Is it ridiculous at this point to compare LeBron James' career to that of the greatest player of all time in Michael Jordan?
Yes. Absolutely it is.
However, instead of comparing the present career of James and the finished career of Jordan's, we're going to take a look at how the Miami Heat MVP could possibly be recognized as the greatest to ever play the game by the end of his career.
Many have attempted to usurp the throne of greatest player in NBA history. Many thought Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway had a chance before injuries, people still think Kobe Bryant is arguably better than Jordan (not me) and now we're already beginning to speculate on what type of career the 23-year-old Kevin Durant is going to have after leading his team to their first NBA Finals since moving to OKC.
Today, we speak on James—the most scrutinized and critiqued three-time MVP in NBA history.
Never before has a player with so many accolades and talent been so criticized. While some will say James brought it upon himself, it's still tough to argue with someone who's won three MVPs and has been averaging 20-5-5 every year of his career.
The championship will come. LeBron is too good of a player not to achieve one in his prime.
If he doesn't win it this year, he still has three years left on his contract with the Miami Heat. He, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are plenty good enough to win a title with the minor help of a supporting cast that may offer more than what the current supporting case does.
We delve into this tired argument by analyzing 10 steps LeBron can take to actually become the greatest by the end of his career.
It only felt right that the first six steps of LeBron James becoming known as the greatest come down to how many championships he's won.
It's how we judge him in now, anyway.
This year, there wasn't much talk surrounding his third MVP in the past four seasons, because of all the talk has been centered around him winning a championship. Even he claimed that the MVPs meant little to him because he'd "trade them all away just to have one ring."
James is easily one of the 50 best players in the league based on his individual achievements alone. However, for him to be in the top 25 or possibly even top 10, he has to win a title.
Whenever James' name is going to be brought up in these types of discussions, it will always come down to how many titles he's won, and that current goose egg he has is only hurting the legacy of his career.
It really shouldn't, though.
James is still only 27 years old and will be entering his third year with the Miami Heat next season. James and the Heat have run into a bit of trouble over the past two seasons due to injuries; Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem were either playing hurt or out in James' first year with the Heat, and Chris Bosh has been hurt for a little more than two weeks now due to an abdominal strain.
There still aren't any excuses. The Heat had a good enough team to beat Dallas last year, and they should have enough talent to beat Boston and move on to the Finals this year. It all comes down to whether James has enough to lead his team late in the game as well as if his teammates will actually step up.
It'll be one title if he ends up miraculously winning it this year. To be recognized as the greatest, LeBron needs to win at least six, which would match him with the current greatest player of all time—Michael Jordan.
Of course, winning six NBA championships doesn't just stop there.
You still need to win something within the Finals, because what's winning six championships without winning a few more individual awards to accentuate the point you're attempting to get across?
Without winning at least five Finals MVPs in those six championships, James will be given the treatment that historians and critics like to give Kobe Bryant when attempting to compare him to Michael Jordan:
"Michael Jordan won Finals MVP in all of his championships. Kobe Bryant only won two Finals MVPs in his five championship victories."
Being known as the greatest is prestigious territory, and there are a lot of people who will defend Jordan to the death in order to prove their point. They're very sensitive about their claims, so in order for LeBron to be recognized as one of the best, he needs it to be completely fool-proof by winning at least five Finals MVPs in those six championships that he'll need to win.
I say only five and not six because James has the capabilities of doing things on the court that Jordan couldn't do as effectively, such as rebounding and leading an offense as a passer and not a scorer.
Five Finals MVPs is quite the hefty task, but it's what needs to be done if James wants to be recognized as one of the greatest ever. He'll have to be the one to lead the Miami Heat, or whichever team he's leading, to the title. He needs to be the one leading in a majority of the statistical categories, making the smart plays and hitting the big shots.
It actually shouldn't be that difficult. With the way Dwyane Wade has played this postseason, James shouldn't have much trouble in securing a Finals MVP this year (if they make it that far) and over the next few years since he'll be the one leading the team.
This is the part of LeBron James' game where he has the edge over Jordan.
While Jordan was a fantastic all-around player for a 6'6" shooting guard,—he averaged 33 points, eight boards and eight assists in 1989—he still ended his career averaging six rebounds and five assists, to go with an NBA-leading 30 points per game.
At the moment, James is currently averaging 28 points, seven boards and a little under seven assists after a down year where he only averaged six assists. Prior to this season, James had averaged at least 28 points, seven boards and seven assists per game for four consecutive years, which is something that Jordan can say he only did on one occasion.
James will have to aid his team in winning the group awards, but he still needs to continue improving his own game and statistics by being the all-around player he's been his entire career.
LeBron has averaged at least 20 points, five boards and five assists his entire career, and it doesn't appear that he's going to stop anytime soon. Since he's built like a tank at 6'8" and 250 pounds, James will always find a way to score 20 points and grab seven boards. In fact, he'd probably grab 10 boards per game if he wasn't always leaking out on missed shots.
The assists average comes down to his teammates. The six assists per was a disappointment this year, mainly because none of James' teammates could hit a shot. Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller were all significant disappointments at shooting, even when James was dishing out passes and setting them up for wide-open shots in their comfort zones.
Either way, James should still continue averaging at least six or seven assists per game for the rest of his career as long as he's the main ball-handler and distributor. He has excellent court vision and is smart enough to find teammates in their comfort zones.
At this point, with this current Heat team, it all rides on them.
Since the introduction of the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1982, only six players who consider themselves guards or small forwards have won the award.
Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper, Gary Payton, Ron Artest and, of course, Michael Jordan are the only members of that prestigious club, with Moncrief being the only one of those six to win the award on two occasions.
It's a huge achievement in this day and age for a guard or small forward to take home a DPOY. Artest was the last one to win it in 2004, and it's been nothing but power forwards and centers since. Dwight Howard won three in a row before Tyson Chandler won it this year, and he beat out the likes of Howard and Serge Ibaka after completely changing the defensive philosophy of the New York Knicks.
James finished fourth despite averaging two steals per game, anchoring one of the league's top defenses and efficiently guarding all five positions. For the first time in his career, James spent a significant amount of time defending power forwards and centers, including the likes of Pau Gasol and even Dwight Howard momentarily.
This year was a true testament to how versatile and efficient of a player James can be. Not only was he busy averaging 27 points, eight boards and six assists while shooting a career-high 53 percent from the field but he was also guarding the opponents' top scorer and even going as far as defending players who had significant height and weight advantages on him.
Yet, it wasn't good enough for him to even get into the top three of voting this year.
Winning the DPOY may be just as difficult for James as winning the six titles because of how much more heavily favored the league's shot-blocking centers are over the quick hands of guards and small forwards.
With the way Kevin Durant has been playing this postseason, I'd say that LeBron James is going to have some extremely healthy competition for winning MVP.
LeBron winning three in four years seems like it won't happen again when you take a look at how well Durant has played in this year's postseason. Not only will James have to compete with him, he'll still have to compete with guys like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul as well as even younger players in Kevin Love and Derrick Rose (if his injury heals up).
It still shouldn't be that difficult for James, because winning the MVP hasn't been that difficult of an accomplishment for him.
In order to win it, a player needs to be the focal point of the offense on one of the league's best teams. James had that going for him in the two years he won it with Cleveland, and he had it this year with yet another incredible stat line and a solid season with the Miami Heat.
While Durant and Rose will constantly give him a run for his money, James holds a huge edge in being an all-around threat. He will always be up there in points and rebounds with Durant, and he will always be up there in assists with Rose, which is somewhere Durant probably won't find himself.
Also, the defense of those two pale in comparison to that of James.
It's not always about stats in this MVP business; you need to be able to hold your own on the defensive end to give yourself an edge, which is huge for James because he will usually hold a defensive edge over anybody who contends for an MVP, outside of possibly Dwight Howard.
Winning three MVPs is a prestigious honor for James, as he joins an exclusive company that includes Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. A fourth one would put him in company with just Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan, while a fifth would weed it out to just himself, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan.
It's completely possible for LeBron to get to at least five regular-season MVPs. He will always be recognized as one of the league's top players because of his scoring and passing ability as well as his defending.