Last night LeBron James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring record. For the last 10 years or so, the conversation on sports talk shows has been LeBron or Jordan, who’s the GOAT? I’m here to set the record straight on the GOAT conversation.
I started watching the NBA in the 2003-2004 timeframe, so it was only natural that I gravitated towards the players that were drafted in the 2003 draft. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony were the three players that I followed closely on SportsCenter every morning before school as a seven-year-old kid.
LeBron obviously had more pressure to be great than the other two guys in that photo. He was dubbed the “Chosen One” in high school before he was even drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was expected to challenge Michael Jordan in the GOAT conversation as a teenager! No one has ever had these types of expectations put on them, and also, lived up to all of the hype.
Obviously, before LeBron left for the Miami Heat to team up with Wade and Chris Bosh, he hadn’t lived up to the championship hype. He had no rings so it was still an easy conversation for people to have when it came to Michael Jordan stans. LeBron had only made the Finals once at that point, and it was an absolute beat down.
Wade had already secured a ring in 2006 (rigged or not it was fun to watch), Melo hadn’t made a Finals appearance yet, and there wasn’t really anybody else from that draft that LeBron was being compared to. Since he was playing with the likes of Boobie Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, there wasn’t a ton of help around LeBron.
People expected LeBron to carry his teams unlike any other player in the history of the NBA had. Jordan had Pippen. Magic had Kareem and vice versa. Bird had McHale. Shaq had Kobe. Timmy had Parker and Ginobli. The list goes on and on and on of superstars being paired up with at least one other superstar or sub-superstar. LeBron’s best teammate was…Carlos Boozer for exactly one season, his rookie year.
The biggest argument against LeBron James has always been something along the lines of, “he needs other superstars around him in order to win.” Uhhhh, yeah, so does every other superstar player that’s won the Larry O’Brien Trophy. You could say that LeBron’s biggest mistake was “The Decision.”
Other players have left their first team in free agency the first chance they got in order to have a better chance of winning. No one else has had an ESPN hour long special announcing where they were going to play next. Even Kevin Durant didn’t do that in 2016! Other than “The Decision” there hasn’t been a huge scandal surrounding LeBron. He’s always lived up to the hype and has always appeared like a stand up guy off the court.
LeBron in Miami was a new type of beast. He evolved as a player and began to bully ball people to death while also being the most athletic guy the league has probably ever seen. The Heat won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. They made four straight Finals appearances, and LeBron learned how to win a title by himself in the process.
With the script being written before every season, it was only right that the writers sent him back to Cleveland in 2014 to go help them win a title. Of course a buzzsaw and a guy that legitimately changed the course of the NBA forever showed up and took another ring from LeBron. The battles of Cleveland and Golden State were a spectacle to see.
The 2016 Finals included the best player of his generation, and the best regular season team in NBA history. It was the script that we could only dream of. The Cavs were down 3-1 in the series with seemingly no hope left. No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit.
GOAT status was achieved shortly after this image. “BLOCKED BY JAMES” is forever imprinted in my brain. I also thought LeBron shattered his wrist at the end of the 2016 Game 7, but being the superhuman he is, he got right up and shot his free throws.
Eventually LeBron does what a lot of stars have done in the NBA, and made his way to Los Angeles to be a Laker. He won a championship (yes I know it was in the bubble and it’s weird and sort of doesn’t count), and the team really hasn’t done much since then. He’s been given the things he’s wanted, minus Kyrie Irving the other day, and it hasn’t worked out.
Nonetheless, LeBron is 38 years old and just secured the scoring title crown. He’s still got some years left in him because he’s currently averaging 30 points per game, so who knows what the near future holds for him. He’s met every expectation that was placed upon him when he was in high school, and sometimes has surpassed expectations.
People will say there’s only one GOAT for each sport, but it’s really there’s a GOAT for each generation. Bill Russell is the GOAT of his generation. Kareem for his, and Jordan was the GOAT for his. LeBron is the GOAT of his generation and anyone who argues it doesn’t know ball.
No one ever thought the scoring record could ever be beaten, and now, we can probably believe that. LeBron could play another 2-5 seasons, maybe even more! He’ll be the lone leader in the clubhouse with 40,000 more than likely, and it’s going to be even more difficult to see anyone surpassing that record. LeBron James is the GOAT of his generation, and I’m glad the NBA world stopped to celebrate him last night.