Bill Laimbeer: LeBron James Would 'Probably' Be Best Player in NBA in 1980s

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2014

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Bill Laimbeer knows a thing or two about greatness.

He played at a time when Michael Jordan was coming into his own, redefining the game of basketball in the process. He played against Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers teams of the decade and helped propel the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back titles in the late '80s. 

Still, Laimbeer thinks LeBron James might have been the best even during his era.

"There was no one like him physically in our time slot," he said, according to Sports Illustrated Now (video below).

The former Piston—and member of the team known as the "Bad Boys"—also praised James' toughness, calling him "mentally" and "physically strong."

It's not as if this is the first time someone's said something nice about James, but it's always remarkable when a player from a different era ranks him as an all-time great. With LeBron still building his resume, more such comparisons are sure to come down the road.

James will continue to be compared with the best of Jordan's era—namely MJ himself—and other title-winning icons like Kobe Bryant. The more trophies James amasses, with the Miami Heat or elsewhere, the more he'll belong in those conversations.

Comparisons are always a tricky subject, though, especially when Jordan's invoked.

LOS ANGELES - 1987:  Bill Laimbeer #40 of the Detroit Pistons looks on during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles, California in the 1987-1988 NBA season.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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As Bleacher Report's Bryan Vale notes, some players are simply incomparable: "Jordan is Jordan, and LeBron is LeBron. Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever. LeBron may well end up being the most perfect basketball player ever. But that isn’t the same thing."

James himself was dismissive of the conversation when talking to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard in 2013:

But you're always going to have arguments, no matter what. People are going to like Jordan, people are going to like LeBron, people are going to like Kobe and so on. Magic, Bird … But I don't really think about it too much and say, Okay, I want to catch MJ. I'm saying I want to be the greatest, and I think I have an opportunity to do it just because of my skill set and because I feel like I've got a lot of room to improve.

The fact that James is already compared to Jordan despite winning just two titles is a testament to his uniqueness and versatility. There's never been someone quite like LeBron.

As it were, it's Jordan's team that now stands in the way of James winning his third straight title. Or anyway, Jordan's team—the Charlotte Bobcats—will be the first of several obstacles in the 2014 playoffs. 

Assuming Miami beats the seventh-seeded Bobcats (as safe a bet as there is in this first round), James' Heat will go on to face either the Brooklyn Nets or Toronto Raptors. The Nets won the regular-season series with the Heat 4-0 and will be looking forward to the opportunity for a potential upset.