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King James threatens to end argument over all-time greatest player

On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
February 15, 2013

This is going to be quite painful for a former high school and college player and lifelong follower of basketball: "Who is the all-time greatest basketball player?"
Your answer, of course, depends somewhat on the color of your hair, how steep the stairs to your home's second floor have become, whether you can remember why you got up from your easy chair and went into the kitchen, and where you put your car keys 15 minutes ago.
The bottom line is that it's a generational thing.
Once upon a time, many people thought the "greatest player ever" was Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy. That was in the mid-1950s, before Bill Russell joined the team in 1956 and led the Celtics to 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. In this day and age, though, Cousy would be the Celtics' water boy or the guy on the end of the bench who wouldn't get into the game until the team was up 20 points with two minutes left.
So is Russell the greatest? How about Magic Johnson? Oscar Robertson? Wilt Chamberlain? Julius Erving? Larry Bird? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? The list could go on a while, but No. 1 on most experts' lists is Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and the U.S. to two Olympic gold medals and was voted the NBA's Most Valuable Player five times.
You may or may not remember that Los Angeles Lakers great Elgin Baylor is my all-time favorite player and was one of the first, if not the first, to defy gravity on the court. And he's not even high on the list.
Another Laker, Magic Johnson, is up there, thanks to being the first 6-foot-9 point guard and helping LA win five NBA titles and the nation take one Olympic gold. He could do everything in the game except inflate a basketball with his mouth.
Larry Bird, another Celtic who just might be the least athletic superstar ever, played the game as if he had invented it and retired with three NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal.
How about Kareem? Six league titles in his 20 seasons; six MVP trophies. And some people rate him ahead of Jordan.
Then there's Wilt the Stilt, the most dominant player, as unstoppable as sunrise and sunset.
Former Lakers teammate Jerry West, another superstar, once said, "Wilt could do anything on a basketball court anytime he wanted, and nobody could stop him." And no, that's not a rumor; West said that to me.
Wilt averaged 48.5 minutes per game in 1961-62 when he averaged 50.4 points. He never fouled out and played all but roughly 12 minutes of the entire season.
Oh, one other thing: Chamberlain still holds the NBA record for rebounds in a single game: 55 against Russell and the Boston Celtics in 1960.
So, all you hoops lovers out there, who's the greatest ever?
Well, based on the news trickling down the court and through the rim now, all those mentioned above can forget it and argue over who's second, or tied for second.
The word is that LeBron James of the Miami Heat, the hottest player in the NBA now, might be on the verge of becoming the all-time No. 1. This would be despite players getting away with-I know you're sick of this, but I have to say it-palming the ball and taking three to five steps after they stop dribbling the ball.
When James was named the NBA's Player of the Week for Feb. 4-10, it was the 41st time he had received the honor and he set a league record. The Heat was 4-0 last week, and James' numbers were off the charts. He averaged 31.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.25 steals and one block. He shot 73.8 percent from the field, including 61.5 from three-point range.
James continued his impressive stretch on Tuesday, finishing with 30 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points while shooting 60 percent in six straight games.
This guy is only 29-hard to believe-and already in his 10th season in the NBA! He is now supposed to be a much more complete player than when the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat four games to two in the 2010-11 finals.
James seemed to be a nervous wreck in the finals then, passing the ball instead of going to the basket, but he also learned a lesson. And last season he led Miami to its second NBA championship in three years-with more to come, no doubt.
So is James the best ever, or about to become that? We'll see. As much as I hate to admit it, it'll probably happen. It is virtually impossible to compare players from 30 years ago to players in this era, regardless of the sport. Could LeBron embarrass Michael Jordan? Could he drive down the middle and embarrass Russell or Chamberlain? I doubt it.
But it's a very different game now, so we'll never know.

Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.2.

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