So I noticed that a few people were searching the blog for Wilt and Kareem – of course I immediately realized that I was making a mistake. I can’t stop at Jordan and Kobe and Bird (not that I was going to). I have to keep going and eventually cover everybody who was ever under G.O.A.T. consideration, as well as some other greats.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

We’ll start here with some charts.

Now some old school heads might not like what I’m about to do because it involves wizardry and magic i.e. advanced stats. More specifically the voodoo of Player Efficiency Rating. But this particular statistic is actually useful when we’re comparing players from different eras because it at least attempts to adjust for the different paces between the eras.

For those who are unaware, the pace of basketball in the 60s, 70s and 80s was quite a bit faster than today. What that means in the simplest terms is that a team in the 60’s would’ve possessed the ball 130 times in a single game whereas a modern team might possess the ball 90 times in one game.

So how is that useful? Well for a long time basketball fans thought that averaging 30 points per game in one era was the same as averaging 30 points per game in another era. So Oscar Robertson averaging 30 points per game in 1962 was seen to be the same thing as Allen Iverson averaging 30 points per game in 2002. The issue is that Robertson averaged 30 points per game on 130 possessions whereas Iverson averaged 30 points per game on 90 possessions.

Trying to say those two things are similar would be the same thing as going down to the park to shoot free throws, taking 10 free throws and making 7, then someone else coming down and shooting 20 free throws and also making 7, and then arguing that the production is equal because they both made 7.

So this is what PER is all about. Efficiency. Doing more, or as much, with less.

The standard disclaimer before using PER: No, it isn’t perfect and it’s not absolute, but I think it’s useful as a general guide.

(I’ve also included Bill Russell out of respect for his greatness, even though it’s kind of pointless to put him in a PER comparison, as PER isn’t going to do a defensive specialist like him justice.)

LeBron-vs-Greats

Shown in color are the top 4 players in history, in my opinion. Note that LeBron, Wilt and Jordan are the only three players to break the 31.0 PER barrier. Also note that LeBron had by far the highest PER of any great in the 10th year of his career. James is actually the only player in history to post a PER over 30.0 in the 10th year of his career or beyond.

 

LeBron-vs-Wilt LeBron-vs-West LeBron-vs-Wade LeBron-vs-Shaq LeBron-vs-Russell LeBron-vs-Oscar LeBron-vs-Malone LeBron-vs-Magic LeBron-vs-Kobe LeBron-vs-Kareem LeBron-vs-Jordan LeBron-vs-Irving LeBron-vs-Hakeem LeBron-vs-Duncan LeBron-vs-Dirk LeBron-vs-Bird LeBron-vs-Baylor

No, these charts don’t say that LeBron is the greatest player of all time. It doesn’t say that about anybody. But what it does show is that LeBron is right there with the best of the best – and better than most.  Also that in a group of our ultimate greats, LeBron is in the upper echelon.

It’s at least confirmation that James belongs in this discussion, from a raw production standpoint.

dot-seperator

But there is one thing that absolutely separates LeBron James from the rest of these guys.

No, it has nothing to do with PER, but since we’re here talking about LeBron vs Everyone I thought I should bring it up.

It’s the one thing that will always put LeBron in a different category – maybe his own category.

Coach K summed it up in 2012:

He’s the only player in the history of this game that can play all five positions offensively and defensively and play them well.

Usually, when skeptics read that quote they immediately try to argue something about Magic Johnson. But the reason why Magic Johnson doesn’t qualify is because of, “and defensively.”

Magic Johnson played 13 seasons in the NBA and did not make a single All-Defensive team. He wasn’t the greatest defender in the world. LeBron is usually the best defender on his team. Sometimes the best defender in the league.

People then might say, “Scottie Pippen could guard 5 positions” – but, no, not really, he didn’t have the strength. Or as Steve Kerr once noted during a game broadcast:

The versatility of LeBron defensively is just incredible; I don’t think we’ve ever seen someone with that defensive range. Scottie Pippen probably comes closest, but LeBron is stronger than Scottie when guarding post up players like Al Jefferson.

Then someone might say, “well Dennis Rodman guarded 5 positions” and that might be true – but he had no offense. His jumper was like North Korea trying to hit California with a missile.

So as a tip for LeBron supporters debating who’s better and who’s best – if the numbers, records and achievements aren’t making the case for LeBron, you can always end the argument with Coach K’s quote.

He’s the only player in the history of this game that can play all five positions offensively and defensively and play them well.

There’s only one player in history that you can say that about – and he also happens to have 4 MVPs, 2 rings and 2 Finals MVPs.  That argument is tough to beat.

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LeBron vs Kareem, LeBron vs Wilt, NBA

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