Talent and even individual accomplishments like MVP awards and incredible statistics won’t help LeBron James on his quest to become recognized as the greatest player in NBA history, unless he wins that sixth NBA championship ring.
The discussion around the G.O.A.T subject is slightly skewed. Michael Jordan doesn’t have more MVP awards than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He doesn’t have more championships than Bill Russell. And yet it seems that anytime someone tries to pierce through that unblemished armor of ‘best basketball player ever’, some fact or numbers gets thrown in the air and it’s over.
The truth is, that no number can quantify or distinguish someone as the greatest. It comes down to subjectivity, and the popular opinion for the last 20 years is that no one comes close to Jordan. His body of work, from scoring titles to Finals MVPs (six) to regular season MVPs (five) and to two three-peats with the Chicago Bulls are just the cover for what’s inside, which is the most dominant non-center to ever play the game, be it by being mentally about the rest of the playing field or his unique physical abilities.
LeBron James has gotten over the same hurdles Michael Jordan faced, at least in terms of perception – turning into a better defender; an outside, more efficient shooter. James has also faced the ‘clutch’ issue numerous times during his career. The obsession around his ability to perform well in the final minutes of close games drove so many people beyond the edge of reason to the point his execution and mistakes in the fourth quarter of an All-Star game were used to justify a certain stand people had against him.
The MVPs don’t matter, and James, with four right now, is well on pace to tie things up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and if he remains at this level (turning 29 this season), he might be able to set a new record when it comes to regular season excellence. As Scottie Pippen once said only to take it back, he just might be a better player than Jordan. But there’s a good chance he’ll never be recognized for it.
Even though basketball is a team sport, with lineups of five players and a bench of 7 more, that’s all forgotten when the number of championships are being measured. Kobe Bryant has five of them, but he played with Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol among others. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc. James has Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at his side. You need great players around you to win in the NBA, no matter how good you are.
James knows that unless he wins at least two more championship rings, he’s out of the discussion, or at least getting no more than minority votes. Is it his dream to be “crowned” as the greatest? Probably. However, in the un-fair and unwritten rule book of NBA myth and lore arguments, Michael Jordan is at a place where it’s almost blasphemy to touch and possibly alter his status.