After LeBron James set the All Time Scoring Record the debate for the greatest player of all time was talked about again. As a fan who has watched the NBA since the early sixties, though games weren’t televised that often then, I tried to examine it from various aspects. In doing this I tried to consider all time stats, titles won, points scored, how they compared with other players in their era and just the plain old eye test.
For the sake of the argument I selected five players, LeBron, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. We can argue about which era was better but the only comparison we have is with the other players of that era. In Wilt and Russell’s time there were less teams so the talent was more concentrated. Today there are almost three times as many teams although basketball is more popular today than in the sixties the amount of players to choose from is much larger today as well.
LeBron has a 27.2 points per game average over his twenty years in the league. He played a full season, 82 games once. He was a four time MVP as well as won four titles. LeBron was always the best player on his team and over his career has averaged 38.1 minutes per game. As we all know he is the all time top scorer. On the negative side LeBron always managed to choose his team and has moved to a different team four times.
He played fifteen seasons and averaged 30.1 points per game. Jordan won six titles while essentially playing on one team, the Chicago Bulls, though he spent the last two years of his career with the Washington Wizards. He played 82 games nine times in his career doing it amazingly in his last NBA season. Jordan was a five time MVP and averaged 38.3 minutes per game.
He won eleven titles in thirteen seasons a record that will never be broken. He revolutionized the game with defense, rebounding and shot blocking. It has been said he always had the best team so that’s why he won, however look at his teams in 1968 and 1969 when an old Russell willed his team, an inferior team to Philadelphia in 68 and the Lakers in 69, to titles. Russell averaged 15.1 points per game and 22.5 rebounds per game. He was a five time MVP and never played every game in a season.
He averaged 24.6 points per game and has the second most points scored in his career. Abdul-Jabbar played every game in a season five times. He won six titles and six MVP’s and averaged 36.8 minutes per game.
Chamberlain played 15 seasons and played every game in a season seven times. He was a four time MVP. To be fair Wilt had to compete with Russell for the MVP throughout his prime. He averaged 30.1 points per game and also played an entire season averaging 50.4 points per game and had six seasons where he averaged over 36 points per game. He also averaged 22.9 rebounds per game. The one negative in his career was he only won two titles. One season he averaged 48.5 minutes per game.
After looking at the numbers and being able to speech player on television I believe:
- Russell was the greatest winner in my lifetime.
- You can choose either LeBron or Michael as the best player of the modern era and you wouldn’t be wrong.
- Kareem was the best player that spanned the old and modern eras.
- Wilt was unquestionably the most dominant player of all time. As a young boy it seemed Russell and Chamberlain were on the Sunday game of the week all the time. The games usually had the same conclusion. Boston won and they usually had the better team but Wilt was virtually unstoppable. Nobody dominated like Wilt did. If you look at it in modern terms what Wilt did was impossible. There was no load management then. Back to back games were common and teams played three nights in a row at times. The medical staff weren’t nearly as good as today with most teams not having trainers and when they did they didn’t always travel with the team. I know the argument that players are better today is common but you can only compare a player with the other players of his era. This isn’t to take anything away from the other four guys I mentioned, they were all great but when you look at Wilt’s numbers you realize outside of playing against Russell he was a man playing against boys. Was there any other player that dominated like that?