In NBA history there have been few players that have truly owned the title of "dominant." These are players that can single-handedly will their teams to victory; players that step up in crunch time and despite all odds cannot be stopped. A dominant player does not necessarily have to contribute solely on the offensive side of the court, but also when called upon, they can shut down the opposing team's best player.
Since 2000, there have only been two players that have reached this status, and they both happened to play on the same team during the early part of the new millennium. They also both are often referred to on a one-name basis.
Still can't guess who?
One more hint then...they each have four-plus rings. Yes sir. I'm talking about Shaq and Kobe. For the younger generation, you may not remember them excelling at this level, but when both of these players, during their prime, decide to flip the switch, they were unstoppable.
Shaquille O'Neal is what I define as the definition of dominant during his years as a Laker. For the stat junkies out there let me recall his stats during the Lakers' three-year run as champions:
'99-'00 - 29.7 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 3.8 APG
'00-'01 - 28.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG
'01-'02 - 27.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.0 APG.
That averages to be 28.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 3.5 APG during that three-year stretch. But the most important stat that I failed to mention is that his field goal percentage during those years was a whopping 57 percent.
If you don't remember Shaq during that time period, then walk with me down memory lane. For all you Kobe lovers, Shaq was the anchor of the team and the main focus of defenses trying to stop the Lakers. Despite that, he still managed to use, not only his size, but his amazing quickness to score at will on opponents.
Opposing offenses had trouble scoring in the middle because he was an intimidating defensive presence, noted by his average of over two blocks per game. If you want proof, revisit the 2000 NBA finals, his performance was one for ages. His achilles' heel was his free-throw shooting and teams invented the "Hack-a-Shaq" to limit his effectiveness during key stretches of the game. At times, this even backfired due to him just physically overwhelming any opponent that was put in front of him. Shaq knew what needed to be done to get his team a win and delivered 100 percent of the time. In one word: Domination.
For many years, Kobe served as the 1B to Shaq's 1A and rightfully so, because Shaq was the best player on those teams. However, when Kobe was handed the keys to the Laker franchise he took off.
To recognize Kobe's accomplishments you have to first realize he is a shooting guard. Traditionally the game's big men are the players that deliver championships. As a result, in NBA history, there has been only one shooting guard to buck that trend, and his name is Michael Jordan.
By no stretch of the imagination is Kobe the player Michael was, but he is very, very close. During stretches of his career, the media and pundits alike deemed Kobe as a selfish player, but when opposing teams cannot stop you from imposing your will, then why not be selfish?
Despite his five championship rings, MVP trophy, two scoring titles, 13 All-Star appearances and eight All-Defensive First Team selections, there is only one number that can truly define Kobe's dominance.
That number is 81.
In the modern era, to score 81 points on a professional team, no matter how many shots attempted, is the epitome of domination. It is one thing to dominate near the rim where there are higher percentage shots, but it is totally different to dominate on the perimeter with multiple defenders guarding your jump shot and eliminating dribble-drives. While Shaq's time as a dominant force in the league may be over, Kobe's window is still open, albeit closing fast, and he has the hardware to prove it.
LeBron James is one bad mothe...SHUT YOUR MOUTH, but I'm only talking about LeBron. LeBron has already joined the group of one-name stars, and he is preparing to join the elite group of truly dominant players. Despite the Miami Heat bandwagon that seems to gather followers by second, his play on the court can only be classified as domination. More so this year than previous years, LeBron has taken his game to the next level.
Maybe it is the instilled confidence of having Dwayne Wade at his side, maybe it is his vastly improved jump shot, or maybe it even is his willingness to not only close out games, but silence opponents. Whatever it may be, LeBron is demonstrating it in full force.
As I mentioned before, to be considered a truly dominant player, one has to contribute on both sides of the ball. LeBron's crunch-time defense on Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce and Derrick Rose is what separates him from the player he was as a Cavalier.
During his championship runs, Kobe demanded Phil Jackson let him guard the opposing team's best player and proceeded to eliminate their impact on the game. Well, LeBron must have been watching some old Kobe footage because he has shut down a finals MVP and the league MVP in two consecutive playoff series.
He is taking pride in his defense now more than ever and is one of the reasons why Miami continues to win games based on their defense. He no longer is satisfied just making highlight defensive plays but has proven he is determined to nullify any effect the man he is guarding has on the game. We have always known that LeBron can score at will, but to add this new element to his game and improve his team defense in the process, has truly elevated his level of play.
On the offensive side of the ball, while his statistical numbers may not be as gaudy as Shaq or Kobe's, due to having Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh as teammates, LeBron contributes in ways that either player has failed to do. LeBron knows how to get teammates involved, and despite naysayers complaining that the only passes he makes are "assist-passes", they fail to realize the impact of their statement. "Assist-passes" are just what they claim to be—passes that assist players in scoring, thus putting points on the scoreboard and contributing to wins.
While claims that LeBron is better than Jordan may be premature, let it be known LeBron James is the most complete player we have seen since Jordan, and he deserves every right to be classified as dominant. Winning the championship this year will only solidify that classification, and as we all have witnessed when LeBron has a full head of steam, as he does now, there's no stopping that man.