With his second gold medal, LeBron James became one of fifteen NBA players to win the Olympic basketball tournament twice. More impressively, he joined a special and elite club that now only he, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are members in, of players who have the NBA title and the Olympic title in the same summer.
In fact, Pippen has done this twice. Once in 1992, first taking the NBA title, the second in the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat, against the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, followed by the memorable, almost legendary now in status run with the original dream team, sweeping away the competition and winning by an average of 43.8 points per game. Jordan, as if anyone needed reminding, was also a member of that team.
Jordan and James also have the distinction of being the only players to win an NBA title, Olympic gold medal, regular season MVP and finals MVP, all in about three months.
For years later, after the Bulls set a new record for wins in a regular season (72-10) and winning the NBA title, beating the Seattle Supersonics in six games, Pippen was a member of Dream Team III, that didn’t have Jordan but is considered by many to be the second greatest incarnation of an USA team with NBA players, often being forgotten in the debate of who could beat the first dream team.
That team won their games by an average margin of ‘only’ 31.8 points per game.And with LeBron James thrown into this equation, the usual debate about him and Jordan is obviously something that comes up. But what about Scottie Pippen? How does he rank in comparison with James, being a player with no MVP awards, but six NBA titles, a 3 time All-NBA first teamer and 8-time All-Defensive first team member,
Nearly two years ago, we had our version of the NBA’s top 10 small forwards of all time. Scottie Pippen came up fifth on our rankings, behind Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving. In hindsight, maybe Pippen should be number 3 on that list, but what’s done is done, until the next list. James, as of November 2010, wasn’t on the list. Not because of lack of talent. Remember, he just won two MVP awards, but failed once again to get past the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs. Two years later, and some would argue he’s the greatest in his position, ever.
But talent and potential isn’t all that you can ride on. What a player achieved and the longevity of his greatness has to be a factor in all of this. James, with his 3 MVP awards and one NBA title, is now entering his tenth NBA season. There’s no longer any discussion about whether he’s the best NBA player in the league, a title that probably belongs to him over the last four years, MVP award or not, or his future place in the hall of fame and among the legends of the game.
But greatest Small Forward? Not yet. First, James isn’t exactly only a ‘3’. He played plenty as a power forward in Miami’s small-ball during the postseason and is the de facto point guard of the Heat most of the time. So was Bird for the Celtics during their great years. In terms of pure basketball talent and athleticism, I guess James would finish ahead of anyone, in any kind of list. Maybe even ahead of Jordan. But he needs a bit more years of being great. Maybe another ring or two, because it’s not only about what he achieved; it has a lot to do with what the player could have achieved and if he lived up to the expectations.
Last season, James finally added the piece everyone was waiting for him to get. Now, he needs to polish and upgrade his accomplishment list so he can truly be remembered as the greatest to ever play the position, and maybe, a little further down the line, the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball.