Michael Jordan. Julius Erving. Larry Bird.
Of the many thousands of players in basketball history, those are the three who LeBron James singled out as the best of all time when put on the spot in an interview with Fox Sports' Bill Reiter. For what it's worth, he also listed Magic Johnson as the fourth-best ever after saying that picking just three was too hard.
LeBron has always been known as a student of basketball history; a man who analyzes the game and understands the historical significance of what happens on the court. So it's a bit curious that he bucked convention here.
And he didn't just buck it by a little.
Jordan is the easy pick. He's the near-consensus G.O.A.T. and didn't even make LeBron hesitate before his name escaped the reigning MVP's lips. In fact, LeBron says Jordan's name three times before he can bring himself to conjure up a second legend.
That's where it gets more interesting.
Dr. J is the second player LeBron mentions, right before he brings up Bird. How many people even have Erving in their top 10, much less the top three? Usually this is where you hear Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—not the high-flying dunk machine.
In fact, I don't have much trouble naming 15 players I'd put ahead of Erving in my personal rankings. These aren't in any particular order, but here we go: Jordan, Bird, Chamberlain, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Elgin Baylor and—oh yeah—LeBron.
And the list goes on.
Now, I wouldn't be at all surprised if LeBron is including Erving because he was an inspirational figure, both in terms of off-court behavior and playing style. But I'd love to hear his justification for placing him in the top three.
So, who's in your top three?
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