LeBron James made history on Tuesday night when he surpassed Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record. Along the courtside perimeter were those who supported him from his time as a high-school phenom at St. Vincent-St. Mary Catholic High School in Akron, Ohio. Jay-Z gave him a hug, his wife Savannah delivered a pouty kiss, his children, aspiring ballers, cheered with the sold-out crowd.
It is an arena that made Kobe Bryant an icon, placed a bronze statue of Shaquille O’Neal‘s destructive force on its front grounds, and prior to their arrival, gave the NBA a “Showtime” way of presenting the sport. Now in his 20th year in the NBA, LeBron James has done it all.
Who’s The GOAT?
Immediately, the inevitable GOAT comparisons began, shining light on this being the only thing James hasn’t done: quell the notion that he is the greatest basketball player ever to live. That is still up for debate worldwide. Even while basking in the glory of his latest coup, surpassing Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 career points, he is dogged by the comparison to none other than Michael Jordan.
But what does it mean to be the greatest in basketball? Is it scoring records? Is it championship quantity? Is it the killer instinct energy?
The concept of the basketball GOAT is a debatable one based on what criteria and lens from which you are framing your candidate.
LeBron James‘ resume includes four championships: one in 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers, one in 2016 with the Cavaliers, and one in 2012-13 with the Miami Heat. He also has four regular-season MVP awards, four Finals MVPs, and 19 All-Star selections. He’s also now the NBA’s all-time scorer, and his last accomplishment before that was becoming the NBA’s first actively playing billionaire.
Then there is Michael Jordan. Ubiquitous with athletic excellence, his dunking silhouette that sells highly coveted athletic apparel is akin to the NBA logo itself of Jerry West. He played for 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association, winning six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.
He is a six-time NBA Finals MVP (1991–1993, 1996–1998) and five-time NBA Most Valuable Player (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998). Jordan popularized and revolutionized the slam dunk competition, which he won twice back-to-back in 1987 and 1988, and is the epitome of most basketball players’ idol in competition.
Then there is the fact that he took the NCAA route instead of going straight from high school to the pros and, like James, won an NCAA title for the UNC Tar Heels, making the game-winning shot as a freshman.
James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, affectionately known as “Captain” for his preeminent role with the Los Angeles Lakers as the standard of dominance for an NBA center. Cap won six championships and after retiring in 1989, his scoring record was not beaten until 2023.
Magic Johnson is often overlooked for consideration as the GOAT. Still, he won everything young, an NCAA title as a sophomore, NBA champion as a rookie, and face of an era known simply as “Showtime.” However, he is now more widely considered the greatest point guard ever.
Each brought something immeasurable to the game, and each transcended sports. Financially, LeBron James is the poster boy for success and advocacy while still a player in the NBA. Michael Jordan is the virtue of any athlete seeking a legendary athletic and post-athletic career. They both have solidified their legacies, and their GOAT status depends on the generation you respect: foundational or new generational.
LeBron now enters ground reserved for one and his claim to it will forever be debated.