Let’s start the week with an argument.
In the 17th season after he began playing NBA basketball, Michael Jordan was three years into his second retirement; he’d suit up for two more unremarkable, cringeworthy years with the Washington Wizards.
In the 17th season after he began playing NBA basketball, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to a middling record and a first-round playoff loss, by sweep, to the San Antonio Spurs. He had three more injury-ravaged seasons left in his career.
In the 17th season after they began playing pro basketball, Bill Russell had been retired for four years, Larry Bird also for four years, and Julius Erving for one.
In his 17th season, LeBron James is, at worst, the third-best player in the NBA. He ranks 11th in points and fourth in efficiency, and he’s put the Lakers atop the Western Conference by a wide margin.
I know, I know … we’re not supposed to use the “G” word — you know, rhymes-with-“boat” — around LeBron. It’s the hackiest of sports-talk-radio arguments, an unanswerable question: Jordan or LeBron? MJ or King James? Six rings or eight straight finals appearances?
Put all that aside for the moment and just reckon with this: At a point in his career where most other stars were washed or cashed, LeBron right now appears unstoppable. In just the last eight days, he has:
Pasted four very good-to-great teams (Zion’s Pelicans, Embiid’s Sixers, Giannis’s Bucks and Kawhi’s Clips) by a double-digit average ...
Nearly averaged a triple-double (30.3 points, 11 assists, 8.3 boards) while doing so ...
Established the Lakers as prohibitive favorites to win the Western Conference (+135, per BetMGM) and near-favorites to win the NBA Finals (+250 to the Bucks’ +240).
Nowhere was James’ leveling up more evident than Sunday afternoon against the Clippers, a marquee heavyweight showdown. James was a locomotive through snowmen in the 112-103 victory. This was a statement win, and James ended it with an exclamation point, scoring or assisting on 19 points in the fourth quarter, including the Lakers’ final 13 points. Combine that with a Friday night victory over the Bucks, and suddenly it’s time to take the Lakers very, very seriously.
It’s a long, long way to June, but as of this moment, the Lakers have the look of a team that can run the table. What do we make of LeBron then? Rings with three different franchises. A decade-plus of dominance. How much more would he have to do to pass Jordan?
None of us are ever going to solve the Jordan-vs.-LeBron GOAT debate. That’ll be left to future basketball historians who aren’t blinded by memories of either one. But we can all agree that LeBron’s on one hell of a run. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts … which, let’s be honest, could still be awhile.
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