NBA / Aug 8, 2011 / 2:00 pm

The Best Athlete To Ever Play In The NBA Is…

LeBron James

LeBron James (photo. Jonathan Mannion)

The best arguments are the ones you can’t prove. And today on First Take, Skip Bayless called Deion Sanders – the man who recently suited up his new Hall of Fame bust with his signature bandana – the best athlete of all-time. Neon Deion was by far the best cornerback of all-time, maybe the best return man, a great baseball player and in high school, he was an all-state basketball player in Florida which is like being the smartest kid at an Ivy.

Sanders was so fast that it almost seemed like he wasn’t. It was effortless. He was so fast that he hardly ever showed it. I remember a few interception returns when he was on San Francisco where the dude was high-stepping in traffic 40 yards from the end zone.

(The return at :24 seconds is absurd athleticism…)

When we think of the best athlete in basketball, one name always comes up: LeBron James. He’s an athletic freak (he jumps so high that he was probably the first player to ever win a high school dunk contest without having the best dunks), is an absolutely massive human being, is considered by many to be the best player in the world (which has to count for something in this argument) and was himself an all-state football player in high school before giving it up. But is he the best straight-up athlete to ever play in the NBA?

When we think athletes in the league, it always comes back to dunking. And that’s cool. In football, people argue over 40 times. In basketball, it’s verticals. But what about guys like Leandro Barbosa, Allen Iverson & Earl Boykins? Or someone like Charlie Ward, who won a Heisman and started in the NBA? Is Michael Jordan the best athlete because he was the best player? Does David Robinson get extra points for being a seven footer who can run like a guard? There’s no definitive answer for best athlete ever in the NBA. It won’t ever be decided either. But there are cases for a number of guys…

David Thompson
Was every bit as athletic as any wing ever, but off-the-court issues held him back after just a few quick seasons…reported 48-inch vertical (although I don’t believe this)

Michael Jordan
One of the most explosive players to ever play…reported 43-inch vertical…at least showed a LITTLE potential as a minor league baseball player (he was starting to come around just before the lockout ended his run and helped drive him back to the NBA)…speed and acceleration were virtually unmatched during his day…if he played today, would still be one of the very best athletes…doesn’t hurt that he’s considered the GOAT hoops player

Vince Carter
Best dunker of all-time…reported 43-inch vertical…in-air creativity was stupid good

Shaquille O’Neal
Quick story: my father went to the same high school as Bennett Salvatore and one day a few years ago, they got into talking about Shaq. Salvatore said Shaq was INSANELY athletic, like something you had to consistently see up close to really appreciate. To be 7-1, 300 pounds, and have light feet, coordination, quickness, fluidity and strength is pretty ridiculous.

David Robinson
Look at his body…now look at his quickness and speed…now look at how tall he is…now tell me he wasn’t one of the best athletes ever

Hakeem Olajuwon
Probably the quickest big man ever…grew up playing soccer so you know his feet must be incredible…fluid and agile like the very best point guards

Wilt Chamberlain
Dominated a sport physically like nearly no one ever has…in high school, he was a track and field standout, setting Pennsylvania records in shot put and 110-meter hurdles and won titles in track at Kansas as well…had offers to professionally play football or box

Allen Iverson
In the conversation for fastest NBA player ever…as a high school kid, was nearly as good in football as basketball…watching him move, you get the feeling he would be unreal in just about any sport…fluidity was off the charts

Nate Robinson
Could be the best little-man dunker in NBA history…started some of this conversation this summer by declaring the NFL as a viable option

I could go on and on…the point being: if we ARE going to have a lengthy lockout, we could really use an NBA Olympics.

Who do you think is the best athlete ever in the NBA and why?

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  • the truth

    I think Eddy Curry 2010 is the best athlete of all time lol. Has to be lebron though, considering size, strength, quickness, speed, and vertical. I def agree with shaq/admiral/dream being on the list just because of their sheer size and being able to move like that.

  • Celts Fan

    I HATE the guy, but this conversation begins and ends at LeBron. Athleticism = a great combination of speed, strength, and jumping ability. Bron’s got all of that and then some. At 6’8″, built like Karl Malone, ain’t no question. And just like the Mailman, you wanna make sure he doesn’t touch the ball in the 4th quarter or bad things will happen…

  • Promoman

    I’d say Wilt, LeBron, and MJ may tie for the #1 spot. Allen vs. Nate would be a PPV event.

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    i wish more defenders would grow some balls and step in front of lebron while hes driving to the basket. if i was on the court i would jump with Lebron any day. i’d probably get banged on stupid but at least i didnt go out like a bitch and step to the side…

  • JAY

    Lebron and Vince.
    Two players I despise.

    I read a story about Vince a while back… one of the Raptor trainers said he had great natural strength. He said there are some guys who need to live in the gym to gain strength and some who are just strong even though they don’t work on it as much as others do. Vince was the latter. He explained Vince once came into training camp after a summer of sparse workouts, and lifted the 3rd most reps in the bench press (same weight)…. and that was the Raptor squad with A-Davis, Charles Oakley and Kevin Willis. In other words, he lifted more reps than one of those beastly gym-rats.
    ^ And that’s why Vince bugs the shit out of me. He TRULY was blessed with the perfect basketball body and tools.

    Also, don’t sleep on an in-prime Barkley too. Could jump out of the gym, was a one-man fast break, and at 6’4″ was one of the strongest dudes in the league.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/djlocdog Loc

    Wilt was incredible at volley ball too right?

  • Shot In Ya Face

    Out of all the players I’ve seen played live (VC, Iverson, Shaq, Lebron), I’d have to go with VC. The way he moves (when he was in his prime) was so fluid and silky smooth. Not too mention his 43-inch vertical.

    Lebron is a great athlete, but he’s so herky jerky and not as smooth as the others on the list.

  • John

    It’s LeBron. End of discussion.

  • top_gun

    No Dwight Howard mention?

  • Yucca Man

    Hakeem. Watch his highlights, watch his moves and quickness in the post, watch his coordination.

    LeBron’s faster, and he can jump. But Hakeem’s was coordinated enough to do things LeBron’s never even tried.

  • Youngwood

    Blake Griffin ??

  • Clutch

    Your missing dennis rodman best rebounder since russel at 6’7 . Could guard all five positions and phil jackson himself called him the ,ost athletic player he ever coached.

  • datdude

    VC athleticsm is crazy not too manyor any 33 plus year olds are doing this.VC had straight GOD given talent…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6KFbflROEk&feature=fvwrel….and please dont let me go to 2001 wit da highlight reels, just too sickenin people. Yea VC hands down IMO.


    the answer depends on ur generation….but shoot u didnt add kareem, magic, dominique,etc…. in the nab as of 2011… its labron, he is unstopible !!

  • PRB

    There’s a lot neglect going on in here… No one remembers Dominique? Larry Nance? Dr. J? Darryl Dawkins? Those guys had athletic abilities way ahead of their time, pound-for-pound Lebron is probably more athletic than all of them, but only cause nowadays it’s easier to find great athletes because of how much sport’s science evolved, back then nobody could touch the Chocolate Thunder, Nique, Dr. J… They were just too gifted in comparison to other players in the League in their own time…

  • rik smits


  • Daio

    James White had his head (yes, his head) not at, but over the rim on one warmup dunk on Youtube. If you’re talking about athleticism, that cat takes it. I ain’t saying he’s a great player, if you want great player and great athleticism, go for a dude like ‘Bron or Derrick Rose, but James White was definitely the best performing athlete in the NBA. Freaky jump.

  • ball in my hand

    what about shawn bradley

  • Peter

    Some hilarious responses, very nice (BRUCE, ball in my hand). Seriously there’s only one right answer: Danny Ainge. No one else even close.
    – When he was 21 he hit .243 and had a .986 fielding percentage at 2B for the Blue Jays on a God-awful minor league infield before Sky Dome was built. Consider that MJ was a pitiful, almost laughable AA outfielder. Ainge could have had a serious MLB career.
    – His NBA career speaks for itself.

    – 3 rings as a starter in the NBA.
    – 3 seasons as a very decent 2B in the major leagues.
    That’s on the field / court proof. No one else compares.

  • Jim

    Wilt – Name one other athlete that could match 50 pts and 29 bds per game for an entire season?

  • First & Foremost

    People, you have to look beyond jumping to determine the most athletic. The question wasn’t who jumps the highest. You have to look at functional mobility. He could run a 4.3 but can he quickly move from side to side? He can have a 40+ inch vertical but what about his second jump?

    I’m not saying you guys are making bad choices but give more of a reason than, because he is a good dunker.

  • JAY

    F&F has it right. Jumping isn’t the definition of athleticism. I read James White up in here somewhere…. I’m a big fan but I don’t think he’s won an arm-wrestling match since 4th grade. Vertical is just one aspect of athleticism. If we’re naming James White as the best athlete because he KILLS one criteria, then I propose Kevin Willis as one of the best athletes because he’s one of the strongest to ever play. <— see how silly that sounds?

    James White, definitely one of the best leapers to play in the league but I wouldn't call him the best all-around athlete ever… he's not even among the best.

  • SwissArmyKnife5

    @First & Foremost I agree with your post bro. I would have to say its Lebron. I also think Shawn Marion is a sleeper dudes second jump was, and still is unreal.After Lebron I say Vince,but then again I may put VC15 first.

  • SwissArmyKnife5

    @Jay I also agree.

  • SwissArmyKnife5

    When I think of an athlete a couple of things come to mind. Can the player Jump atleast 35-40 inches? Can the player squat atleast 2 times there bodyweight? Can the player bench 1.5 times there bodyweight? Whats the players bodyfat%? Can they guard multiple spots? Whats there shuttle, or 40yd time? The best athlete does not have to be the best player, they should be the best because of there talent, but thats up to the individual.

  • mustard

    you’d have to at least narrow it down by position.

    i’d go with:

    pg: iverson
    sg: VC
    sf: lebron
    pf: KG or blake griffin
    c: shaq or david robinson

  • budz

    DENNIS RODMAN will shutdown LEBRON if they ever played against each other. thats a FACT.

  • JAY

    You need to learn learn the definitions, and the differences between the words ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’. That is a fact.

  • Ian

    the admiral

  • Rainman

    Steve Nash gets no mention?

    This guy holds his own with professional soccer players

    Super Quick, Super Agile

  • rkirby

    Joe Alexander was/is stupid athletic

  • Kyle

    PG – Steve Francis or Anfernee Hardaway in his prime(Nash for playing multiple sports and Rose for being Rose get mentions)
    SG – Vince Carter (nods to Jordan, Nick Young, dude’s an athletic freak)
    SF – LeBron… Nique was before his time obviously, but don’t you think LeBron is more of a beast? How about Grant Hill in his prime? Not LeBron but he was faster and also could dunk on anyone.
    PF – A young Barkley, Amar’e or now Blake Griffin (nods go to KG, a very young Dirk, check him on youtube when he was faster than all 7 footers playing the run and gungame, played like a shooting guard and catch him in the rookie game how fast he is for a breakaway dunk)
    C – Hakeem or Dwight… but Shaq early on was sicker.

    Now I always thought Bo Jackson was considered the better of the two-way athletes but was destroyed by injuries. He actually made a pro-bowl and was an all-star with the Royals(he hit Babe Ruth like homeruns.) Deion had a far better career with football, but he only had speed. He was a mediocre lead-off hitter cause he never got on base, and never had a 4 season stretch where he was a serious hardcore hitter. He also had a bazooka for an arm, and ran the 40 meter dash in 4.12 seconds… he also played baseball the right way. Deion was a joke and called out by Carlton Fisk. Bo ran out every play even when hobbled. But he was hardcore. Bob Gibson also played for the Globetrotters in 1957 and was a great dunker.

  • M-Intellect

    Someone said Dirk. Slap me please.

  • Krayzie

    Has no one ever heard of Shawn Kemp?