NBA Rankings, King James Le Best? ESPN, Are You Kidding?

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NBA Rankings, King James Le Best? ESPN, Are You Kidding?
Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images

ESPN has officially lost its mind, at least the basketball portion of it.

Chris Broussard might be too busy with economic shenanigans.

Perhaps Jalen Rose is off making another documentary.

Maybe Skip Bayless just wanted an “oldie-but-goodie” topic upon which to pontificate.

But LeBron James as the best player in the NBA?


The most physically gifted?  An unprecedented combination of size, athletic prowess and basketball talent unmatched in the game at this point in time?

Absolutely—LBJ is the most dominant athlete playing basketball now, maybe ever.

All things considered, he may be the best athlete on the planet.  There can be no doubt that “from the neck down” LeBron James is more than capable of playing in the NFL, probably at a couple of different positions.

The NBA archetype for this type of Super-Athlete was Wilt Chamberlain.

He who scored 100 points in a single game.

He who led the league in rebounding in 11 of his 13 years.

He who even led the league in total assists one year.

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He who almost fought Muhammad Ali.

And it’s pretty much acknowledged in sports literature that Wilt could have been an Olympic jumper and/or sprinter.

But his physically phenomenal feats were accompanied by some baggage.

In some respects, the 100-point game was a travesty, the Warriors shamelessly fouling intentionally despite having the game well in hand, thus creating more possessions for Wilt to score.

His chief nemesis, who won 11 championships in his 13 years, came out on top in seven of their eight playoff clashes—won the rebounding title those other two years, too.

And his assist title happened the year after his Sixers won the championship.  (In fairness to Wilt, we should note that he’d finished third during the title season and had twice been in the top 10 earlier in his career.)

But ultimately, at the elite level of competition, gaudy accomplishments and physical attributes notwithstanding, Wilt Chamberlain was never the best player.

Ditto for LeBron James.

LeBron and Wilt, though their journeys are different and happening in very different basketball worlds, are dancing to the same tune.  (The Michigan Frog crooning “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” in the old Warner Brothers cartoon might be fitting.)

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Boston breeding kept Abacus aggressively anti-Wilt for years, but recent writings (Cherry’s biography of Wilt, Gary Pomerantz’s wonderful account of that 100-point night in Hershey, The Rivalry by John Taylor) have engendered a true appreciation for Mr. Chamberlain’s attributes on and off the court.

Let’s wish Mr. James a similar legacy, but he’s still not the best player and likely never will be.

As for ESPN?

They were way Outside the Lines this time.

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