It's easy to discount coach-turned-commentator Mark Jackson's blustery rhetoric most of the time, but he actually married bombast and good sense when he offered some superlative praise for LeBron James during ESPN's broadcast of Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat on Monday.
Mark Jackson on LeBron: "He's the greatest small forward to ever play this game."— Chris Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) May 27, 2014
The stats are in Jackson's corner.
Most dissenting voices will shout out Larry Bird's name in response to Jackson's coronation of James, but the numbers are all in LBJ's favor.
Here's a basic breakdown of some key categories:
|PER||Total Points||PPG||MVP Awards|
As you can see, James outpaces Larry Legend in player efficiency rating, total points and even MVP awards.
Perhaps John Havlicek and his eight championship rings warrant a mention as well, but his career numbers (20.8 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting) hardly measure up to James' ultra-efficient figures. And Hondo never won an MVP.
Give Jackson credit for consistency. He's been saying James is tops at his position for quite a while.
Here's his opinion from January of this year:
Pregame in Miami, Warriors coach Mark Jackson just called LeBron James "the greatest small forward to ever play this game ... I mean it."— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) January 2, 2014
And he's been enamored with King James for even longer than that.
For the record, my favourite Mark Jackson thing was when he kept his kids up to watch LeBron's "The Decision" as a positive teaching moment.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) September 4, 2012
No wonder LBJ showed him so much love upon his return to the broadcast booth. Jackson has been spreading the King James gospel for years.
Any remaining holdouts will probably refuse to crown James until he matches Bird's three championship rings. Focusing on titles is often silly, as a huge number of outside forces—teammates, era and luck—all factor in. But that doesn't stop many observers from valuing rings above all else.
James has a tough road ahead of him as he seeks his third piece of finger bling—not with the Pacers, of course, they're cooked—but with either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. If he can lead his team to a third straight championship, likely capturing another Finals MVP award in the process, he'll have Bird completely crushed.
James' dominance might already be secure, but he can remove all doubt about his small forward primacy with another title this year.
And after that, he'll be on the hunt for a bigger distinction: greatest NBA player of all time. No positional designation necessary.