LeBron James vs. the NBA: The Case for the NBA's Greatest Player

LeBron James vs. the NBA: The Case for the NBA's Greatest Player


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LeBron James vs. the NBA: The Case for the NBA's Greatest Player by Brendan Bowers

Showcasing one of professional basketball's best players, this book spotlights the life and career of hardcourt superstar LeBron James. More than just a biography, it relates James' story while also establishing his prominent place in NBA history. By examining his skills and statistics in a variety of categories and comparing him to other NBA legends—including Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and more—the guide makes a strong case for James as basketball's greatest. Along the way, his best and most memorable moments are revisited, from his days as a high school stand-out in Akron, to his first stint with the Cavaliers, to "The Decision" to join the Miami Heat, and the show-stopping performance in the 2016 Finals to bring an NBA title back to Cleveland. LeBron James vs. The NBA is certain to stir up lively debate and is a must-have for Cavs fans and basketball buffs alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629374406
Publisher: Triumph Books
Publication date: 11/15/2017
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 373,837
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Brendan Bowers is a digital marketing professional and writer from Cleveland, Ohio. His work has been published in SLAM Magazine, Kicks Magazine, Bleacher Report, Small Business Trends and elsewhere. He also once operated a Cavs blog called StepienRules.com and enjoys long walks down Euclid Avenue during victory parades. He is a proud member of the Linkmedia 360 team and graduate of Case Western Reserve University. His first book, "Cleveland Is King! The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Historic 2016 Championship Season", was a The New York Times Best Seller. Ryan Jones is the author of King James: Believe the Hype-The LeBron James Story. He was the editor for SLAM magazine for 10 years and currently works at Penn State University. He can be reached on Twitter @TheFarmerJones.

Read an Excerpt


The Numbers

So, Legacy Points. How does it work? What is it we're actually looking at here, and how do we arrive at these points?

Legacy Points: The MVP Factor

A player must win at least one NBA MVP award to qualify for the NBA Legacy Power Rankings, or activate their NBA Legacy Points. The NBA awarded its first Most Valuable Player trophy to Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks in 1956. He is one of 13 players who went on to win the MVP more than once during the 60-plus seasons that followed. This growing collection of superstars — voted the most valuable player in the League after each regular season — are the only players eligible for the NBA Legacy Power Rankings.

Despite the potentially subjective nature of MVP voting, it's still important for your legacy as an NBA player to actually win one — especially if your goal is to be considered among the GOATs. Top 30 all-time caliber players like John Havlicek, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Jason Kidd, and Dwyane Wade, for example, did not win an MVP trophy. Considering West finished as the runner-up in MVP voting four times, and did enough to inspire the NBA logo, his omission from this list, along with others like him, could certainly be questioned. But for as brilliant as these Hall of Famers were, West, Havlicek, Baylor, Kidd, and Wade are not considered the single greatest player in basketball history. The NBA Legacy Power Rankings attempt to isolate the handful of elite players who are truly in that conversation, specifically.

To be considered the GOAT you have to win at least one MVP. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan won five. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Moses Malone won three. Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James each won one or more. You cannot be considered the single greatest player in NBA history without being named the single greatest player in the League for at least one season. The goal of the NBA Legacy Power Ranking is to identify the handful of elite players who are truly in the conversation for Greatest of All-Time.

The Book of Basketball

In Bill Simmons' classic, The Book of Basketball, he famously ranks the greatest players of all-time much more comprehensively, while also weaving in his masterful brand of storytelling. Simmons' book, published in 2009, is widely considered the authority on overall all-time NBA player rankings. After creating and finalizing the NBA Legacy Power Rankings, I flipped back through the hardback version of TBOB to compare the names on each list. My findings are summarized below to offer some context for the Legacy Points introduced in this book.

• While not in the same order, 12 of TBOB's top 15 players are represented in the top 15 spots on the NBA Legacy Power Ranking.

• The three players Simmons had in his top 15 in 2009 who are not eligible for the NBA Legacy Power Rankings are West (No. 8), Havlicek (No. 13), and Baylor (No. 14).

• Of the top 15 players on the NBA Legacy Power Rankings list, only three fall outside the top 15 in TBOB in 2009 (Julius Erving No. 16, LeBron James No. 20, and Bob Cousy No. 21)

Precise Levels of Greatness

Every achievement is worth certain amounts of Legacy Points. For instance, a player earns seven Legacy Points for every regular season MVP award they win.

Legacy Points Breakdown:

• MVP award: 7 points

• NBA championship: 10 points

• NBA All-Star: 3 points

Kevin Garnett, as an example, won an NBA championship as a member of the Boston Celtics. He also won an MVP as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. During his professional career, Garnett was a 15-time All-Star. Those accomplishments combine to rank KG No. 15 on the NBA Legacy Power Rankings list with 62 Legacy Points.

Kevin Garnett — Legacy Points: 62

• MVP award: 1 (7 Points)

• NBA championship: 1 (10 Points)

• NBA All-Star: 15 (45 Points)

LeBron James' Legacy Points through the 2017 AllStar Game

LeBron James' Legacy Points summarize four MVP Awards (28 points), three NBA championships (30 points), and 13 All-Star games (39 points). This ranks James directly ahead of Shaquille O'Neal (92) at No. 9 all-time heading into the 2017 playoffs. James would need to earn 40 more Legacy Points to match Michael Jordan with 137. Jordan won five MVPs, six championships, and was named to 14 All-Star games.

Michael Jordan — Legacy Points: 137

• MVP awards: 5 (35 Points)

• NBA championships: 6 (60 Points)

• NBA All-Star: 14 (42 Points)

NBA Legacy Power Rankings Top 15

No. 15 – Kevin Garnett (62 Legacy Points)
NBA Three-Point Era (1979–present)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the last of his six most valuable player awards during the 1979–80 season. Michael Jordan began his NBA career in 1984. Since Jordan made his first NBA All-Star team in 1985, no player has earned more than the 137 Legacy Points that MJ totaled during the three-point era of NBA basketball. Kobe Bryant totaled 111 Legacy Points during the three-point era while Tim Duncan retired with 109 Legacy Points and Shaq 92. After being voted as an All-Star starter in 2017, LeBron had totaled 97 Legacy Points heading into the 2017 Playoffs.


From Phenom to NBA Rookie of the Year

The high school basketball prospects who competed at the 2001 ABCD camp in Teaneck, New Jersey, were seated in a college classroom when Los Angeles Lakers All-Star and reigning NBA champion Kobe Bryant arrived. Before teaming with Shaquille O'Neal to win multiple titles, Bryant would make his name at prestigious national camps like the one he'd now address. He was only five years removed from being the No. 13 overall pick in the 1996 Draft. As the three-time All-Star spoke, a junior from Akron, Ohio, named LeBron James who was beginning to contemplate that same prep-to-pro leap, sat in the audience.

"If you look at the draft this year, you see a bunch of high school players coming out," Bryant began to explain, as captured by the documentary crews chronicling the Adidas ABCD Camp for an ESPN The Life episode that first aired on the network in 2001. "They want to blame me, they want to blame Kevin, they want to blame Tracy, but it's happening. But the main thing I want to tell you guys is, don't put all of your eggs in one basket. What I mean by that, is don't let people make the decision for you. Don't let people say, well he has to go pro because he's that great already. Do whatever you want to do. If you want to go to Stanford, go to Stanford. If you want to go to Duke, go to Duke. If you want to go to the pros, go to the pros. Don't let them tell you what you can or can not do. Don't rely on basketball for your happiness, because it's not going to happen. You have to make sure you balance your life out, you got something there for yourself in life, you get your education right. And on the basketball court just rip hearts out."

The ESPN segment features two New York City phenoms named Sebastian Telfair and Lenny Cooke. Telfair, a sophomore at Abraham Lincoln High School at the time, would later go on to be selected with the No. 13 pick in 2004 and played over a dozen years in the League. Cooke, considered by some as the best player in the 2002 class, would see his promising career tragically derail off the court. The third high school player who was profiled in the piece was 16-year-old LeBron.

"I don't want to be like Kobe Bryant," James said two years before declaring for the NBA draft. "I just want to accomplish the things that he accomplished. Like winning the championship, All-Stars, just doing those things."

An NBA Rookie of the Year from Akron

A 6'8" forward from Baltimore named Carmelo Anthony was among the many talented players who joined James and others at sneaker giant Sonny Vaccaro's ABCD camp in 2001. A 6'11" center from Texas named Chris Bosh was also in attendance. Those three players would be selected among the top four picks in what many consider one of the greatest drafts in NBA history two years later. That NBA class would also welcome Dwyane Wade with the fifth overall pick, and nine future All-Stars overall.

The expectations for James as he began his professional career were unlike any high school player making the leap to the League before him. Kevin Garnett was selected with the fifth overall pick, for example, and Bryant the 13th. But since the talent evaluators began to suggest that LeBron would be not just an NBA player, not just an All-Star, not just a champion, not just an MVP, but also potentially the greatest player to ever live, the hype only continued to grow to seemingly impossible expectations. But James would answer the critics immediately in his first NBA game.

The second half of an ESPN NBA double-header to begin the 2003–04 season matched the Cleveland Cavaliers first overall pick against the Kings in Sacramento. Peja Stojokovic scored the first three points of LeBron's first NBA game when he collected a Mike Bibby pass to bury a triple on the left wing. The first assist for James would come a couple trips later when he lofted an alley oop that Ricky Davis deposited through the rim for two. James' first field goal attempt in NBA history was pure from the right baseline about 15 feet from the basket. The bucket cut the Kings lead to 7–6. He'd make his second shot from about the same distance but from the left baseline, and then soar through the NBA sky for his first professional slam with 3:03 remaining in the opening period. He'd total 19 points and eight assists on 9-of–14 shooting through three quarters before finishing with 25 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in a 106–92 loss.

"I'll tell you what, he's much better than I thought he was going to be," Sean Elliot, who was calling the game, said of James as the contest concluded. "I'm going to tell all the NBA players right now, he's much better than you think he is."

James was still a couple months away from his 19th birthday when he played the first NBA game of his rookie season. His highly anticipated debut is largely considered not just the best debut of any teenager in League history, but also the best debut of anyone who ever played — especially considering the coverage and conversation surrounding the young prodigy as he entered the game. James' point total in his debut would far exceed the combined professional debuts of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady, who scored eight between them.

A Season of Firsts and Milestones

LeBron scored 25 points in his NBA debut and then followed that up the next night in Phoenix with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists. He'd score 20 or more points 40 times as a first year pro for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and 30 or more points 20 times before his 20th birthday. On March 27, 2004, James recorded his season high when he gave the New Jersey Nets 41 in a three-point Cavaliers victory.

In a double-overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on November 29, 2003, James reached the 30-point plateau for the first time as a pro. Playing against a starting five that included Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, and Jason Williams, James finished with 33 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists. It was his 17th NBA game. He'd go for 37 at home against Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics a couple weeks later, before getting 36 and 32 in back-to-back games at Philadelphia and Chicago. During that same month of December, James went for 34 against Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic and 32 against Portland. In February, after celebrating his 19th birthday weeks earlier, LeBron would go on to get 38 at Washington, 32 at home against the Lakers, and then 32, 30, 34, and 34 against the Spurs, Magic, Hawks, and Warriors before securing NBA Rookie of the Year honors without debate.

"To the other rookies," LeBron said toward the end of his ROY acceptance speech, "I felt like it was going to be a close race between me and Carmelo. I was able to win the award, but he had a phenomenal season also. Dwayne Wade had a phenomenal season, and for those two teams [Denver and Miami] to be in the playoffs means a lot to me. Other rookies — Chris Bosh and Kirk Hinrich — made an impact in this league. This might be the best rookie class since 1995."

Young LeBron Scores 41

LeBron James matched up with future Cavaliers teammate Richard Jefferson and the New Jersey Nets on March 27, 2004. The Nets were 42–29 on the year, the Cavs 31–40. Earlier in the season, James scored as many as 30 points in an NBA game for the first time in a double-overtime thriller against the Grizzlies. He'd score 30-plus points in regulation for the first time ever against the Boston Celtics on December 13, 2003. But after taking the court alongside friend and teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas at Gund Arena against the Nets, James would score 40 for the first time.

James scored only two points in the first quarter on the night he got 40 for the first time in the League. He'd total 25 through three quarters before scoring 15 points in the fourth to reach a game- and career-high of 41. His Cavaliers would need every one of those points, too, as a James finish at the rim with 1.9 seconds remaining made it 107–104 Cleveland. Veteran guard Kerry Kittles attempted a 42-foot heave as the final buzzer sounded that fell short, and Cleveland escaped with a hard-fought victory, earned on the strength of their young superstar.

The true brilliance of LeBron's all-around skill-set was on display for one of the first times that night in Cleveland when LeBron scored 41 as a rookie. Even while hanging such a big number in the scoring column, James also dominated all other phases of the game at the same time. He'd dish out 13 dimes against the Nets and grab six rebounds while also pilfering three steals. As would prove to be the case throughout his career, James would efficiently arrive at his game-high scoring total by shooting 15-of-29 from the floor. He'd log 43 minutes, make one of two three-pointers, and knock down all 10 of the free throws he attempted. Big Z finished with 17 and 10 while Jefferson paced his Nets long before his Snapchat career with 35, seven, and six in a losing effort.

By the end of his first professional season, James would join Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade on the All-Rookie First team. Like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and the many legends before him, LeBron's exploits would earn him NBA Rookie of the Year Honors. He averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Meanwhile, Carmelo averaged 21 points and 6.1 rebounds as a rookie for Denver, Bosh 11.5 and 7.4 for Toronto, and Wade 16.2 points and 4.5 assists for Miami. In his opening act as an NBA superstar, LeBron offered a resounding statement of authentic greatness that would put him on a crash course with his first NBA All-Star game.


LeBron James vs. Kevin Garnett

Professional Career: 1995–2007

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves

Legacy Points: 62 (No. 15)

Kevin Garnett was a transcendent figure in NBA history. While following a trail first blazed by Moses Malone, Garnett reignited a youth movement in the NBA that resulted in an explosion of 20-year-old millionaires calling "Next!" across the Association. Like traditional 7-foot superstars who dominated the NBA before him, KG proved throughout his career to be a difference-maker defending the rim and anchoring the paint. Like the traditional bigs offensively, he could get his with his back to the basket, too, while stepping out to hit from 15. But unlike those before him, KG had guard skills. He brought the ball up the floor, dunked on your head, and then rejected your layup jogging back down on the other end. He was the Big Ticket.

Garnett dominated the game differently than NBA centers dominated it before him. Even before the social media age, Garnett was known across America the moment he declared for the 1995 NBA Draft as a high school senior in Chicago. I was entering the ninth grade when KG arrived in Cleveland that summer for an AAU tournament at a local high school. His Team Detroit won big against a collection of legitimate stars on an AAU squad named Team Pittsburgh. Several D-I college players occupied this summer league roster opposite Garnett, led by Cleveland legend and Cincinnati Bearcats Hall of Famer Melvin "The Helicopter" Levett.


Excerpted from "LeBron James vs. the NBA"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Brendan Bowers.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Ryan Jones ix

Introduction xiii

Chapter 1 The Numbers 1

Chapter 2 From Phenom to NBA Rookie of the Year 7

Chapter 3 LeBron James vs. Kevin Garnett 13

Chapter 4 First All-Star Game 15

Chapter 5 Evolution of LeBron: Ricky Davis Effect 21

Chapter 6 LeBron James vs. Hakeem Olajuwon 25

Chapter 7 LeBron James vs. Moses Malone 27

Chapter 8 First NBA Finals 33

Chapter 9 LeBron James vs. Wilt Chamberlain 39

Chapter 10 LeBron James vs. Larry Bird 45

Chapter 11 Evolution of LeBron: Delonte West Effect 49

Chapter 12 First MVP 55

Chapter 13 The Commercials 59

Chapter 14 LeBron James vs. Shaquille O'Neal 65

Chapter 15 Evolution of LeBron: Zydrunas Ilgauskas Effect 71

Chapter 16 Back-to-Back MVPs 77

Chapter 17 LeBron James vs. Bob Cousy 79

Chapter 18 First Title 85

Chapter 19 LeBron and Hip-Hop 91

Chapter 20 LeBron James vs. Julius Erving 97

Chapter 21 Evolution of LeBron: Dwyane Wade Effect 101

Chapter 22 Back-to-Back Titles with Heat 107

Chapter 23 Evolution of LeBron: Chris Bosh Effect 113

Chapter 24 LeBron James vs. Magic Johnson 119

Chapter 25 LeBron James vs. Tim Duncan 125

Chapter 26 Final Season in South Beach 131

Chapter 27 The Return 137

Chapter 28 Evolution of LeBron: Kyrie Irving Effect 143

Chapter 29 LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant 149

Chapter 30 Evolution of LeBron: Kevin Love Effect 155

Chapter 31 LeBron James vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 161

Chapter 32 Evolution of LeBron: Tristan, J.R., and Mike Effect 167

Chapter 33 LeBron James vs. Bill Russell 179

Chapter 34 Civic Leadership 185

Chapter 35 LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan 193

Chapter 36 First Championship in Cleveland 199

Chapter 37 NBA M-Time Lists 209

Chapter 38 LeBron James Stats Section 221

Chapter 39 Chasing Jordan: Legacy Points Prediction 229

Resources 235

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