Earlier this season Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra gave LeBron James the fitting nickname of "1-through-5" because of his ability to not only defend, but also play every position on the floor. Needless to say, the same cannot be said for a majority, if not the rest of the players in the league.
But this got me thinking, is James the most versatile player to ever play the game? To answer that question we must first look back and compare him to other guys in the past thought to have the whole package.
A player James often times draws comparison to due to his court vision, Earvin "Magic" Johnson too had the size and skill to play every position on the floor. Just like when Bosh was injured in the Indiana series and LeBron was asked to play a lot more power forward, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 1980 and Magic was inserted at center, finishing with 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists while leading his team to an NBA title.
However, at no point in his career did Magic have the speed, strength, power or athleticism that LeBron possesses today, nor could he defend the other team's best player for 48 minutes.
Don't get me wrong, there is no doubt that Magic is one of the most versatile players ever to play in the NBA. But can he do as many or more things on the court than James? No way, no how.
Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan not only were one of the best one-two punches in the history of the NBA, but also were two of the most versatile players the game has ever seen. As a matter of fact, Pippen much more than Jordan.
Is LeBron James the most versatile player to ever play the game?
It's no secret that Jordan is arguably the best player the NBA has ever seen. But despite his freakish athleticism, especially for his era, his 6'6" frame limited him on both ends on the floor. As much as it could at least.
Pippen on the other hand, standing 6'8" with a 7'3" wingspan, did not have as polished of an offense as Jordan, but was one of the best defenders the league has ever seen. Pippen didn't always score 40 points, but his offensive game is one of the most underrated ones to date. People forget that he did have the ability to score when his team needed him to.
He could rebound, score and defend with the best of them, but if it really comes down to it, who would you want on your team more, Pippen or James? In their prime both are amazing players and you can argue that Pippen would have many more accolades if he didn't play alongside Jordan, but he did, while James is a three-time MVP for a reason.
I don't want to go too far with this statement, but in many ways James is a combination of Jordan and Pippen.
Now that's just scary.
Moving on down the list it's only right to address players like Kevin Garnett, who in his prime could guard ever position on the floor. But KG is not the one to bring the ball up the floor or break down his man off the dribble. If we were talking about defensive versatility as opposed to overall versatility, he would be towards the top of the list.
Even guys like Shawn Marion, Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and Grant Hill were all versatile swingmen in their prime, but let's be real, they are no LeBron James.
There are those NBA greats like Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird, considered as not only some of greatest small forwards, but also greatest players of all time. But the truth of the matter is the NBA has never seen a player like James—nearly the perfect basketball specimen. The kind of player you would create on NBA Live before James even entered the league.
In my opinion the guy that has come closest to matching LeBron's ability to do every thing you could imagine on the basketball court is Mr. Triple-Double himself, Oscar Robertson. Before Magic came along and changed the point guard position forever, it was the Big O who came in as a bigger guard and truly dominated the game.
Robertson was a play-maker noted for his triple-doubles and his ability to score with ease. The only player in NBA history to ever average a triple-double.
Now, usually numbers don't lie, and I'm not saying these ones do. But what I am implying is that the competition then is not what it is now and I believe whole-heartedly that if LeBron and Robertson were able to switch places, he too could average a triple-double. But that is something we will never know for sure.
Nevertheless, when it comes to debating who are the most versatile guys to ever play the game it will come down to the Big O and LeBron for a very long time. Players, tall and small, are being asked to do more and more as the game advances and young guys like Kevin Durant and even Anthony Davis may be included in this conversation years down the road.
However, it's always going to come down to a matter of opinion.
But all in all, pound for pound, I'm calling LeBron James the most versatile player the NBA has ever seen. I'm not sure we will see another player like him for a very, very long time.