After avoiding the disgrace of a 2-5 record in the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James finally delivered on his longstanding promise to his hometown franchise; he brought a championship back to Cleveland.
It was, unreservedly, a great sports moment. Even if you spent most of the playoffs rooting against the Cavaliers for whatever reason (maybe you don’t like James, maybe you think Dan Gilbert is a sleazeball, maybe you didn’t like Matthew Dellavedova’s fashion decisions), you had to tip your hat to James and company for doing what no other sports team based out of the Cleve had done for over half a century.
For a little while, Cleveland savored a reprieve from their status as the sporting world’s punching bag, and they owe it to one of the greatest basketball players of all time. But how great is James, exactly? You could fill a library with takes on the topic, particularly since he’s been the NBA’s biggest superstar in the internet age.
Everyone has an opinion on LeBron, for better or worse. But it’s safe to say that he has secured his spot as one of the 10 greatest players of all time. Of course, there’s something to be said for celebrating the best players in league history on their own merits; Dr. J was Capital-G Great, Oscar Robertson was Capital-G Great, as were Elgin Baylor, and Bob Cousey, and Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon, and so on).
While you can’t fault any fan for placing those guys in their personal pantheon, not making the cut here doesn’t diminish their careers in the slightest. That’s not this kind of list. (For the record Sir Charles, Dr. J, and the Big O are all somewhere in my personal top 10 of favorite NBA players.)
This list will try to be as empirical as possible — at least as much as you can be when ranking across eras — by comparing accolades, dominance, rings, and, yes, stats. You can’t hold the rules of the game in today’s day and age against LeBron any more than you can hold the fact that there was no salary cap before the 1984–85 season against the guys who played then. Here are the top 10 NBA players of all time.