Top 7 NBA Players

While we’re all locked in our houses, I decided to take the opportunity to spend some time doing two things I love: Writing and arbitrarily ranking things. Why top 7? Because 1) 7 is more interesting than 5 but less open-ended than 10 and 2) Subtle tribute to the greatest, John Elway (but that’s another list for another day).

As an NBA expert* I decided to sit down and write out the definitive** ranking of the seven best players in the league’s history. If you think I’m wrong, the rules of the internet dictate we have to walk away thinking of each other as terrible people who don’t know anything about basketball.***

*guy who watches a decent amount of NBA
**totally arbitrary
***rules are rules, man

So, without further ado…

7. Wilt Chamberlain

It’s tough to accurately rank any of the legends before 1970 (or even 1980 for that matter), so let’s pretend I’ve seen a ton of ancient NBA games to justify this ranking. The league was smaller back in the day, the competition was clearly weaker, and the game sure seemed a lot easier for imposing figures like Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Still, the numbers are what they are and they’re pretty mindblowing, regardless of era. And, with what limited footage we do have, it’s plain to see that Wilt was a complete player who could score, pass, defend, and rebound – not to mention his spectacular athleticism.

6. Kobe Bryant

This post is already going to be ridiculously long, so I’m going to sum this one up by saying that in a time with historical greats like Shaq, Dirk, Duncan, and Nash, Kobe was consistently the best player and became the defining figure of the era.

5. Larry Bird
4. Magic Johnson

The MVPS and championships are there. The highlight reels and legendary games are there. The influence is there – their long-running rivalry is widely credited with exponentially growing the league’s popularity leading into the Jordan era, so their influence can’t be denied. They represented the ultimate clash of styles – flash vs. fundamentals, LA vs. Boston, the guy with the Hollywood smile and charisma vs. the guy who looked like your neighbor’s dad who coached the city t-ball team. Magic’s versatility and team success give him the slight advantage.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The case is simple: NBA’s all-time leading scorer, 6x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 5x All-NBA Defensive team, 6x champion between two franchises, one unstoppable, iconic shot. In a sense, he got to enjoy a decade of individual success followed by a decade of team success. Not a bad career path. And he did it all while dragging Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.

2. Michael Jordan
1. LeBron James

I know, it’s considered heresy to have anyone but MJ as #1. We’ll get to why I did that, but first I need to establish that this isn’t me trashing His Airness. You don’t need me to tell you that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player. 5x MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Olympic gold medalist, best player on 6 title-winning teams. Career scoring average over 30 points per game. Saved the Looney Tunes from interplanetary kidnapping. Aside from all of that, he was simply the coolest guy on the planet. The black Air Jordans, the tongue hanging out, the shoulder shrug, the #23, even the cheesy earring – all iconic to an entire generation. He might be the most famous athlete in history. There’s no denying his greatness, and that’s not what I’m here to do.

However, I do think there’s a case to be made that LeBron deserves #1. I made that case in-depth here, but for the purposes of this article I’ll limit myself to these three points.

  • The arguments for Jordan are often made based on memories, not facts. Michael Jordan the myth was better than Jordan the player because no human being could ever be as good as Michael Jordan the myth. He never missed a big shot. He didn’t need any help. He played against defenses that were far better than those in any other era. For goodness’ sake – fans ranked him as the greatest NCAA player of all time when no legitimate analyst would have him in the top five of college players.
    Thanks to YouTube and Basketball-Reference, the mythologizing can be fact checked and it does bring him down a notch from the flawless player everyone remembers.
  • The championship rings and finals record aren’t viable arguments. A number of LeBron’s finals performances were statistically better than MJ’s last three finals performances. In his three series losses to the Warriors LeBron averaged more points, rebounds, and assists and had a better shooting percentage than Jordan did in his three finals wins from 96-98. Lebron lost all three because his team was hopelessly outgunned against a team with potentially 5 Hall of Famers. I suppose if LeBron really had the winning gene he would’ve thought to be born at a better time, or kept the 2nd best player in the world from joining the only 73-win team ever. Alas, he just didn’t want it bad enough.
  • LeBron checks off all the boxes. He can score as well as anyone, he rebounds, he’s been one of the best passers in the league for much of his career, he can and does defend all five positions (typically at an elite level), and his blend of power and agility means his athleticism rivals the best athletes the league has seen. On top of all of that, he goes about his business efficiently. His routinely high shooting percentages and assist totals show he’s a master of making the right decision. And, he’s the best we’ve ever seen at coming through when it matters most. His career elimination game averages are 34-12-8. If you had to build a perfect basketball player robot, he’d look a lot like LeBron. And if Dwyane Wade’s knees fail and Kevin Durant joins a 73 win team to prevent your roboplayer from winning championships, you shrug your shoulders and move on. Doesn’t mean he’s any less of a player.

Obviously it’s a debate that can go on for days, but that’s my 7. Tell me why I’m wrong.

[1] stats via

Why your MJ > LeBron arguments are bad

I love sports debates. They’re like a sport within a sport. Since no debate is hotter than MJ vs. LeBron right now, and since I have a pretty strong opinion about it, I’ve been known to wade into it a few times. So, I’ve heard all of the arguments given in favor of Michael Jordan. I agree that he’s great, but I don’t think the arguments hold up. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones I’ve seen.

Nobody will ever be better than Jordan

In other words, “I refuse to be objective about this and therefore my opinion is not valid.”

LeBron wears #23 after Jordan so clearly Jordan is better


Michael didn’t have to leave to win.

Context. 1) LeBron’s teams were objectively awful. The Cavs had 7 years to get him help and couldn’t come up with anyone better than Larry Hughes. MJ had Scottie and Phil. If MJ were saddled with LeBron’s early Cleveland teams and never left, he would have precisely 0 rings. Basketball is a team game and nobody has ever won with teams that bad 2) Players didn’t leave in MJ’s day like they do now, but his discontentment with the team he had indicates he very well might have left in a different era.

LeBron has had better teammates

First, that’s demonstrably untrue. Statistically, LeBron has taken some laughably bad supporting casts to the Finals, including this year’s Cavs. In Michael’s 2nd 3-peat, he had 3 of the best supporting casts the Finals have seen since the start of his career.

Second, context. Michael played in a time where players didn’t really choose their teams, so super teams were rare. Once the Celtics and Lakers faded, the league was comprised of 2-star teams. Johnson and Barkley. Dumars and Isiah. Stockton and Malone. Hakeem and Drexler. Shaq and Penny. So, Jordan and Pippen was enough to go against anybody.

LeBron’s prime came during the heyday of the KG/Pierce/Allen Celtics, the Kobe/Pau/Bynum Lakers, and the Duncan/Manu/Parker Spurs, the KD/Westbrook/Harden/Ibaka Thunder, and ultimately the Curry/Klay/Draymond/Iggy/(KD) Warriors. LeBron had good teammates, yes. But that doesn’t mean his teammates were better than the competition, and that’s the context that matters.

Additionally, Jordan’s Bulls won 55 games and went to Game 7 of the 2nd round without him. The Cavs and Heat were lottery teams as soon as LeBron left.

Michael never lost in the Finals

Guess what that argument lacks? Context.

If the two had played with the exact same coaches and teammates against the exact same opponents, this would be a viable argument. Since they didn’t, the argument ignores all context. Does anybody really believe that if Michael had to play Curry’s Warriors with Matthew Dellavedova as his sidekick that he’d still be undefeated? Does anybody really believe that a 22 year old Michael Jordan would have been victorious against prime Pop, Duncan, Manu, and Parker with DREW GOODEN as his sidekick and MIKE BROWN on the sideline? Come on now.

The only reasons Michael has a perfect Finals record? He never dragged a team to the Finals that didn’t belong there, and he never played an opponent that was even marginally better than his team – let alone one that was historically dominant. Jordan beat teams he was supposed to beat.

LeBron is very likely about to add another Finals loss to his record. It’s totally nonsensical to use that loss as a mark against him. Instead, it’s a testament to him carrying an inferior team to a place they never belonged in the first place – again, something Jordan never did. Yes, he lost to a team he should have beaten in the 2011 Mavs. But he’s also beaten plenty of teams he shouldn’t have, none more prevalent than the 73-win Warriors in 2016.

LeBron wouldn’t have survived in the 80s

I mean… have you seen LeBron?

Did you see him hit this layup with a Celtic pulling on his shoulders like a human backpack?

He’d be fine.

LeBron flops

Sometimes. But he also fights through getting absolutely battered. By the time MJ was winning titles, he went to the line every time somebody looked at him funny.

Hand check rules made scoring easier in LeBron’s era

Maybe. But the illegal defense rules that were enforced in Michael’s era made isolation scoring ten times easier than it is today and yet for some reason nobody ever brings that up when comparing eras. Help defense was basically illegal.

Today’s NBA isn’t as good

I’ve always been told that the 80s and 90s NBA was miles ahead of today’s league. Thankfully we’ve got YouTube to confirm whether or not that’s true. Upon further review, the NBA back then was certainly different, but not in a good way. Between the differences in athleticism, size, and strategy, the NBA of Jordan’s day isn’t in the same galaxy as today’s. Check out these clips from two of MJ’s most famous performances (63 points vs. the Celtics, 55 points vs. the Suns) and tell me the NBA was more difficult then.

MJ 1.gif

MJ 2.gif

MJ 3.gif

MJ 4.gif


Memory has a way of making things a lot bigger and better than they were. That doesn’t make it true.

Michael was a better defender

In one sense, that’s probably true. He won a DPOY award and is well-known for his lock down abilities. But LeBron is no slouch, either. He finished 2nd in DPOY voting in two different seasons, and he’s made all-NBA first team defense five times (to Jordan’s nine). The other thing that sets him apart is that he is one of maybe two players ever (with Magic Johnson) who has effectively defended all 5 positions on a basketball court. His ability to switch onto anyone has literally broken the NBA to the point where traditional centers are fading out of the league. Maybe Michael was the better defender. But it wasn’t by much, and being able to lock a guy down doesn’t make him more important to team defense.


Michael Jordan will always be in the conversation as arguably the best ever. But that doesn’t mean he can’t ever be topped. When you look at the two as individuals, you see that LeBron is just the more complete player. Jordan is the slightly better scorer, but LeBron is easily the better rebounder and also has established himself as one of the best passers the game has ever seen. Yes, Jordan was clutch, but LeBron is too. He’s the best Game 7 player the NBA has ever had.

Simply put, he does things Jordan just couldn’t do. He played against an all-time great team in 2015 and still led the Finals in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. In 2017, hopelessly outgunned against the team that won 73 games and THEN added Kevin Durant, he averaged a triple-double in the Finals, becoming the only player in league history to do so. He puts up stat lines that are straight out of a video game on easy mode. He puts up stat lines that look like Russell and Wilt’s from the days where they were 4″ taller than their opponents. Add in his longevity and consistency that is rivaled only by Kareem Abul-Jabbar, and you have a person who has played at a higher level and for longer than anyone we’ve seen.

When you factor in the truth that basketball is a team game that makes players heavily dependent on teammates, coaches, and opponents and just measure the players on what they can do, LeBron is the clear winner. We’ve never seen a more complete basketball player.