Unless you either absolutely hate sports or live under the proverbial rock, I know that somewhere, somehow you have heard about the stratospheric level of play of one LeBron James.
The Cleveland forward is having a tour-de-force performance in the 2018 NBA playoffs, averaging approximately 40 points and double figures in rebounds and assists. James is doing this while completing his 15th season at the professional level.
Shoot, in Game One of the NBA Finals against a stacked Golden State Warriors lineup, King James went for 51 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in an overtime loss to the Warriors. Unbelievable.
James’ performance both in the season and playoffs has brought about the ultimate debate; is LeBron James the best basketball player in history? More specifically, is James better than His Airness, one Michael Jeffrey Jordan?
This debate has set off a firestorm of sorts online with many people drawing the line in the sand in defense of whom they think is the best ever. Many people have taken stats and used them in their argument for or against their player. The funny thing is I didn’t know half of these stats existed, and to beat that I’ve been a sports nut since age 8! You’d think I’d happened over some of these stats. Nope.
But after reading all the James/MJ banter online has gotten me to thinking about this simple question; why can we as sports fans not appreciate greatness when we see it?
Don’t get me wrong. Recognizing greatness is completely different than recognizing your favorite player in a respective sport. I can tell you without a doubt that James and Jordan have to be considered among the elite basketball players ever, probably in the top five. But that doesn’t make either of them my favorite players. Truthfully, I lean toward Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and David Robinson as my all-time favorites. However, I totally respect the ability and accomplishments of LBJ and MJ.
Further, there is truly no specific criteria for defining who is better than who when defining “the greatest.” Some people say the player that has won the most championship rings is the bottom line. While Jordan has six rings and James has three (both great accomplishments), Boston center and all-time great Bill Russell has 11 of them. So does that make Russell the best ever?
Some make the case for stats in defining whom is greater. While there is no doubt how great Jordan was flying through the stratosphere and averaging around 30 points per game or how James is 6-9 270 and has guard skills and is averaging nearly a triple double, what about the great Wilt Chamberlain? Don’t believe me? Look up some film on him. He was a once in a lifetime freak of nature and scored 100 points in a game. His stat line was one of sheer brilliance. Does that make him the best ever?
See where I am going?
Look, I’m not here to try and convince you that one player is better than the other. Far from it. What I’m trying to get you to see is greatness is relative. I was raised in the late 80s and early 90s. My perspective of greatness is probably colored completely different than someone whose experiences come from the 2000s. And that’s okay. We all have different views on sports and that makes it fun to debate. But don’t let debates cause you to miss out on appreciating greatness as it is happening.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports writer living in Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact Shane via email at email@example.com, Twitter @shack_daddy_1, or Facebook.