By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
No player in the NBA has been more celebrated, or maligned, than Lebron James since he entered the league in 2003. He had early success with the Cleveland Cavaliers, practically willing the team to the NBA Finals before getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. However, after James left the Cavs as a free agent in 2010, he became arguably the most hated player in basketball. After he failed to win a title in his first year with the Miami Heat, critics wondered if he could ever win it all.
All that criticism has faded as of late. Many Cleveland fans still feel jilted by James’ departure, and fans of other contending teams feel threatened by the dominance of James and the Heat. But James’ victory last season, coupled with his otherworldly play, has erased doubts about his ability and catapulted him into discussions of where he stands on the list of greatest basketball players in NBA history.
These discussions seem premature, since James is only 28-years-old. However, he’s already playing in his tenth season and boasts a celebrated career. He’s won one title, three MVP awards (and a Finals MVP), has been voted to the All-Star game nine times, and has six All-NBA first-team selections.
James is just entering his prime and the league has never quite seen a player like him. He has the size of Karl Malone, the star presence of Michael Jordan, the floor vision and basketball IQ of Magic Johnson, and is arguably the most athletic player to step on an NBA court. Additionally, James just won his first championship, and his team is the clear favorite to repeat this year and for several seasons to come. Michael Jordan – often regarded as the greatest player of all time – didn’t win his first title until he was of similar age, and finished with six championships by the end of his career.
Is Lebron James the greatest of all time? It’s probably too early to say. However, I think he’s headed in that direction. In the midst of one of the most amazing runs of any career, James is continuing to redefine what it means to be a basketball player. His combination of athletic dominance and skill is something that hasn’t been seen before in the game. It’s amazing that in an age when most NBA players are tremendously athletic, James has still found a way to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
Like Jordan in his prime, James deserves to be in the MVP discussion nearly every season, and it’ll be a tremendous surprise if he doesn’t win his fourth MVP this year. Also like Jordan, James is hitting his prime at 28, and there seems to be very little that can stop him from winning multiple titles in the near future.
As long as James keeps winning and playing the way he is for the next few years, he’ll eclipse anyone who’s ever played the game. He’s simply that unique of a player. For those clinging to their favorite superstars in NBA history, the question will inevitably become: How many titles does James need in order to be the greatest player of all time?
With the way he’s playing, it may not matter.