Debating NBA players across history is usually a fruitless argument.
Stances and rankings are based on the generation each debater was raised in and who they enjoyed watching.
The typical debate goes back and forth on who is the GOAT – the Greatest of All Time.
Most people consider it a two-horse race between Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
If you were born before 2000, you most likely think Jordan is the GOAT.
If you were born after 2000, you probably side with LeBron.
Today, we are going to compare a couple of Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kareem is another player who’s name is occasionally brought up in the GOAT debate.
The man who weaponized maybe the most unguardable shot of all time – the skyhook – is a worthy opponent to King James.
First, we will discuss each player’s career accomplishments and then we will determine who was better all-time.
Nobody has ever entered the NBA with more hype than LeBron James.
He was anointed “The Chosen One” while still in high school before being taken #1 in the 2003 draft.
Jordan had a ridiculous amount of attention wherever he went. He wasn’t a 17yo declared the “Chosen One” on the cover of SI before he took one shot in the NBA. Lebron not only lived up to it, he’s handled it exceptionally well throughout his career #LastDance pic.twitter.com/q6xOyvyksP
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) April 20, 2020
James has lived up to the hype and then some.
For his career, he averages 27.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 7.4 APG.
He also has a trophy case that rivals any athlete in history.
A 16x All-Star, 3x All-Star MVP, 16x All-NBA Team, 6x All-Defensive Team, 4x MVP, ROY, 1x Assist Champ, 1x Scoring Champ, 4x NBA Champion, and 4x Finals MVP.
The stats and accolades speak for themselves.
Here are his career rankings in terms of minutes played, points, rebounds, assists, and win shares (estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player).
- Minutes Played: 48,551 (8th)
- Points: 34,241 (3rd)
- Rebounds: 9,405 (48th)
- Assists: 9,346 (8th)
- Win Shares: 236.4 (3rd)
The King is on track to score the most points in NBA history if he plays another 3 seasons – putting him ahead of Kareem.
He could also move as high as 3rd all-time in assists, 3rd in minutes played, and 2nd in win-shares.
What’s almost more impressive is he has shown no signs of slowing down heading into Year 18.
He just capped off his 17th season with another NBA Title while leading the league in assists-per-game.
LeBron has been historically durable which is an incredible achievement for a man of his size and strength.
While nearly all players start to tail-off towards the end of their careers, LeBron seems to be extending his prime.
The one knock against LeBron has always been his finals record (4-6) and leaving his original team to win a title.
The record is by no means great, but he has still made it to 10 finals – impressive no matter how you look at it.
9 out of the last 10 NBA Finals include LeBron James.
One of the most baffling stats ever.
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) September 27, 2020
Of the 6 losses, 5 came against historically-great dynasties in San Antonio and Golden State.
James leaving to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is also not as big a knock as people make it out to be.
Throughout history, most NBA greats won titles with fellow stars.
Durant had Curry, Kobe had Shaq, and Jordan had Pippen.
Having a problem with the way James went about it (The Announcement) is one thing; knocking him for it is another.
James has had a GOAT worthy career.
His counting stats, accolades, and titles put him amongst the all-time greats.
Kareem’s career is nothing to scoff at either.
He has stats and a trophy case to easily match or even exceed James.
The Hall of Famer has career averages of 24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, and 2.6 BPG.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
24.6 PPG-11.2 RPG-2.6 BPG-56%FG
24.3 PPG-10.5 RPG-2.4 BPG-53%FG
15x ALL NBA
11x All Defense
— NBA All Access (@nballaccess) June 24, 2016
He is also a 19x All-Star, 15x All-NBA Team, 11x All-Defensive Team, 6x MVP, ROY, 1x Rebounding Champ, 4x Block Champ, 2x Scoring Champ, 6x NBA Champion, and 2x Finals MVP.
Just like LeBron, the stats and accolades speak for themselves.
For comparison’s sake, here are Abdul-Jabbar’s career rankings in terms of minutes played, points, rebounds, assists, and win shares.
- Minutes Played: 57,446 (1st)
- Points: 38,387 (1st)
- Rebounds: 17,440 (4th)
- Assists: 5,660 (43rd)
- Win Shares: 273.4 (1st)
LeBron could pass him in points, but his lead in minutes played and win shares should be insurmountable.
Kareem is arguably the most unguardable big man in NBA history.
Already standing 7’2″, he utilized a skyhook that was unblockable.
His offensive game was unmatched as he averaged greater than 30 PPG in 4 seasons.
Kareem was more dominant in his 6 seasons with Milwaukee but more successful in his 14 seasons with the Lakers.
He won his first title with the Bucks playing alongside Oscar Robertson and won 5 with the Lakers while playing with all-time greats such as Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Michael Cooper.
🎂 Happy 82nd birthday to Oscar Robertson!
📊 1040 GP, 25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG
🎯 48.5 FG%, 83.8 FT%
⭐️ 12x (1961-1972)
🏆 1961 ROY, 1964 MVP, 3x ASMVP
💍 1x (1971)
Robertson's 181 career triple-doubles are nine more than LeBron James (94) and Wilt Chamberlain combined (78). pic.twitter.com/i8xWiQdvlS
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) November 24, 2020
Kareem, like James, was incredibly durable.
They say the best ability is availability and Abdul-Jabar was rarely unavailable.
He played all 82 games 5 times while playing fewer than 74 games only twice.
He averaged greater than 40 MPG in his first 7 seasons and didn’t drop below 30 MPG until his 19th season when he was 40 years old.
On top of an unguardable offensive game, he was consistently one of the league’s most disruptive interior defenders.
Kareem was past the height of his defensive prowess by the time the DPOY award started in ’82-’83, but still made 11 All-Defensive Teams and led the league in blocks per game 4 times.
He cleaned the glass and consistently anchored defenses that ranked in the top-3 in terms of fewest points allowed.
Being the NBA’s all-time points leader automatically puts you in the GOAT conversation.
Adding on 6 rings, 6 MVPs, and 11 All-Defensive selections only strengthen an already impressive resume.
And the Winner Is…
It is difficult enough to compare players who played in different eras of basketball.
When Kareem played, the big man reigned supreme.
Teams structured their entire offense around a center dominating in the post.
LeBron has played during a time when the 3-ball is everything.
Wing players are highly valued and vital to a team having proper spacing on offense.
But nobody wants to hear that and that doesn’t make for a good debate.
People want a definitive answer, and that answer is LeBron James.
LeBron James is my pick over Kareem Abdul-Jabar as well as my pick for the GOAT.
With technological advances in health and medicine, the modern athlete is superior to any other time in history.
Not to say Kareem was playing against local janitors, but the average NBA player in the ’70s and ’80s just doesn’t compare to the average NBA player today.
LeBron is on track to surpass Kareem in terms of points scored and will be within shouting distance of his marks in minutes played and win shares.
He only has 2 fewer rings than Jabbar while also having the most impressive finals win in 2016 against the Warriors.
Finals Stats for LeBron James 🐐:
👑1.2 spg pic.twitter.com/fDBqOiEi4A
— ReturnOfKlay (@xKlayx1) October 12, 2020
James dominates the game in every single facet and elevates his teammates around him, especially in the moments that matter most.
Maybe I’m biased because I grew up watching James.
But The King has my vote because of how long he has dominated the NBA.