National Columnist

Whatever it takes, don't let LeBron be the Greatest of All Time!

LeBron James will have the MVPs, records and titles -- but some will still try to say he's not the greatest. (USATSI)
LeBron James will have the MVPs, records and titles -- but some will still try to say he's not the greatest. (USATSI)

You see what we're doing to LeBron, don't you? We're moving the goalposts on him. We're changing the qualifications for "greatest player of all time" into whatever we have to make them, because we have to make sure the greatest of all time isn't ... LeBron James.

Used to be, the ring was the argument. Michael Jordan had six championship rings. LeBron had none, and we wondered: How could he be the greatest if he has no rings? And then he went to Miami and joined with some other great players and won a ring in 2012 and we wondered: How could he be the greatest if he had to leave one city for another, and find better teammates, to win it?

And then he won another ring last year, and we noticed that it wasn't so easy after all. It was easier than it would have been in Cleveland, but it wasn't all that easy, so now we've moved the goalposts again.

We're no longer counting rings, because whatever number LeBron ends up with -- and it'll be more than two -- it'll be enough (four, six, eight, whatever) to render the ring conversation irrelevant.

We've never counted MVP awards, because for a long time it has been obvious that LeBron was going to win more MVPs than anyone who has ever played. Jordan and Bill Russell had five. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had six. LeBron has four, and he's 28 years old. He could end his career with eight or 10 of those things, so we can't use the MVP argument. That would mean LeBron is the greatest ever, and that just will not do.

So what are we doing now? Now we're using the clutch argument. Media and fans have always said we would rather Jordan take the final shot than LeBron, in part because we have great memories of Jordan hitting late shots -- against Craig Ehlo and Bryon Russell, to name two -- and in part because we have memories of LeBron passing the ball to someone else for the final shot.

That's DNA there. Jordan was an egomaniac, a basketball narcissist in the nicest possible way. If his team was going to win a game, he felt he had to go win it himself. So with a few exceptions (Steve Kerr, to name one), Jordan sought out the final shot and hit enough of them to make us remember.

LeBron's no narcissist. He has confidence issues, perhaps -- he admitted this week his fear of failure -- and also, he's just not a selfish player. Jordan was selfish, in the nicest possible way. LeBron isn't. Even in high school he was compared to Magic, not Michael, because of the way LeBron saw the court and wanted to pass. While Michael Jordan usually made the best possible play for Michael Jordan, LeBron almost always makes the best possible basketball play. Sometimes that's drawing three defenders and kicking it to a wide-open Udonis Haslem. And people don't like that.

Listen, whatever you think of LeBron's clutch gene -- and NBA players are now joining fans and media to gripe about it -- he's the most perfect physical specimen to play this game. Nobody has ever been this big, this fast, this explosive, this skilled. Nobody has ever won the MVP trophies he's going to win. Very few players have won however many NBA championship rings he's going to end up winning.

LeBron has 21,081 points -- and he's 28 years old. If he plays to age 35, he'll reach 35,000 easily. If he plays to age 41, which is how old Kareem was when he retired with a record 38,387 points? If LeBron plays to 41, he'll pass 40,000. He'll put that record out of reach, along with his eight or 10 MVP trophies.

How many rings will he have between now and then? How many game-winning shots will he hit?

It won't matter. Because someday LeBron is going to retire as the greatest player we've ever seen.

And probably the greatest player we ever will see.

 

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