If you want to make the case that LeBron James is the greatest basketball player to ever live, here's where you start: He's within striking distance of becoming the NBA's all-time leading scorer despite never operating as a score-first player. LeBron's scoring has always felt borne of necessity, not so much an afterthought but certainly not his passion. The skill that seems to truly light his basketball fire is passing.
To say LeBron is the greatest passing forward of all-time is to state the obvious. He has a case as the best passer ever, at any position, right there with Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Jason Kidd despite carrying a far greater scoring and defensive burden that any of those players ever did.
Fittingly, in a season in which he's currently leading the league in assists, LeBron became the ninth player in NBA history to record career 9,000 assists with a full-court dime to Anthony Davis on Sunday night vs. the Mavericks.
LeBron makes that pass look so easy, and has for his entire career. But it's not easy. That is a near full-court dime, some 75 feet to a guy who has exactly one step on two defenders. He dropped that thing in the basket like Tom Brady with the flick of the wrist.
It's such an important pass, too, in the grand scheme of LeBron's career. The physical ability to make the pass is phenomenal, of course, but the willingness to make the pass is a whole other thing. When guys talk about wanting to play with LeBron, this is the reason. He will find you if you're open, and sometimes when you aren't. He will pass ahead rather than demand that the ball stays in his hands. Being a willing passer is almost as important as being a great passer, but when you're both, you're in rarefied air.
LeBron sits ninth all-time in assists. The top eight in order, are John Stockton (15,806), Jason Kidd (12,091), Steve Nash (10,335), Mark Jackson (10,334), Magic Johnson (10,141), Oscar Robertson (9,887), Chris Paul (9,381) and Isiah Thomas (9,061). As you can see, LeBron will almost certainly pass Thomas for the No. 8 spot this season, and he has a shot at reaching 10,000 assists by next season, or certainly early in 2021-22.
At this rate, with LeBron remarkably still playing at an MVP level in his 17th season, and saying that he wants to remain in the league long enough to play with his son, Bronny (a high school freshman already on the NBA radar), it's reasonable to project that LeBron will end up as the No. 1 scorer and a top-five assist man in NBA history. He is already the only player in history to be top 10 all-time in both.
Again if you want to make the case that James is the greatest player ever, that's where you start.