In any sport, the all-time greats are ultimately measured by their individual success, whether it be in Most Valuable Player Awards, Cy Youngs, World Championships, or Grand Slam titles. With his first NBA Championship, LeBron James moved into a class with some of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball. From a historical perspective, he has not been as successful as the legends of old, but a modern approach to the subject sheds a much different light.
LeBron James, in my opinion, is the greatest athlete of all time. Measurements of his size range anywhere from 6-8 250 to 6-9 270, his vertical leap is greater than 40 inches, and his speed is other worldly. He was a 2-time National Player of the Year in High School Basketball, 2 time All-State Wide Receiver in High School Football, and now he is having the same type of success in the NBA. He might not have the size of Bill Russell, the skills of Magic Johnson, or the heart of Michael Jordan, but his athletic ability is undeniable.
The most fundamental skills in basketball are dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending.As far as dribbling, passing, and defending, LeBron is second to none in the NBA today. However, his shooting ability is what holds him back from dominating scoreboards on a consistent basis. Although James averages over 27 ppg for his career, it pales in comparison to Jordan's 10 scoring titles and career average above 30 ppg. The mid-range jumper, at times, is the most imporant shot, because you simply cannot get to the basket every single time. MJ and Kobe both developed go to moves that allow them to score efficiently. Olajuwan (The Dream Shake) and Jabaar (The Sky-Hook) used their post game to develop such moves as well. The "crab dribble" LeBron does to get to the basket, is an invention of the mind, and quite frankly, should be considered a traveling violation. Until LeBron develops a move he can do consistently to get open shots, his perimeter shooting will continue to struggle, and he will regret that in his later years.
Intangibles are what define champions. Heart. Hardwork. Determination. The "it" factor. Swag. It has been called many things over the years, but the real question is: "How bad do you want it? " Michael Jordan wanted it so bad that he scored 38 points in the 'flu game' where he had to be carried off the court by Scottie Pippen. Magic Johnson wanted it so bad he played center in place of the injured Kareem in his rookie year in the closeout game of the NBA finals and scored 42 points to go along with 15 rebounds and 7 assists in the Laker victory. LeBron James folded twice in the Finals, but proved his toughness by fighting off cramps to hit the go-ahead 3 pointer in Game 4 of the NBA Finals this year.
Overall, it is tough to judge players against each other that played in different eras. Russell's 11 Championships, Jordan's 10 scoring titles, and LeBron's 3 MVPs at the mid-point of his career are all outstanding feats, but they never played against one another, so they are tough to compare. The only thing that is universal is hardware, so I tend to use MVPs and Final MVPs as measuring tools. Only 8 players in the history of the NBA have at least 3 MVPs and at least 1 Finals MVP: Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Moses Malone, and LeBron. In my opinion, that list is as close as there is to the best 8-man rotation of All-Time. The 8 greatest players in NBA History.