Maybe you’ve engaged with it on Twitter. Maybe you’ve shouted back-and-forth about it in a crowded bar, back when bars could still be crowded. Maybe you tossed around theories at half-time of the NBA Finals.
In all likelihood, though, you’ve run into it: Who is the greatest of all-time?
Few players in the modern NBA have had the narrative of their careers shaped by the discourse the way LeBron James has. When you are anointed “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated as a high schooler, and then go on to spend the next 17 seasons habitually surpassing those expectations, it’s all-but unavoidable.
According to Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, a four-time NBA champion who knows a thing or two about greatness himself, fans aren’t the only ones who’ve thought about where James ranks on those all-time lists.
“I know LeBron and I know he thinks about what people think,” O’Neal said during an appearance on CBS Sports’ All Things Covered podcast. “So right now he has four (championships). Once he gets five — just think about it, he already passed Kobe (Bryant) and (Michael) Jordan in points. Once he gets five championships, now he’ll be closer to the GOAT.”
The moment LeBron made history
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— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 31, 2020
The GOAT, basketball’s greatest of all-time, is often thought to be Jordan, a man whose on-court achievements have grown from wins and losses into basketball mythology. However, depending on the criteria being considered, other Hall-of-Fame names enter the conversation.
Eleven-time NBA champion Bill Russell set a standard for team success that will likely never be eclipsed. Bryant’s polarizing magnetism made him the most iconic star for a generation of Los Angeles fans in a city that is no stranger to flashy names. Wilt Chamberlain’s season-averages, including a year in which he posted 50.7 points and 25.7 rebounds, strain belief. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set what once looked to be an unassailable all-time points record.
James just turned 36 years old. Even though the twilight of his brilliant career has, so far, defied the notion that Father Time cannot be defeated, the window for James to cement his place atop that list is likely closing — but it hasn’t, yet.
“As he gets to five (championships), he’s gonna be creeping up on Kareem too (in points),” O’Neal said. “I think he’s looking to pass Kareem, right, to get to 39,000 and then that’ll automatically put him as the best player.
“..I think LeBron is looking to tie Kobe and tie Jordan with championships, and I think he is looking to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabar. The conversation probably will change.”