The legacy of LeBron James is bookended by NBA history, trying to be better than the greats of the past while setting a standard that will withstand the challenge of the greats of the future.
The legacy of LeBron is also bookended alphabetically, by the letter K on one end—Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Karl Malone—and by the letter M on the other, in the person of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
Kareem, Karl, and Kobe are the three guys left in the way of LeBron setting the career record for scoring.
Magic is the gold standard for versatility, his 17,707 points, 10,141 assists, and 6,559 rebounds rivaled only by Oscar Robertson (26,710, 9,887, and 7,804) and, by the time he’s done with his career, Russell Westbrook (18,664, 6,780, and 5,663) in terms of setting standards for racking up counting stats.
LeBron, through games of March 24, 2019, has 32,493 points, 8,639 assists, and 8,870 rebounds.
In 53 games this season (missing 20 with injury and “load management”), Bron has 1,455 points, 431 assists, and 455 rebounds.
Put very simply, LeBron James has three years left on his contract and two or three years of solid production between himself and being the first man in NBA history to average a sort of triple-double in terms of thousands of counting stats—a 35-10-10 night literally times a thousand, the equivalent of doing it every game for 12 and a half years.
His Airness averaged more points in a game—even despite his best efforts to diminish his legacy with the Wizards, MJ’s 30.1 is the greatest of all time, narrowly edging out Wilt Chamberlain and then only if you expand to another decimal place.
But LeBron’s 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game for his career—and 8.6 boards and 8.1 assists in this, his 16th season in the league—go miles beyond Jordan for overall contribution to the stat sheet.
And sure, part of that’s because the game is different 20 years later, Jordan having played in an era when the shooting guard’s primary role was as a volume scorer while LeBron is more of a product of the modern NBA style of versatility from all positions and superstar-as-facilitator; you didn’t see guys who are only an inch taller than Jordan playing center in small-ball lineups while still leading an NBA championship team in assists, but Draymond Green has led the Warriors in assists for four straight years.
LeBron’s passing is so good that he’s got more assists per game than Rajon Rondo, a guy who has led the entire league in assists three times.
How crazy is LeBron’s Grand Triple-Double?
40 players in NBA history have 10,000 career rebounds. Of those, Kareem has the most assists—he had 17,440 rebounds and 5,660 assists.
Only five players in NBA history have 10,000 career assists. Jason Kidd finished his career with 12,091 assists and 8,725 rebounds, and unlike LeBron, Kidd was not a scorer—he ended up with just 17,529 points on a truly atrocious career eFG% of .464.
Only 11 players in NBA history have even 8,000 career assists. LeBron just passed Andre Miller this season to get into the top ten.
Of those, LeBron has the most rebounds, and only Big O (26,710) and Gary Payton (21,813) finished their careers with even 20,000 points, never mind over 32,000.
LeBron is fourth in history in scoring. He is 54th in rebounds. And he is 10th in assists. Throw in steals (1,936, good for 16th) and you’ve got a guy who might just have the most fantasy points in NBA history.
The one and only thing keeping LeBron from being the undisputed, why-is-this-even-a-discussion GOAT is that 3-6 record in the NBA Finals.
Which is a shame, because LeBron has the most playoff points (6,911, and Jordan is second at 5,987), the sixth-most playoff rebounds, third-most playoff assists (behind Magic Johnson and John Stockton), the most playoff steals (419, to Scottie Pippen‘s 395), and 15th-most playoff blocks (232, including the greatest chasedown block in NBA Finals history in 2016.)
His Heat teams lost twice, once to Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the Spurs, the other time to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Four of his Cavs teams ran into the Golden State Warriors, the greatest team for sustained dominance since the 1990s Bulls and the 2007 Cavs ran into Tim Duncan again.
If “3-6 in the Finals” is your argument, it’s a bad argument.
The more you slice and dice LeBron James’ individual numbers, both in the regular season and the playoffs, the more utterly insane the argument becomes that there has ever been another player like him in the 73-year history of major professional basketball.
And oh by the way, all of this is if LeBron retires tomorrow.
The Lakers have not diminished an opinion that was first cemented in the 2016 NBA Finals. LeBron James is the greatest basketball player who ever lived.