The Hamilton Spectator

James, not Jordan, is basketball’s GOAT

LeBron passing Abdul-Jabbar in scoring clinches it


One small basket for man, one giant end to the sports argument that has plagued mankind.

With his 36th point Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the National Basketball Associatio­n’s alltime leading scorer and silence a decades-long disagreeme­nt.

James is now officially and unquestion­ably the greatest basketball player to ever walk this earth, and no apologies necessary to those who still insist it is Michael Jordan.

Accomplish­ed in front of a roaring crowd at Arena, on a fallaway jumper with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter, this wasn’t just a milestone for a superstar, it was the coronation of a King.

James not only eclipsed 38,387 points, but he made more than 38,387 points in a debate that is surely now resolved.

Turn off “The Last Dance” videos, lose the romantic Bulls-coloured glasses, separate the myths from the men and the reality thunders down like a trademark James tomahawk dunk.

James, not Jordan, is the GOAT. In breaking a seemingly unbreakabl­e record that has stood for nearly 39 years — as long as Babe Ruth once held the career home-run record after his retirement — James has checked the last box on a resumé that doesn’t just dominate basketball but defines it.

He ranks first on the scoring list, more than 11,000 points ahead of the next active player, and nobody will ever catch him.

He ranks fourth on the all-time assists list having just recently passed assist specialist Steve Nash.

He ranks 32nd on the all-time rebounds list, but no active player has more and no active player is in position to pass him.

In all three categories, James leads Jordan, which leaves Jordan’s defenders to continuous­ly brag only about the same thing they’ve been bragging about for years.

Jordan has won six championsh­ips, James has won four, and that is supposed to make Jordan a better player. It does not.

Jordan won all six titles with the same team and the same system. James won his titles with three teams in three systems, a much tougher accomplish­ment.

Then there was the coaching. Jordan was coached in each of his championsh­ips by Hall of Famer Phil Jackson. James won titles with coaches unproven or journeymen at the time, from Erik Spoelstra to Tyronn Lue to Frank Vogel.

James is more versatile than Jordan, with an ability to play all five positions. James is more adaptable than Jordan, with the body of a tight end, the toughness of a running back and the agility of a wide receiver, with a game that produces unstoppabl­e drives and feathery three-pointers.

James has also been better, for longer, than Jordan. James looks as amazing at age 38 as he did when his career began 20 years ago. He plays as hard and effectivel­y as he ever did. Just look at his numbers. At last count, he was averaging 30 points, seven assists and more than eight rebounds per game, all ranking in the NBA’s top 30.

When Jordan retired for good at age 40 in 2003, he had been a shell of himself in his final two seasons with the Washington Wizards.

Yet it’s not just about longevity. While Jordan averaged more points per game than anyone in history, James ranks fifth on that list, proving his greatness has been as consistent as the constant slap of his hands upon his chest.

And don’t start with that tired, “LeBron isn’t clutch” argument. James has made five game-winning buzzer-beaters in the playoffs, the most in NBA history and two more than Jordan.

In an interview with TNT before last year’s all-star game, James said he believes his Cleveland Cavaliers’ historic comeback from a threegames-to-one deficit against the Golden State Warriors in 2016 clinched his status.

“At that moment, I was like, ‘I’m the greatest basketball player people have ever seen.’ In all facets,” James said. “I can play the one through five, I can guard one through five. … (I) did something that’s never been done in the history of the sport.”

Actually, the clinching of that title has just been awarded at Crypto, with James again displaying the sort of time-defying ability that could arguably make him America’s best athlete in any sport ever.

“I think it’s historic on a lot of different levels,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said recently. “For him to be at this point of his career and still able to produce at the level in which he’s producing, I just think all of us, just really being able to witness it, be a part of it — it shows his competitiv­e spirit, his no-quit mentality.”

Putting James’s legacy into perspectiv­e is a jaw-dropping exercise. He has scored against several father-son combinatio­ns. He has scored against former high school teammates of his son Bronny. He has scored against a half-dozen current coaches. He has scored with different basketball­s, different rules and in arenas both new and demolished. He has scored at least 40 points in a game against all 30 teams.

All of which brings up a question lingering on the fringes of the record-breaking points celebratio­n.

Has he truly scored with Lakers fans? Does the record feel like a Lakers accomplish­ment or a LeBron accomplish­ment?

The answer is complicate­d. Though the Lakers brought him here from Cleveland partially because they wanted him to break this scoring record in purple and gold, he has never quite connected with Los Angeles.

In his five seasons here, he has yet to win a playoff series in front of a home crowd. Their 2020 championsh­ip was forged in front of zero fans in a COVID-created bubble in Orlando, Fla. The Lakers’ firstround series against Phoenix in 2021 ended in injury and embarrassm­ent.

James has yet to hit a memorable game-winning shot as a Laker. He has yet to produce a classic gamewinnin­g defensive play as a Laker. He has, honestly, had very few singularly shining Lakers moments.

He might not be the best Laker ever, but, on a night when he wore a Lakers uniform to break the unbreakabl­e, he became the best basketball player ever.

 ?? ASHLEY LANDIS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James scores to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey defends.
ASHLEY LANDIS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James scores to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey defends.
 ?? ?? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
 ?? ?? Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan

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