I’ve trotted out this list several times over the past few years and it typically ends with my email box and Twitter account flooded with hate mail and tweets. So before all you LeBron and Wilt Chamberlain honks go crazy again, let me explain my decisions as to why they are Nos. 3 and Nos. 8, respectively.
First and foremost, I put a heavy emphasis on titles won – and don’t give me the, “Ohhh, so why isn’t Robert Horry on this list then?” argument, either.
Pure greatness (skill, clutchness, will-to-win) is the main criterion, and titles won is one hell of a tie-breaker in these arguments. No, Bill Russell (who has almost double the championships as Michael Jordan with 11) was not as good a pure basketball talent as Jordan. So, Jordan gets the edge.
In the recently hotly contested Jordan vs. LeBron debate, I’ve gotta say it’s still an easy one. LeBron’s skill is equal if not greater than Jordan’s - fine. But Jordan’s clutchness and will-to-win was far greater than LeBron’s.
The tie-breaker? Titles won.
Jordan has double the rings as LeBron has – MJ with six, and LeBron with three. And for the record, Jordan would never be down to a team led by two rookies in the Eastern Conference Finals like LeBron is right now. It’s just not happening.
In my rankings last year, LeBron was parked at No. 6 overall – and I wrote the following: “LeBron is about to make it to his seventh straight NBA Finals. That is unreal. And if he duplicates what he did last year in the Finals, I’ve gotta think about putting him in the Magic-Bird range.”
In fact, I now have LeBron three spots higher than I had him last year.
Still, the “only three titles” thing hurts him when matched up with guys with double and triple the rings he has.
As for the old “Wilt vs. Russell” argument, the titles won thing is just so overwhelming. Russell won 11 rings. Wilt won just two. It’s a downright blowout.
Did Russell have better teammates throughout the course of his career? Sure. But don’t act like Wilt was playing with a bunch of scrubs.
In 1969, Wilt had another guy on this top 10 list – Jerry West – on his team, along with Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor. And Wilt STILL couldn’t beat Russell.
Disagree? We’ll run your responses in print later this week. Send your gripes and your top 10 list to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or @Burke_Metro.
1. Michael Jordan
Jordan’s competition in the 90s was not as good as Bird and Magic’s was in the 1980s or as good as LeBron’s is now. But the NBA was still plenty healthy that decade. Hakeem Olajuwon, young Shaq, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton would have been great in any era.
2. Bill Russell
There were just nine teams in the NBA in the mid-1960s. That made it easier to win titles … or did it? Gotta remember than with fewer teams, there was more elite talent to stack on one particular team. Almost every team back then could be considered a “super team,” with three or four Hall of Famers stacking one roster.
3. LeBron James
Easily the best player of the past 15 years, LeBron still has to win another ring or two if we are to seriously have him dethrone Jordan.
4. Magic Johnson
He gets the edge over Bird, simply because he has five rings and the Legend has “only” three.
5. Larry Bird
Not sure if any player on this list was as good as Bird at his peak. From 1984-86, Bird was playing an otherworldly brand of basketball.
6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem still holds the record for points scored in a career with 38,387 points. That’s about 6,000 more points than Jordan recorded in his career.
7. Tim Duncan
He’s been retired two years and already people are forgetting how great he was. A five time NBA champion and two-time NBA MVP, Duncan made the Spurs contenders in three different decades.
8. Wilt Chamberlain
The guys simply overpowered people. He was the Shaq of his day. FYI, Shaq didn’t make the cut.
9. Jerry West
“The logo” made the NBA All-Star team 14 times and led Los Angeles to the NBA Finals nine times.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon
The 90s was an era of great centers and no big man was as good as Hakeem during that decade. It’s just a shame we never saw the dream Finals matchup of Jordan’s Bulls vs. Hakeem’s Rockets.