So If Lebron James isn’t #1, Who Is?


Earlier, I wrote about this whole argument thing going on with NBA bloggers, mostly stemming from the ESPN Player Rankings and their conclusion that Lebron James is #1.  Bill Reiter wrote a “column” at that got a good bit of attention from everyone.  My post, admittedly, rambled between the disagreement and how you determine who is “best.”  My conclusion was that since Michael Jordan retired the 2nd time, no one knows.  No one has been the best.  There is no one universally looked towards as “that guy.”  You can make arguments for about a dozen guys, but it probably narrows to about 5-7 “best” players in any one “generation” or “era” of NBA players.

The narrative rolled on throughout the day and into the night about “perspective” and how the Magic Johnson argument that Reiter made was ridiculous and how Magic Johnson himself is a bit ridiculous and whatever the hell else anyone wanted to say.  Tom Haberstroh at Heat Index (what a name for a blog!) at ESPN jumped in with his “plea” for perspective.  Rohan Cruyff at, jumped in as well.  Rohan goes after Magic Johnson, Haberstroh sort of parallels Michael Jordan with James.  Neither of them really post, or care to admit, that they’re responding to what boils down to, basically, one guy’s opinion that ESPN is wrong in making James #1.

They’re defensive of James and Reiter was on the offensive to bash away at Lebron, as I said in the title earlier, that James is an easy target.  They’re all empassioned and many of them are correct but many of the points they make are somewhat baseless.  I’m planning on poking some holes, because I want to poke holes.  I would be balanced, but saying “I agree with this or that” doesn’t make for a lively read.  I do agree with all of them, that criticisms of James are based more on a feel than on fact and that calling a man who hasn’t won a Championship yet, the best is somewhat misleading to someone who doesn’t have ideas to the contrary to go on.

I’ll start with Reiter (please read this stuff for yourself, you’d be doing me and yourself a disservice if you don’t).  Reiter starts by saying ESPN should ask Magic Johnson, who works for them in studio, about Lebron James and if he thinks Lebron should be #1.  They asked 91 people who all work at ESPN, including former player Bruce Bowen, JA Adande and many, many other writers that I respect and appreciate.  Magic’s opinion here, while heavy in the court of public opinion, hold little sway when we equally take into account the opinions of 91 people.  His point, where he echos a quote from Magic (‘Are you kidding me? Kobe, five championships; LeBron, zero.’) is well taken. Championships do elevate players.  Dirk Nowitzki is the prime example of this, everyone thought he was good but not great; push your team to win a championship and you’re great.  What we’re talking about though is an individual and what they bring to the table as far as basketball ability.  Championships are won by teams.  Reiter says “My top five, off the top of my head, would go like this: Wade, Dirk, Derrick Rose, Kobe/Dwight Howard, and, just after them, LeBron.”  That’s great but it makes a pinhole in his argument that “best” means winning championships, because 2 of those guys don’t have rings, two others haven’t won a ring without great support (named Shaq in 4 of the 6 rings combined there) and one just won his first championship after falling flat, I mean flat on his face in previous attempts.  I would ask, I would have to, if I met Bill Reiter tomorrow “Bill, do you have an issue with Lebron James on a personal level.”  Honestly, it seems like he’s grasping at straws to make his point that Lebron is not #1; but at least he makes the list 5 ahead of him, but no real reasoning as to why each is better.

Haberstroh, who I really like and you should read as often as you can, follow the man on twitter, he’s put in the time and now has a sweet gig at ESPN because of it.  In his post on the subject he parallels Michael Jeffery Jordan’s career path with Lebron’s.  He says “LeBron James is 26 years old. When Michael Jordan was 26 years old, he was a failure.”  That’s his opening.  That’s legitimately his first two sentences.  When Michael Jordan was 26, he was in his 6th season in the league.  Lebron James is currently in his 8th season.  If you want to put them on the same train tracks, let’s make that the equal point, not age.  Lebron shaved when he was 11 and Michael started when he was 13, so don’t give me that “they’re the same age they’re at the same level.”  Lebron is so much farther up the physical gifts curve it’s not even funny.  (I made that up about shaving, I don’t know when either shaved for the first time).  If we do look at career paths, Jordan won his second championship in his 8th season.  That’d be like Lebron winning that last year in Cleveland and then this past season.  Didn’t happen.

The only player near Jordan’s level on his own team was Scottie Pippen and no one would argue Scottie was as good, 2 spots in some magic rankings or even (ahhh!) better than Michael Jordan.  You could make the case that Dwyane Wade is as good or better than Lebron.  He has a ring; that season his Heat beat the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals who had previously beaten Lebron’s Cavs.  There was no one on the ’90-’91 Bulls that could match up with Chris Bosh.  So in the 8th season, Jordan prevailed for the second time, Lebron failed.

Besides, you want to say Jordan was a failure at 26?  Jordan had won a National Championship at North Carolina!  He hit the game winner!  CLUTCH!  

I like Tom and thought his post was a good one, but the premise started off all wrong for me.  I did like the aside about the Pistons making fun of Michael, the “Selfish, Loser, Bald?” thing got me.  Really good, funny and makes a point.  Jordan did not have success doing it on his own.  It took that second year under Phil Jackson, the third year with Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, just like Tom says.  But I have to disagree with him again, respectfully, that Lebron’s legacy is somehow written already.  No one is saying that.  I don’t think so anyway.  Yeah, if he retired tomorrow, he’d be the player that had all the talent, made some strides, but couldn’t get over the hump.  Awesome numbers in the regular season but when it really came down to legend maker, he couldn’t get it done.  That’s if he retired right now and the book is closed by him or some other act of God or whoever ending it right now.  No one wants Lebron James’s career to end now; no one even expects that to be the way for him for years to come.  The debate topic, the topic everyone is arguing is:  Can we call Lebron James the best player in the NBA right now?

Finally, Rohan Cruyff, the best written piece on the subject, actually one of the best written posts I’ve seen anywhere not called in a long time.  I can’t say enough good about it.  His points are great, his argument is well crafted, the prose is polished and well honestly, I don’t pretend to have the same vocabulary or writing aplomb to be able to describe the man’s grasp on writing as evidenced in that piece.  Read it.  You get those emails that say “if this button doesn’t work, copy and paste the following address into the address bar on your browser,” grandma.  (They should say “right Andrew’s Mom?” because I swear that disclaimer is made for her)  Well, if you can’t click my inserted links over my words, copy and paste this address into your address bar:

My only quibble, or complaint or even a little “Excuse me Rohan, may I call you Rohan?” that I can make about his post is, Magic won a national championship, 2 NBA championships were he was doing a damn bit more than riding Kareem’s coattails by the time he was 25.  The articles that he mentions (the research he must have done over night!) are coming from a place more of a disappointment or a let down than a “You haven’t done it yet,” as we all are saying about Lebron.  Could you imagine, at the time in ’85 thinking “Magic, yes, he’s magical.  2 championships and he could and did play every position on the floor as a sophomore, but no championships since?  What gives?”  Lebron is touted as being Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan’s scoring ability and the physical abilities of a player we’ve never seen but he hasn’t made it work with anyone, yet.

That’s the key term here:  “yet.”  No one denies Lebron James’s talent, ability, physical prowess, athleticism or any of those strong atributes he has going for himself.  A lot of us just can’t quite come to terms with a guy who hasn’t really won anything being the “best” we have right now.  He really hasn’t won anything on a national level.  Even that high school team he was on didn’t win anything nationally.  Every season he’s had has ended in a loss, except those years the Cavs didn’t even make the playoffs.  So if it’s not Lebron as the best, who is?

Andrew Barraclough is Senior Editor for, a Charlotte Bobcats Blog on the Fansided Network.  Follow him on Twitter @therobertogato and Like the site on Facebook.