Legacy: LeBron James Vs. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson And Michael Jordan

Byron on SportsCorrespondent IJuly 4, 2010

BARCELONA, ESP - JULY 26: (L-R) Larry Bird, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone of the USA Olympic Basketball Team (The Dream Team) walk on the court during a game against The Republic of Angola Olympic Team on July 26,1992 in Barcelona, Spain. The USA won 116-48. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
Mike Powell/Getty Images

I recently read, "LeBron James Free Agency: If You Can't Beat Them, Don't Join Them" by Ros Dumlao.

She presented a pretty good case for why LeBron may need to sign away from other big-name free agents to be considered the Greatest of All Time.

I am writing this as an article, to extend my comment and to assert that playing with great players would not automatically be a detriment to the legacy of LeBron James. Please let me know if you agree or disagree.

To be fair, I can understand the argument posed in this article and I have marked it as a like, because this is a great debate. Additionally, this is probably a real consideration for Mr. James as he attempts to draw his decision on where he goes. 

In her article, she says:

"James has to overcome Wade, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard. He has to stomp over little Derrick Rose and other rising stars in the NBA."

She also points out that Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan had great supporting casts. I just want to point out how great the supporting casts were.

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I marked her article as a like and wanted to make a reply to her and others that are considering legacy possibilities when trying to guess where James will land.

Each of the superstars was great in his own right, but the pieces they had around them were pretty outstanding and the legacy of these superstars is not tarnished as a result of the excellence of their teammates.

The most important thing for LeBron James and his legacy is to win often, win big, and surround himself with the best teammates possible to make sure that happens every year.

The Case of the Larry Bird Legacy: 3 Championships - 5 NBA Finals 

Kevin McHale and Robert Parish made the list of the 50 Greatest Players ever to play in the NBA. Dennis Johnson had already been an NBA Finals MVP before he got to the Celtics.

Kevin McHale was one of the most reliable offensive threats and matchup problems of his era. His efficiency in 1986-87 and 1987-88 was phenomenal. He shot over 60 percent from the field in those 2 seasons and scored 26.1 and 22.6 ppg, respectively. 

For his career, he had a field goal accuracy of .554...that's impressive. That is getting close to Shaquille O'Neal offensive efficiency, and he was not a liability on the free-throw line.

Well deserving of recognition as one of the 50 greatest players of all time. McHale was an extremely skilled post-player (didn't pass much) and a good defender to boot.

Robert ("The Chief") Parish was a true center. He was a banger with sharp elbows and a real knack for throwing the ball in the bucket. For most of his career he shot more than 54 percent and for a couple seasons was almost 60 percent. 

With Parish, look at his season production as opposed to the career season averages (he played into old age), and his efficiency is awesome for his era. 

Then watch some old games and realize that Robert Parish was a running center throwing down "tomahawks" on the break in addition to being a dominant big man in the half court.

This was a devastating front line. It had no real weakness. These were three of the greatest front court players in the history of the league on the court at the same time in their prime.

Dennis ("D.J.") Johnson (may he rest in peace) was the point guard. He was also the NBA Finals MVP when he played for Seattle and during his time with Seattle and Phoenix he was getting MVP votes for his performances on the court. In 1979-1980 and 1980-81, Dennis Johnson finished 5th and 8th on the NBA MVP ballots.

This guy was one of the best players in the league for quite a few years. 

Dennis Johnson was a star that became a role player as opposed to a player riding someone else's coat tails his whole career.

And, to restate: Dennis Johnson was a former NBA Finals MVP; this guy was a clutch performer. He is in the Hall of Fame, that should tell you something and for most of his years with the Celtics that was the guy that teams had to leave open. How many teams have had Hall of Fame players as their fourth or fifth option?

The 1980s Celtics were a super team. Loaded with competitors. Danny Ainge, Bill Walton, and Cedric Maxwell were "role players" during this period. 

This team was loaded and would have won more championships if the Lakers were not there as a foil. Nonetheless, Bird's legacy as a player is living strong to this day.

The Case of the Magic Johnson Legacy: 5 Championships - 9 NBA Finals

Magic Johnson is an interesting player. He was more than a once-in-a-generation type occurrence. The way things are going, one might reasonably suggest that Magic Johnson is a once-in-a-lifetime NBA talent.

How many players in the history of the league could have played all five positions at an All-Star level over the course of their careers? I can't think of anyone else. Magic was the complete package.

His supporting cast starts with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, two NBA top 50 players. Without a doubt, his teams were as loaded as Larry Bird's.

Some people argue that the Lakers were more loaded and others just feel that the competition in the East Conference during the 1980s was just significantly stouter.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was better than most players in their prime when he was past his prime (check out his stats). He sky hooked his way to: 19 All-Star Games, 15 top 5 MVP Ballots, 6-time NBA MVP, 10 All-NBA First Teams, and remains the career leader in scoring all time.

The guy was basically unstoppable on the block; imagine if he was a selfish player.

During his career, he racked up a ton of rebounds and played great defense night in and night out.

Additionally, he was one of the best passing centers in league history. Jabbar has to be in any discussion about who is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), especially when you look at his collegiate credentials as well.

James Worthy was a sensational open court player that had all the skills to be a superstar on any team he was on.

His shooting percentage from 1982-1990, was 53 percent at its lowest and he had three seasons where it was over 57 percent. Worthy was without a doubt one of the league's premier finishers.

And when the playoffs came, he got better, even playing with these guys and support players such as the much under appreciated Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes, and others.

Magic Johnson has secured a great legacy as one of the greatest players and, more importantly, winners in the game. Remarkable considering his career was cut short. 

The Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980's sometimes appeared to be the starting five for the Western Conference All-Star Team. (The rosters were so similar.)

The Case of the Michael Jordan Legacy: 6 Championships -  6 NBA Finals

It seems like Michael Jordan got the short end of the stick when it came to supporting casts. And, compared to Bird and Magic, it is probably true during Jordan's early years.

And, that was the problem, despite what so many people seem to think Jordan never came close to sniffing a title when he was a one-man show.

Scottie Pippen (the result of one of the greatest draft day trades in NBA history) was incredible.

He is among the Top 50 players to ever play in the league and did it on both ends of the court. Pippen ruined his own legacy due to his attitude. 

While Pippen's numbers are not eye popping, he was of course the second option to Jordan (which is like being the third option to any other superstar), his career contributions on both ends of the floor are quite laudable.

The Robin portion of this Dynamic Duo was nothing to sneeze at. Remember while Jordan was off playing baseball, Pippen was playing MVP-level basketball for the Bulls and still led the Bulls to 55 wins.

The Bulls teams of the 1990's Jordan was on was pretty darn good with or without Jordan.

In the second three-peat, there were some pretty outstanding players added. Ron Harper (so under rated) and Dennis Rodman were major acquisitions. Rodman showed up with championship rings on his fingers, and Harper got two more after he left the Bulls.

Had it not been for knee injuries earlier in his career, Ron Harper would have been a superstar over the course of his career. After the injuries, he learned to be a role player, and he was the most dangerous kind of role player.

Dennis Rodman's rebounding rate from 1991-1998 was obscene and the three crazy years he spent with the Bulls really contributed to the complete demoralization of opponents in the league.

He made it so you had to stop Jordan and Pippen, two or three times on one trip down the court. A rebounder pulling down 15 or 16 boards a game (in less than 35 minutes of play) is worth as much as a 25- or 30-point per game scorer.

Keep in mind rebounds don't cost you possessions; they get you possessions and take them away from the other team.

Rodman was the perfect complement to a volume shooter like Jordan. The rare player that takes pride in pure hustle play. He didn't even want to shoot.

Any team that has two players scoring 20+ points a game, and a rebounder grabbing 15+ boards, is a super team. Most of these games were over in the third quarter. The 72-10 team was probably the greatest team ever assembled in the history of the league.

This was the epitome of a team all the parts fit together perfectly, because the stars' skill sets were so complementary to one another.

Toni Kukoc for several years was a a very good player, not great. Horace Grant was a very good forward, also, not great. So, it is easy to see the argument people make about the greatness of Jordan outstripping that of Magic or Bird. 

The X-factor with the Bulls supporting cast is that it was full of complements. The Bulls are a rare case where you get to see the supporting cast of a premier team perform without their superstar. It probably made that team even better.

Nonetheless, the Bulls before the 1990's were a playoff team, not a championship team, and there was no way Jordan was going to will them to the finals without some stars to help him.

(Think of Wade's situation this year with Miami. A five seed, great star performance, no ability to advance in playoffs due to lack of overall talent.)

The Case of LeBron James: 0 Championships -  1 NBA Finals

The most important thing for LeBron James in terms of legacy is to win championships. He should take a look at Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, two of the best players to ever put on a pair of basketball sneakers. 

The only criticism of their greatness is their inability to to win championships. The reason they could not win championships is because of the super teams that they had to compete with.

Barkley and the Phoenix Suns were a great team, a super team in its own right. At the end of the day, they got beat by another super team. 

Super teams are the teams that win the most championships, and the Bulls, Lakers, and Celtics kept theirs together for a long time. Championships went through them.

LeBron James can definitely be on a super team and become the greatest player of all time or at least get into the discussion.

But, there are other guys in the league that will be gunning for championships and if he does not join a team of elite players and collect as much talent around him as possible, another team will show up and assemble a roster that can keep him from living in the promised land.

I would imagine that he learned a lot this season and last season watching people jump of the Cleveland Cavaliers bandwagon in the wake of a playoff disappointment.

The truth is that if Cleveland would have won the championship this year, it would have been looked back upon as a great team.  

The roster was far from an abyss, devoid of any talent, it was a very good team: the team in Chicago will not really be that much more talented than what he has or could have in Cleveland. And, as great as he is, he must certainly recognize that the team that knocked him out of the playoffs did not have LeBron James on its roster.

He should place a lot of emphasis on getting himself surrounded with winners in a winning organization and let the legacy build itself.

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