Blueprint for LeBron James to Go Down as the G.O.A.T.
LeBron James isn't the greatest of all time yet, but he's well on his way to earning that illustrious label.
At 28 years old, James has two titles and four MVPs to his name along with a slew of other impressive accolades. However, there are several accomplishments James still needs to achieve in order to garner G.O.A.T. consideration alongside names like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.
As he enters a season in which he can bolster his candidacy with a three-peat and a third consecutive MVP, expect LeBron to come out sharper than ever in 2013-14.
Win the Slam-Dunk Contest
This is said in jest more than anything, but both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have competed in and won the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest at some point in their careers. Jordan captured All-Star weekend glory twice, as a matter of fact.
From casual fans to NBA legend Magic Johnson, everyone wants to see LeBron James throw down in the premier event of All-Star weekend. And while James' participation in the contest is by no means a serious determinant of his status as an all-time great, he would be able to create some fireworks that would live in the memories of NBA lifers forever.
Vince Carter, Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb all enhanced their legacies with show-stopping performances in the contest, while some of Jordan's signature moves originated in the slamming spectacle.
With the event losing its luster, James could serve as an ambassador of sorts to help revive the contest.
Make 15 All-Star Teams
Some would argue that inclusion on All-Star teams isn't necessarily an accurate barometer of a player's greatness, but examine the 10 players with the most appearances in the midseason spectacle and you'll see that it is.
According to Basketball-Reference, the 10 players with the most All-Star game appearances, in order, are: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19), Julius Erving (16), Kobe Bryant (15), Kevin Garnett (15), Shaquille O'Neal (15), Tim Duncan (14), Michael Jordan (14), Karl Malone (14), Jerry West (14) and Wilt Chamberlain (13).
Bryant still has several All-Star nods left to receive and should pass Erving if he plays for two more seasons, barring another catastrophic injury.
LeBron James has made nine All-Star teams to date, which ranks 39th all-time, tying him with teammate Dwyane Wade as well as Gary Payton, Robert Parrish, Lenny Wilkins and Dominique Wilkins.
So, in order to enter G.O.A.T. territory, the bar should be set at 15 All-Star appearances, minimum. James has far more than six seasons left, and as long as starters' inclusion is determined by fans, he will continue to be an annual staple of the game.
Passing Bryant may be difficult, but jumping ahead of Jordan appears to be close to a lock.
Top Michael Jordan on All-Time Scoring List
LeBron James currently sits at No. 32 on the NBA's all-time scoring list with 21,081 career points. That puts him 710 points behind the 30th-ranked Larry Bird and 2,704 points behind Tim Duncan.
But James' sights should be set significantly higher than topping Duncan, Bird or even 19th-ranked Allen Iverson. In order to earn G.O.A.T status, James has to enter Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan territory on the all-time scoring list.
Bryant still has plenty of buckets to score over the final few years of his career and currently sits at No. 4 on the list, one spot behind Jordan. To date, Bryant has scored 31,617 points, 675 behind Jordan. Passing MJ is inevitable.
Eventually passing Bryant will be a tall task for James, and topping Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Karl Malone is a rather lofty goal. But with several years remaining in his prime, James certainly has the ability to pass Jordan and his 32,292 points.
James has never been known as the purest of scorers, which would make his inclusion in the top-five scorers of all time even more impressive.
Win a Defensive Player of the Year Award
Given that he's the most feared wing defender the game has seen in some time, it's surprising that LeBron James hasn't captured Defensive Player of the Year glory to this point in his career.
James has come close, finishing second in DPOY voting twice (2012-13 and 2008-09), but he has never been able to reel in the elusive hardware.
Among the All-Time greats James is often mentioned alongside, only one has the award in their trophy case, and that's Michael Jordan (1987-88). Magic Johnson never earned high defensive honors (other than leading the NBA in steals per game twice), and Kobe Bryant is out of the running at this stage in his career.
The greatest player of all time must meet certain criteria both offensively and defensively, and we know that James has the chops to take home the most coveted defensive award in the game. Just 28 years old, James still has a relatively large window in which he can win DPOY.
Post Highest Career PER of All Time
It became abundantly clear last season. LeBron James is the most efficient player in basketball history, and the statistics will soon reflect that fact.
According to Basketball-Reference, James ranks second all-time in PER with a mark of 27.65. The remaining player he needs to leapfrog for the top spot? That would be Michael Jordan, whose career efficiency rating is percentage points higher at 27.91.
Coming off of a season in which he shot 56.5 percent from the field and posted an effective field-goal percentage of 60.3, per Basketball-Reference, it's scary to think what James can do from an efficiency standpoint with two years remaining before he turns 30.
Consider that James has a higher career PER than centers like Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and it's evident that the King is something special from a fundamental standpoint.
Win 7 Career MVPs
If championships measure collective success, then MVP awards are the ultimate determinant of individual accomplishment.
The record for MVPs by one player is six by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron James currently ranks third on the all-time MVP list, having captured four in the last five years. That ties him with Wilt Chamberlain. The only men ahead of him are Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell.
If we use Jordan's career as a basic framework, that gives James another six years to set the record and add three more MVPs to his trophy case. Jordan won the last of his five at the age of 34, the second-oldest player to capture the honors. Karl Malone is the oldest at 35 (1998-99).
James is the undeniable favorite to take home the MVP this season given his recent track record, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he goes on to eventually break Abdul-Jabbar's record.
Capture 6 Titles
As things currently stand, Michael Jordan is considered the G.O.A.T. One big reason why? His six NBA titles are seen as the mark of supremacy for an NBA superstar. Rings quantify greatness in this day and age, and Jordan set the bar insanely high.
For LeBron James to ultimately be deemed the greatest basketball player of all time, he will need to equalize Jordan's title count.
Lucky for James, he's a third of the way there and is smack dab in the prime of his career. Questions will surround James' future as a monster free-agency period in the summer of 2014 looms large, but it would appear that his best chance to sustain high title odds would be to march on with the crew of stars he's surrounded by in Miami.
Four more championships is undoubtedly a lofty goal, but in order to be reach the pinnacle of the basketball hierarchy, James will have to match the one who's unanimously considered the greatest.