A friend recently said his son wanted to know who was better, Kobe or LeBron. He went on to challenge me by saying, “Okay Laker fan…Magic right? Kareem?”
Why must everyone insist on having one athlete be better than another? As time goes on it’s inevitable someone else will always come along to claim the title of “most dominant” because athletic prowess is susceptible to aging.
The NBA is littered with dominant athletes throughout it’s history. The real debate probably started with Wilt Chamberlain. He’s the only player in NBA history to average more than 40 and 50 points in a season or score a 100 points in a single NBA game. His titles include scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and even assists.
Then along came Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (aka Lew Alcindor). The dunk was banned from college ball after the 1967 season because Alcindor was so dominant with that particular shot. His skyhook is the opposite in demeanor but no more defendable. Many of Kareem’s individual records at UCLA still stand, which is amazing considering freshman were ineligible to play varsity (so his numbers are from only three years of play), not to mention all the athletes who’ve gone through that basketball machine since. Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time leading NBA scorer with 38,387 points. He won six championships, was named regular season MVP six times and Finals MVP twice. Kareem played in a record nineteen NBA All-Star games and played in the league for twenty years retiring at the age of 42 in 1989.
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and some guy named Michael Jordan. At one time or another the argument has been made each is the best player, but when it comes to dominance, Jordan is at the top of the list.
His biography on the official NBA website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.” Jordan “three-peated” with the Chicago Bulls winning back-to-back-to-back championships, retired in 1993, came back to play for the Washington Wizards for two seasons, then three-peated with the Bulls again before retiring for good in January 1999.
- Led the NBA in scoring in 10 seasons (NBA record)
- Holds the top career and playoff scoring averages of 30.1 and 33.4 points per game, respectively
- Total of 5,987 points in the playoffs is the highest in NBA history
- Retired with 32,292 points, placing him third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and Karl Malone)
- Five regular-season MVPs (tied for second place with Bill Russell; only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has won more, six)
- Six Finals MVPs (NBA record)
- Three All-Star MVPs, Jordan is the most decorated player ever to play in the NBA
When Kobe first came into the league (straight from high school) he was being called “baby Jordan”but many of his young fans have never even seen Michael play. Now that Kobe’s 30, Cleveland fans are itching to pass on the mantle to LeBron James.
It’s one thing to compare athletes who play the same position, like Bill Russell, Chamberlain, Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, but even then not only does the era make a big difference, the “supporting cast” does as well. Michael Jordan had a lot of lean years till Scottie Pippen and the gang arrived (he didn’t win it all with the Wizards). Jabbar and Magic, Bird and Kevin McHale, Shaq and Kobe. It takes a team. The deeper, the better.
My reply to my friend, “Tell your son that Kobe is better…now…but just like MJ was better when Kobe was a youngster…LeBron will also someday take the throne, just not yet. The truly great ones never have anyone who’s just like them (Michael, Magic, Kareem) but they become part of a very exclusive club which recognizes the attributes each one has brought to the game”.
Meanwhile, if the Denver Nuggets and the Orlando Magic have their way, they aim to make folks forget about Bryant and James (at least temporarily), as both teams are still very much contenders to make it to this year’s NBA finals.