Raptors crumble in fourth quarter during loss to Chicago
- NBA Draft prospect matchups to watch in NCAA Tourament this weekend 1
- Report: LeBron James frustrated with Kevin Love for not fitting in 79
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Kevin Love seems to be fitting in just fine suddenly 4
- It’s official: Dwight Howard will return to Rockets’ lineup Wednesday 2
- Dwyane Wade on MVP race: “I would say James Harden” 27
- Report: Rockets’ Patrick Beverley has torn ligament in wrist, to decide course in 7-10 days 2
- Derrick Rose expects to be cleared for contact soon, says he feels no pain in right knee 9
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: Warriors win Pacific Division, may win much more 20