ESPN’s recent 10-part documentary “The Last Dance” reignited the ongoing debate of who is the greatest player in NBA history. Since LeBron James came back from down 3-1 to win the 2016 Finals, the G.O.A.T. discussion generally surrounds James and Michael Jordan, and the documentary seemed to only increase the gap between the two superstars.
The majority of fans still believe the Bulls legend to be the top player in league history, but James still has time to equal Jordan’s many accomplishments. In year 17, James doesn’t have many seasons left, yet there are feats he can achieve to end the debate once and for all. These tasks aren’t likely, but they’re the only way James will ever be universally deemed the best to ever pick up a basketball.
Win Three More Championships
Yes, this seems highly unlikely. This season is the best chance James has had in recent seasons to once again hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, but whichever team wins this year’s Finals will have an asterisk attached to it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unfortunate for James and his Lakers that the virus emerged just as they were looking like the best team in the league.
You could argue that coming back in the 2016 Finals against a 73-win team was a greater accomplishment than any of Jordan’s six championships, so maybe if James wins this year’s title those two rings will equal out. James’ haters won’t see it that way and will always bring it up in G.O.A.T. debates if he does win it all in 2020. Still, winning it should only help his case.
If the Lakers re-sign Anthony Davis after this season they will be set for the foreseeable future to compete for more championships. It’s no guarantee James will earn three more rings with teams like the Clippers and Bucks also appearing to be set for a while, although he should have as good a chance as anyone else. Six rings for James would equal Jordan’s total, and even though he’d have at least six more Finals losses than Jordan, him getting to that many Finals might look more impressive if he also wins at least half of his appearances.
Win Three More Finals MVPs
This is a bigger challenge than winning three rings. As James ages, Davis should be poised to assume the top-dog role in Los Angeles and likely win at least one Finals MVP trophy if the team was to win three more. Some fans and media members already argue that Davis is the more important player on the Lakers, so James will have to somehow maintain his MVP-caliber play into his late 30s.
If anyone could do it, it would be James. He takes great care of his body and has already proven he can win Finals MVPs with other All-Star caliber teammates. Regardless, father time is undefeated and Davis, 27, is just entering his prime. James would likely have to average another triple-double in the championship series to earn this award down the line, as well as play some sturdy defense. He is, however, a more popular player than Davis will ever be, so who knows how that will play into the voting for Finals MVP. If it’s close between Davis and James, the media may just want to give James the award so he can catch Jordan. That’s optimistic but it’s clear many media members support James’ quest to be the best.
Win Two More Regular Season MVPs
This venture is the most likely of the three tasks, especially because James has a strong chance to win the award this season. Before the season paused, it was mostly a two-man MVP race between James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. James bested Antetokounmpo and the No. 1 seeded Bucks on national T.V. on March 6, as well as Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers two days later, which appeared to be defining moments in James’ MVP candidacy. With just eight games left in the regular season before the playoffs in Disney World, perhaps those performances will be enough to earn James his fifth MVP.
Jordan has five MVP awards and should have won at least a couple more if not for voter fatigue. He was so dominant that many people felt the award needed to be shared. James has suffered similarly throughout his career, most notably in the 2010-2011 season when Derrick Rose won the award and kept James from becoming the first player since Larry Bird to win three-straight MVPs. James could have won it several other seasons as well, but everyone knows the MVP voting is often skewed based on a player’s narrative for that season.
One more MVP than Jordan would be nice, but what would truly end the G.O.A.T. debate is for James to enjoy the same team success that the Bulls did in the 1990s. Winning is the ultimate indication of greatness, and as of right now, James doesn’t have as much hardware as Jordan. There’s still a chance to catch Jordan, but James’ clock is ticking fast.