Under The Bleachers: King James Correct About Too Many Comparisons

Monday evening, LeBron James reached another career milestone in a career filled with milestones, becoming just the second player in NBA history to rank in the Top 25 in points and assists, joining Oscar Robertson in the exclusive club.

The accomplishment was bound to kick off myriad comparisons between the multiple-time MVP and two-time champion and “The Big O,” the only player in NBA history to average triple-double over the course of an entire season, but James wasn’t interested in joining the debate. In fact, he doesn’t think we should be comparing the greats across generations at all.

“I think what we get caught up in, in our league too much, is trying to compare greats to greats, instead of just accepting and acknowledging and saying, ‘Wow, these are just great players,'” he said following Cleveland’s victory over Orlando at the start of the week.

“But when it comes to our sport, we’re so eager to say, ‘Who is better: Oscar or [Michael] Jordan?’ or ‘Jordan or LeBron or Kobe [Bryant] or these guys?’ instead of just accepting greatness. And if you understand the history of the sport, then there is no way you could ever forget Oscar Robertson. This guy, he averaged a triple-double for, like, forever.”

James knows a thing or two about comparisons, having been tabbed as “The Next One” on the hardwood since his days at St. Vincent-St. Mary. Since then, he’s been compared to many of the luminaries to lace up their high tops. One of the most fitting comments to fall into this discussion is when Charles Barkley, talking about James’ skills, said, “He’ll never be Jordan.”

The fact of the matter is that James doesn’t need to be Jordan; he’s a special talent in his own right and doesn’t need to measure up to the achievements that Jordan or any other greats before him accomplished. As much as it can be fun to argue for your favourite player or against the guy your buddies are stumping for in opposition, it also undercuts the achievements of those we’re trying to move down the list.

We search for reasons to bump a guy back, rather than celebrating their strong points, acknowledging that all these icons played in different eras and their particular set of skills don’t necessarily translate across generations, which makes pitting Bill Russell against Shaq a lot more difficult than it sounds.

And why does their have to be a list? Why do we feel the urge to create a hierarchy with everything, declaring someone the best of the bunch and trying to line up everyone else after that, even when we often can’t come to a consensus on who should be at the top of the list?

James, like Robertson, is amongst the best players in NBA history. He’s a hybrid of several greats that came before him and a one-of-a-kind talent all the same. He doesn’t have as many titles as Michael (who doesn’t have as many as Russell), but he’s got more MVP trophies than Larry and Magic.

Sorting through all that information to determine which great players are better than others and who lands where is a waste of time and energy. Let’s just say they’re all outstanding, we’re blessed to have seen them play (or know about the impact they made on the game) and continue watching instead.

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