In the past two years, LeBron James has not only solidified his label as the best basketball player on the planet right now, but also as a champion and as one of the greatest to play.
After knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs in his past two NBA Finals series, James has moved himself up the pyramid as one of the all-time greatest in NBA history. It’s no question he ranks in the top 25 among the greatest NBA players ever. Some may even says he’s already top 15, or even top 10.
With two rings, two Finals MVPs and two regular season MVPs on his back from the past two seasons, the only thing left for James is to keep racking those accolades up and keep winning. The upcoming NBA season is only a little over a month away, as the Miami Heat look to make it to their fourth straight NBA Finals as they go for a three-peat. If James wins, could he have solidified himself as a top 10 NBA player? We’ll see. But here’s another question, a better question: is LeBron already the greatest small forward ever?
The only people who can make somewhat of an argument against James as the greatest small forward of all-time are people like Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen and Larry Bird. It looks like James already has Dr. J and Pippen beat, so it’s only Larry Bird that poses the biggest threat against the Akron, Ohio native.
After winning his first ring, James moved up on the all-time scale, with many writers dubbing him as the second-best behind Bird. However, with another MVP, Finals MVP and ring to his name, has he surpassed Bird now?
If you take a look at both players’ first 10 seasons in the league, their numbers are shockingly similar. For Bird, the Boston Celtics legend averaged 25 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. James has averaged 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game.
Overall, Bird’s only advantage is in rebounding. Bird does shoot more efficiently, having shot 50.3 percent from the field to James’ 49 percent. It’s not that big of a difference. On the other hand, James defeats Bird in points averaged by nearly three and assists totals by nearly one.
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However, if you dig even more deeper, James has Bird beat by nearly 4,000 points on the all-time scale, along with nearly 1,000 assists. (He trails Bird by 2,000 rebounds, though.) Postseason isn’t much different, with James averaging around a 28-9-7 on 47 percent shooting to Bird’s 24-11-6 on 48 percent shooting.
Really, it’s toss-up between who you’d want to choose with those totals, since they are both so shockingly similar. But besides the stats, let’s take a look into what really matters: championships.
For his first 10 seasons, Bird won three NBA championships and lost two of them, all of which were to the Los Angeles Lakers. For James, he has gone 2-2 in his Finals appearances, with losses to Texas-based NBA teams: the Spurs (’07) and Mavericks (’11).
Sure, Bird won more than James, but he was only named Finals MVPs in two of the three in which he won. James has won the MVP award in each of his Finals victories. Looking more into the accolades, Bird won the regular season MVP award three times in a row from 1984-86. James has won it four times, spanning from 2009-13 (he didn’t win in 2011).
Basically, looking at everything in play, you can make a strong case for each as the greatest small forward of all time. Realistically, James will pass Bird at some point. That’s a lock. After 10 seasons, James is only 28 years old. Bird was 32 after finishing his 10th season. After that, he never won another NBA championship. For James, it doesn’t look like there is any team in the Eastern Conference that is standing in his way from going back to the Finals.
So yes, right now you could say Bird is the greatest small forward of all time. But when it’s all said and done after the 2013-14 season, especially if James manages to capture a third ring and maybe even another regular season MVP, there’s no doubt in my mind he will be considered the greatest ever at his position.
Is LeBron already the greatest small forward ever?
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