Based upon LeBron's vast improvement (especially defensively) and dominance the last two years, and Kobe's less selfish play over the last three years and his additional championship, I feel the need to update my ranking of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Since you asked, here is my BRAND NEW top 10 in order: Jordan, LeBron, Jabbar, Magic, Russell, Wilt, Bird, Kobe, Robertson, and West (Elgin Baylor, O'Neal, Olajuwon, Duncan, Dr. J, and Rick Barry would be the next six in order, hence, my honorable mention).
Some explanations are in order.
Right now, LeBron is the second greatest basketball player that I have ever seen. But, as I write this (4/25/10), LeBron has zero championships and LeBron's and Kobe's careers are not finished.
Don't worry, I understand the importance of winning championships when ranking the greatest basketball players of all time, but I am not concerned—Lebron's rings will come soon (looks like his first one will come in a few weeks from now). In addition, I reserve the right (like you have a choice lol) to update my list once they finish their careers.
I went through this years ago with Michael Jordan and I was proven correct.
In Jordan's fourth year in the league (third full), I told people that not only was he the greatest basketball player that I had ever seen (I started watching pro basketball in 1969 when I was 10 years old), but also that he was the greatest player ever and practically no one believed me.
Laker (Magic) and Celtic (Bird) fans were particularly brutal to me because Jordan had no championships at the time. Guess who had the last (but delayed) laugh? Hence, like Jordan, I have concluded that LeBron is just too good right now to not add him to my list.
LeBron is not as good right now as Jordan was at his peak, but it is possible that he will surpass him, say, about three from now. LeBron has two advantages over Jordan: 1. He is bigger and stronger than Jordan, and 2. He is a better passer than Jordan (although I consider Jordan a great and underrated passer). In fact, LeBron is the best non-point guard passer ever (sorry Bird fans—he would be second and Jordan third) and LeBron has the potential to be the best passer ever (I would still rate Steve Nash first, sorry Magic and John Stockton fans).
LeBron, however, has to learn to be a truly great closer to surpass Jordan.
Jordan was the greatest closer ever (no old-timers claim otherwise so I am confident this is correct) and Kobe is the second greatest closer that I ever have seen. With LeBron's improved three point and free throw shooting, defense, and leadership over the last couple of years, there is no reason to believe that he will not reach a “closer” level close to Jordan and Kobe.
Incidentally, Wilt's inability to close out and win close playoff games because of his lousy free throw shooting is why I only have Wilt sixth (plus, of course, he only won two championships).
In my humble opinion, one advantage that I have over other serious basketball followers (including fans, ex-players and coaches, and sportswriters and sportscasters), in ranking the greatest players of all time, is that I am fairly neutral when it comes the all-important Lakers and Celtics (32 championships and several all-time great players between them).
I am neither a Lakers nor Celtics fan, nor am I anti-Lakers or anti-Celtics. I have found, understandably, that die hard Lakers and Celtics fans have a hard time not being bias when ranking the greatest basketball players of all time. Now, that does not necessarily make my list correct, but it does improve its chances.
I should add that No. 1 (Jordan) and No. 10 (West) are very clear to me. As great as West was, I think that there is a bit of a gap between the top nine basketball players of all time and the next seven or so. Also, there is clearly a gap between Jordan and everyone else.
However, I think the ranking of the second through ninth greatest players of all time is much murkier for three reasons. First, I did not watch any basketball between 1946 and 1968 and neither did most of you. Second, Kobe, and especially LeBron, have not finished their careers. Third, it is extremely close between these players and if you switched the order around among players two through nine (or 10 through 16 for that matter), I would not argue that much.
Now, for those stubborn and somewhat delusional basketball followers that still don't understand that Jordan is clearly the greatest basketball player of all time, let me leave you with a quote from Hubie Brown in an article that he wrote for NBA.com:
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