Comparing LeBron's Career to NBA Legends at Season No. 10
There's a lot of basketball left to be played in his career, but at this point, how does his resume compare to the supreme legends of the game?
It's important to consider the era he plays in, his style of play and his team situation. It took him a while to earn that elusive ring, but some of the most successful NBA icons also had to wait for theirs.
We break down each NBA legend's career through their first nine seasons and compare it to LeBron's current standing. They were all older than LeBron in the autumn of their 10th seasons, as LeBron was a prep-to-pro rookie and is just 27.
How does King James stack up against the best of the best?
*Note: Statistics gathered from Basketball Reference. Year 10 ages for each player are based on the player's age in November of their 10th season.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Age in 1965: 31
NBA Titles as of '65: 8
Accolades as of '65: Eight-time All-Star; five-time MVP; three-time All-NBA First Team; five-time All-NBA Second Team; five-time Rebounding Champ.
When Boston Celtics icon Bill Russell was entering his 10th NBA season, he was coming off a championship just like King James.
But it was his eighth title, not his first.
His vast collection of rings speaks for itself, and he was a rebounding machine and a prolific shot-blocker.
However, calling him a defensive specialist doesn't do him justice: Russell flirted with 20 points per game averages a couple times. By the end of his ninth season, he had already averaged more than five assists per game in the playoffs four times.
Russell will always be basketball's ultimate symbol of winning, and unless LeBron wins a handful more rings, comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges.
Better Career At Year 10: Russell
*Note: NBA did not record blocks or award an All-Defensive Team during Russell's era.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Age in 1968: 32
NBA Titles as of '68: 1
Accolades as of '68: Nine-time All-Star; four-time MVP; seven-time All-NBA First Team; seven-time scoring champ; seven-time rebounding champ; Top 10 in rebounds four times.
He was a giant (7'1") in his era, but Wilt the Stilt's accomplishments are nonetheless remarkable. Chamberlain was similar to LeBron in the sense that he was a physical anomaly, albeit due to sheer height.
During the first portion of his career, Chamberlain gobbled up rebounds and scored points at an unprecedented rate. He regularly grabbed three to four times the amount of rebounds as LeBron did.
Yet somehow, he came away with the same amount of rings as LeBron entering his tenth season.
James will never average 50 points per game in a season like Wilt did, but he's infinitely more skilled and versatile. That's not meant as a slight to Wilt, but rather a nod to James' acumen.
Better Career At Year 10: Wilt
Age in 1969: 30
NBA Titles as of '69: 0
Accolades as of '69: Nine-time All-Star; 1964 NBA MVP; nine-time All-NBA First Team; seven-time assist champ; Top 5 in scoring nine straight seasons; averaged triple-double in 1961-62.
Most NBA fans have heard that Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in 1961-62, but what goes unnoticed is that he was 0.3 assists away from doing it as a rookie, 0.5 assists from doing it in 1963 and 0.1 rebounds from doing it in 1964.
The Big O was the early predecessor to King James, and much like LeBron, he dominated the game from a statistical versatility standpoint without winning a championship. His career parallels LeBron's because he struggled to win in Ohio (Cincinnati in this case) and didn't win a ring until he changed teams.
Robertson was an extraordinary rebounder for a guard, routinely grabbing double-digit rebounds. Meanwhile, he was the premier point guard in the league in the early '60s and used his jump shot to score in bunches.
Physically, he didn't compare to LeBron, but he was quite similar in his ability to do everything offensively.
Better Career At Year 10: LeBron
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Age in 1969: 31
NBA titles as of '69: 0
Accolades as of '69: Nine-time All-Star; 1969 Finals MVP; six-time All-NBA First Team; 1969 All-Defensive Second Team; Top 10 in both points and assists five times.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West is another player who took longer than LeBron to get his title. However, he did get a Finals MVP award in his ninth season, in a losing effort.
Although West was a 6'2" guard (primarily a shooting guard), he used his vertical to rebound extremely well early in his career.
Playmaking and scoring is what made him famous, but West was also one of the top perimeter defenders of all time.
If LeBron retired right now, their legacies and resumes would be close, but if he keeps up his current pace for a few more years, he'll outshine West convincingly.
Better Career At Year 10: LeBron
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Age in 1978: 31
NBA Titles as of '78: 1
Accolades as of '78: Eight-time All-Star; five-time MVP; 1971 Finals MVP; six-time All-NBA First Team; two-time All-Defensive First Team; Top 5 in points nine times; Top 5 in rebounds eight times; Top 5 in blocks five times.
We round out the pre-'80s cast with the NBA's all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Unlike the rest of the players on this list, Abdul-Jabbar was less than halfway through his career as he entered his 10th season.
He teamed with Oscar Robertson to win a title with the Milwaukee Bucks early in his career, but it wasn't until he teamed up with Magic Johnson and company in the '80s that he consistently contended for a title.
He was a dual threat like LeBron because he influenced the game at both ends of the court, and he was so good for so long.
Because James is still so young, there's a chance he'll play as many seasons as Jabbar. If he does, he'll have some outlandish career totals.
Better Career At Year 10: Kareem
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Age in 1988: 31
NBA Titles as of '88: 3
Accolades as of '88: Nine-time All-Star; three-time MVP; two-time Finals MVP; nine-time All-NBA First Team; three-time All-Defensive Second Team.
They didn't call him Larry Legend for nothing.
Larry Bird had already done most of his legacy-making for the Boston Celtics by the time his 10th season arrived.
Up to that point, he had earned All-NBA First Team honors every year of his career, including his rookie campaign. He also had already hoisted three Larry O'Brien trophies in one of the toughest eras of the league.
Athletically, Bird was no match for LeBron James. But out of all the other legends on this list, his statistics are the closest to James'. Bird used his flawless jumper, sharp court sense and perfect positioning to impact the game on the interior and perimeter.
His defense was solid, but I give the edge to LeBron in that category. James' defensive versatility makes him a more well-rounded player than Bird (can you imagine Bird guarding a point guard for an extended stretch?). But at year 10, Bird had accomplished more.
Better Career At Year 10: Bird
Getty Images/Getty Images
Age in 1988: 29
NBA titles as of '88: 5
Accolades as of '88: Eight-time All-Star; three-time Finals MVP; 1987 NBA MVP; six-time All-NBA First Team; four-time assist champ; Top 5 in assists seven times.
Millions of casual basketball fans love to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan, but most NBA experts compare James to Magic Johnson.
And rightly so. James and Johnson are the only two players in NBA history who can legitimately play all five positions. The difference is that Johnson did it effectively in his rookie season, while James gradually developed the necessary wherewithal.
LeBron's ability to create opportunities for his teammates and make them better reminds people of Magic, but let's remember that Magic was a better passer and a better point guard.
Johnson might have the passing edge, but James is superior in the scoring and explosiveness departments.
The ultimate tiebreaker is Magic's five titles in his first nine years.
Better Career At Year 10: Magic
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
Age in 1993: 30
NBA Titles as of '93: 3
Accolades as of '93: Nine-time All-Star; three-time MVP; three-time Finals MVP; seven-time All-NBA First Team; six-time All-Defensive First Team; eight-time scoring champ.
When LeBron James won a championship in his ninth season, he spent the following summer at the Olympics and then proceeded to continue his dominant NBA career.
When Michael Jordan won a championship in his ninth season, it was his third, and he proceeded to retire and take up baseball.
That's something to remember as we enjoy watching LeBron's 10th season.
Despite James' superior versatility, Jordan will always have a greater legacy because he won every time he reached the NBA Finals and he played in a more physically tough era. LeBron lost a couple of Finals before he won one, and he also switched teams before he won one.
Jordan did some of his best handiwork after his 10th season, so LeBron has plenty to look forward to if he stays focused.
Better Career At Year 10: Jordan
Age in 2012: 27
NBA Titles as of '12: 1
Accolades as of '12: Eight-time All-Star; three-time MVP; 2012 Finals MVP; six-time All-NBA First Team; four-time All-Defensive Team; Top 10 in assists five times; Top 10 in steals five times; Top 5 in scoring eight times.
King James might not have the championship pedigree at year 10 that some of the NBA's biggest icons did, but he's probably the most complete player in the history of basketball.
He has the rebounding ability of a post player and passing ability of a point guard; he can guard almost any player in the league and he can score on anyone on the planet.
LeBron has seen more publicity, praise, criticism and scrutiny in his first nine professional years than any athlete in history. America got on his case for not winning in Cleveland and moving to Miami. We also compared him to Jordan and noted that Jordan's championship pace was ahead of LeBron's pace.
But what LeBron has going for him is his youth and his future. He could quite possibly win four or five more titles and make us forget about his early championship struggles.
Either way, he has a ton of exciting basketball left in him.
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