Where Does LeBron James Rank Among The Greatest Players Of All Time?

A week ago, this question would have been much easier to answer. Without a championship ring under his belt, LeBron James is merely an explosive all-round forward, a physical specimen and a great player. That is not to say that such a description isn’t impressive, but in the history of NBA many have been considered “great.”

With a ring under his belt however, LeBron James has vaulted himself onto a list of some of the greatest NBA players of all time. Many will argue that he isn’t quite there yet, and that is debatable, but no one can argue that his dominating performances throughout the 2011-2012 playoffs didn’t give him an extraordinary boox.

To begin, it would be advantageous to list players that are definitely above LeBron James. Also, I apologize in advance if certain legends are omitted, but due to the sheer number of greats, it would impossible to compare LeBron to every single one.

1. Michael Jordan
2. Wilt Chamberlain
3. Bill Russell
4. Shaquille O’Neal
5. Oscar Robertson
6. Magic Johnson
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
8. Tim Duncan
9. Larry Bird
10. Kobe Bryant
11. Jerry West
12. Elgin Baylor
13. Hakeem Olajuwon
14. Bob Petit
15. Moses Malone
16. Julius Erving

At this point, LeBron James does not have the combination of championships, longevity or accolades to match any of the above legends. I feel that Julius Erving is a very interesting comparison as both he and James have similar statistics, and were/are both dominant small forwards of their era.

Of course, they played distinctively different styles of basketball and Dr. J has 3 rings whereas LeBron has but 1. Another interesting comparison is the ‘Big O’ aka Oscar Robertson as he did in fact play a similar style to LeBron James. Robertson was and still is the only player to ever average a triple double for an entire cumulative season, which is something LeBron James has not and likely will never do in today’s modern era.

Moving on, these players after I felt could be comparable to LeBron:

17. John Havlicek
18. Karl Malone
19. Isiah Thomas
20. Charles Barkley
21. Rick Barry
22. John Stockton
23. Elvin Hayes
24. Bob Cousy
25. David Robinson
26. Kevin McHale
27. Scottie Pippen
28. Jason Kidd
29. George Mikan
30. Kevin Garnett

Many of these greats played a different position than LeBron, making comparisons more difficult. If greatness is measured by the number of championships though, LeBron would pull ahead of Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkeley and arguably Jason Kidd.

Of course, on the other hand, many of the above also won multiple championships, some with more than 5. The thing is however, that many of them, including George Mikan, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy and Elvin Hayes, all played in eras with fewer teams and many more dynasties. Comparing through statistics would also be difficult as it is well known that players in the modern era realistically do not come close to statistics of the 60’s and 70’s.

In my analysis, I eventually came to the conclusion thatJames should indeed be #31. Here are some players below that rank:

32. Willis Reed
33. Wes Unseld
34. Nate Thurmond
35. Dolph Schayes
36. Walt Frazier
37. Patrick Ewing
38. Jerry Lucas
39. Gary Payton
40. Allen Iverson
41. Billy Cunningham
42. Clyde Drexler
43. Dominique Wilkins
44. Dave Cowens
45. George Gervin
46. Bob McAdoo
47. Earl Monroe
48. Dennis Rodman
49. Dwyane Wade

I came to that conclusion by comparing Kevin Garnett and LeBron James and decided that KG has been the more dominant player throughout his career when considering longevity and entire careers. I do believe however, that LeBron will vault up the list as his career progresses and the question therefore begins to focus on to what point?

My own guess is that LeBron should easily pass by the likes of Malone and Stockton with more championships and him being a player in the modern era will push him above the older legends due to the difficulties associated with winning a ring in today’s game. How many rings James ultimately wins will determine how high he goes, assuming his stats remain what they have been up to this point.

It would be difficult to see James passing fellow modern day superstar Kobe Bryant, but the great Michael Jordan also peaked late, so all is not lost for LeBron.

As this topic is highly debatable, it would be nice to hear what you, the readers think.

Leave your comments below and tell us where LeBron should rank among the NBA’s greatest players.

Source: A list of NBA legends can be found at Interbasket