Most current NBA fans won't bat an eye before referring to MJ as the best player ever. Others will argue in favor of LeBron or Kobe Bryant. Former NBA greats, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, don't always share those opinions.
ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin spotted an interview Kareem did with ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd that was transcribed by Lakers Nation's Phillip Barnett. During the segment, Cowherd asked Abdul-Jabbar about the greatest to ever play the game, and he responded by saying he believed Oscar Robertson had both MJ and LeBron beat:
LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome—but I think Oscar Robertson would have kicked them both in the behind Absolutely. Oscar was awesome. He had brains. [...] He had all the skills.
He could rebound and box out guys four and six inches taller than him. He was ruggedly built. He had fluid, quickness and just understood the game. No flair, he just got the job done every night. Who’s going to average double figures in points, assists and rebounds?
Jordan isn't one to taste the slight pill—he prescribes them.
His Airness recently said, per the Associated Press, he could beat just about everyone under the sun not named Kobe in a game of one-on-one—including LeBron (via CBS Philly).
Kareem has now given MJ a taste of his own medicine, an occasion LeBron could take pleasure in if he wasn't being administered the same dose of rejection.
Robertson certainly isn't an outlandish suggestion, if that makes LeBron feel better. Old Oscar was one of the most versatile studs during his time and is someone LeBron himself is often compared to, and for good reasons.
Look at how Robertson's career per-game averages match up against those of The King and His Airness:
The Big O took home only one championship in the twilight of his career (1971), but he also averaged a triple-double over an entire season (1961-62). There is a case to be made that he belongs in the conversation.
That's what this is, after all—a theoretical discussion. We will never truly put an end to this debate and those we fawn over, because we'll never see them all play together in their primes.
Not that these dialogues are useless. At the bare minimum, they're extremely riveting. I, for one, won't tell the still-active LeBron to stop chasing Jordan or the intangible G.O.A.T. title either, so long as he knows he may be pursuing a ghost.
Assuming he's looking for more people in his corner, I'd suggest he drop the 50/40/90 business and think triple-double averages for the win. And Kareem's vote of confidence, of course.