In a word: undoubtedly. LeBron James — small forward for the Miami Heat, reigning NBA MVP, Finals MVP, and NBA Champion — is not bad at basketball. He’s probably not the best shooter in the game (that’d be Kevin Durant), or the best scorer in the game (still Carmelo Anthony), nor is he the best passer (take your pick: Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, and Ricky Rubio all sound good to me), but he is the best player by virtue of his lack of weaknesses. James — standing at 6’8″ and weighing 250 pounds — is famous for refining the bad habits out of his game. By now, ten years into his NBA career, he’s a freshly pressed shirt — wrinkle-free.
This is what LeBron does in a so-called down year
He’s averaging almost 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.5 assists a game. Aside from Oscar Robertson, who pulled down numbers like that over six separate seasons, only Larry Bird (did it twice), John Havlicheck (ditto), and Michael Jordan (once) have done that over a season. LeBron has done that four times in a year when he’s being accused of taking games off. Absurd.
He’s peerless in the true sense of the word — a nonpareil superstar
LeBron’s contemporaries — Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh — never really measured up. Wade won a ring first and Carmelo’s never missed the playoffs, but there was never any real rivalry between the four superstars of the 2003 draft. James’ biggest rival, relayed to ESPN by the man himself, was Celtics legend Paul Pierce. Along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics would frustrate James for the first half of his career, as well as providing a blueprint for his own championship success by pairing with Bosh and Wade in Miami. James broke through the Celtics barrier in Game Six of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, and has been on an unstoppable tear ever since.
He’s still the best player in the league — even if he doesn’t win MVP
The MVP this year is Kevin Durant’s to lose. Since the MVP is determined by a vote, ballot-casters get sick of voting for the same person over and over again. While Derrick Rose undoubtedly deserved the 2011 award, the best argument in his cause was fallout from The Decision, where everyone felt icky about voting for LeBron (who had won in’ 08 and ’09.)
Now the bad feelings are gone, but the voter fatigue remains. As LeBron cleaned up the honors in ’12 and ’13, the conversation has shifted away from James and toward anyone else. Story of the season Paul George has gotten some play, Chris Paul always remains a nice sympathy vote, and Kevin Durant is getting some strong push for his totally ridiculous December and January numbers, but there’s really no comparison. This happens all the time in the NBA — Charles Barkley’s 1993 MVP over Jordan, Malone’s 1997 MVP award over Jordan, etc.
He’ll let you know that he knows you don’t think he should win the MVP
The last time the Thunder and the Heat met on Thursday, it wasn’t a contest (and it also wasn’t Russell Westbrook’s fault.) The Heat cleaned up. Racing off to a 22-8 lead where LeBron scored the first 12 Heat points, going 5-5 and recording some by-now-they’re-standard-but-they’re-still-awesome dunks and alley-oop finishes, the Heat did whatever they wanted, and the Thunder never really responded. Basketball is a team game and all, but one would expect the reigning favorite for the MVP to do something a little more impressive than to start 1-7 after not taking a single shot in the first six minutes of the game.
He’s got everyone convinced
As NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal and the inimitable Round Mound of Rebound, Charles Barkley, both said during TNT’s halftime report, LeBron made a concerted effort to “son” Kevin Durant. Durant didn’t respond well, although he would eventually finish with 28 points and 8 boards. No, it still wasn’t Russell Westbrook’s fault. NBA stars are notoriously conscious of their own numbers, especially in comparison to other stars, and the numbers, like the ball, don’t lie. LeBron’s 33-8-7 (on 15-22 shots) far outstrips KD’s 28-8-3 (on 10-22 shots.)
With Durant still at least a zip code away, Dwayne Wade spending as much time on the DNP list as the highlight reel, Paul George still developing, and Carmelo Anthony mired in a Manhattan hellscape worthy of Scorsese in ’76, James is first among equals. He’s the best player on the planet — nevermind the NBA. The only solace for fans of any other NBA team is that he’s probably halfway through his career, so we’ll only have to watch him dominate for another five or six years before he begins to decline. Small comfort.