The duo of Michael Jordan and LeBron James have already cemented themselves in the game’s pinnacle of all-time greats. The impact of these two legends has contributed to the advancement of the game and affected the next generation of basketball hoopers throughout the years. When it comes to the greatest of all time (GOAT) conversations, it can’t be held without them.
Imagine a world that didn’t see them play though. Jordan and LeBron are consensuses talks about the No. 1 and No. 2 GOATs of all time. In an alternate universe, if these two players didn’t touch a basketball court, who would take the place as the GOAT?
These five players would certainly be in the discussion.
Career stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Career Highlights: 3x NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), 2x NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986), 3x NBA Most Valuable Player (1984-1986), 12x All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP (1982), 9x All-NBA First Team (1980-1988), All-NBA Second Time (1990), NBA Rookie of the Year (1980), 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1982-1984), 3x NBA Three-Point Contest Champion (1986-1988), Hall of Famer
Bird led the Boston Celtics to titles in 1981, 1983, and 1986. If it wasn’t the Lakers, the Celtics were in the NBA Finals during this time. Not to mention, while this was going on, Bird won three straight MVP trophies from 1984-1986. The “Showtime Lakers” generated a lot of buzz during this decade, but Bird made sure that the Celtics stuck to their history as being one of the best champions in all of the sports.
Bird was the first player in league history to shoot 50% from the field, 40% on three-point field goals, and 90% or better on free throws in a single NBA season. He made the 50-40-90 club two times. He is remembered as an excellent passer and defender, but we often remember his ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He had this swagger about him, but you never heard it as much because he wasn’t like Jordan who boasted it. Had he, we might have known who our Michael Jordan was in Universe B.
Career stats: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Career Highlights: 11x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-1966, 1968, 1969), 5x NBA Most Valuable Player (1958, 1961-1963, 1965), 12x All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP (1963), 3x All-NBA First-Team (1959, 1963, 1965), 8x All-NBA Second Team (1958, 1960-1962, 1964, 1966-1968), NBA All-Defensive First Team (1969), 4x NBA Rebounding Champion (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965), No. 6 retired by the Celtics, Hall of Famer
Russell’s name is always thrown around in the GOAT conversation because of his record 11 championships. That included a seven-year stretch where the Celtics won consecutive championships. Only one season was the NBA Finals MVP trophy given out and it was the final year that Russell played in the championship. Despite the Celtics losing, the award went to Jerry West for his historic shooting performance.
In terms of the GOAT conversation, Russell owns the second-most rebounds of all time. In the playoffs, Russell averaged 24.9 rebounds, which is an NBA record. That includes one season of 29.9 rebounds per game in 10 games. To really put things into perspective, the Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the most championships of all time with 17. Only six championships in team history were won without Russell playing for the team.
Career stats: 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.6 BPG
Career Highlights: 6x NBA Champion (1971, 1980 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988), 2x NBA Finals MVP (1971, 1985), 6x MVP (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980),10x All-NBA First Team (1971-1974, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986), 5x All-NBA Second Team (1970, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1985), 19x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 6x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year (1970), 2x NBA Scoring Champion (1971, 1972), 1x NBA Rebounding Champion (1976), 4x NBA Blocks Leader (1975, 1976, 1979, 2980), No. 33 retired by the Bucks, Hall of Famer
Before Abdul-Jabbar helped the Lakers win five championships in the 1980s, he led the Milwaukee Bucks to their last NBA championship in 1971. As a rookie, he scored 51 points in a regular-season game on route to finishing second in the league scoring race. In his second season, he recorded a series-clinching win in the playoffs over the 76ers with a performance of 46 points and 25 rebounds.
Since Kareem left, the Bucks haven’t seen a player of his magnitude since the arrival of Giannis Antetokounmpo. As for his tenure in Los Angeles, he was an equal participant in the “Showtime Lakers.” After winning three MVPs with the Bucks, he won three more with the Lakers. He was a consistent 20-point, 10-rebound machine, while he topped 3.0 blocks or more per game in his first five seasons in L.A. He remains the all-time leader in career points, a record that may never get broken.
Career stats: 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Career Highlights: 5x NBA Champion (2000-2002, 2009, 2010), 2x NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010), MVP (2008), 11x All-NBA First Team (2002-2004, 2006-2013), 2x All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2001), 2x All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2005), 18x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 3x All-NBA Defensive Second Team, 2x NBA Scoring Champion (2006, 2007), No. 8 and No. 24 numbers retired by Lakers, Hall of Famer
Bryant would be the modern-day version of LeBron if LeBron never set foot on the court. Like LeBron, Bryant would have critics point at the fact that Shaquille O’Neal won three Finals MVPs during the Lakers three-peat from 2000-2002. Regardless, if Jordan and LeBron never played, he would be cemented as the second-greatest player to ever play the game.
After winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie, Bryant turned into a global sensation.
In 2006, he scored the second-most points (81) in a regular-season game, which was the most since Wilt Chamberlain’s record 100 points. In 2009 and 2010, Bryant led the team to two more championships, where he recorded two Finals MVP awards. He is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history, while his 18 All-Star designations are second-most of all time.
Career stats: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Career Highlights: 5x NBA Champion (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988), 3x NBA Finals MVP (1980, 1982, 1987), 3x NBA Most Valuable Player (1987, 1989, 1990), 12x All-Star, 2x All-Star Game MVP (1990, 1992), 9x All-NBA First-Team (1983-1991), All-NBA Second Team (1982), All-Rookie Team (1980), 4x NBA Assists Leader (1983, 1984, 1986, 1987), 2x NBA Steals Leader (1981, 1982), No. 32 retired by the Lakers, Hall of Famer
If Michael Jordan never played, Magic Johnson would be the GOAT and it would be an easy discussion. For starters, Kareem was great, but it was Magic that led the Lakers when he was out. Plus, Magic won three Finals MVP trophies compared to the one Finals MVP that Kareem won when he was a member of the “Showtime Lakers.”
When you look back at Magic’s career highlights, you also have to remember that his career essentially lasted from 1979-1991 and he still recorded more MVPs than Bryant. Had Magic never been diagnosed with HIV, it’s fair to say that his numbers would have been on par with the likes of Jordan, who we all consider the GOAT of the NBA.