As NBA’s The All-Time Scoring Leader, Is LeBron Finally Your GOAT?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, left, hands the ball to Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James after passing Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis) (AP)

We are two weeks removed from LeBron James breaking the NBA’s all time scoring record, a record held for 38 years by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar which was believed to be the leagues most unobtainable individual achievement. Yet, LeBron at 38 years old, eclipsed the 38 year old record. If you have paid attention to James’ career at any point, the accomplishment is no surprise.

James’ came into the NBA directly out of high school at the age of 18, perhaps with the greatest expectations of an athlete that no other prospect in American pro sports has ever had laid upon them. Not only did he meet expectations, you can easily argue he exceeded them. His accolades include; 4x NBA Champion, 4x NBA Finals MVP, 4x NBA Most Valuable Player, NBA 19x All-Star, 3x NBA All-Star Game MVP, 13x All-NBA 1st Team, 3x All-NBA 2nd Team, 2x All-NBA 3rd Team, 5x All-Defense 1st Team, 1x All-Defense 2nd Team, Rookie of the Year, 1x Scoring Champion and Assist Leader, NBA 75th Anniversary Team Member, and 2x Olympic Gold Medalist. The awards and honors keep going and are indisputable. But there is one title, name, award, honor, that is constantly in argument, both for and against James. And that is the title of GOAT, or the Greatest Of All Time.

LeBron James came into the NBA during a great transitionary period for the league. Michael Jordan had just retired for the final time following a short stint with the Washington Wizards and majority with the Chicago Bulls. The late Kobe Bryant was entering his prime, while not only preparing to step out from the shadow of Shaquille O’Neal to become the sole leader of the Los Angeles Lakers, but to take hold of the mantle left behind by Michael Jordan as the games premier player and the face of the sport worldwide. Pundits and analysts unfairly and immediately put expectations on an 18 year old James to challenge an already established Kobe Bryant for that mantle. But he did just that.

Having listed LeBron’s historic accolades, it is easy to ask, “What more does he need to prove to gain some respect as the GOAT?”. The truth is, nothing. He has accomplished everything possible of an NBA player, both individually and as part of a team. Yet, constantly pitted against his contemporary Kobe Bryant, and predecessor Michael Jordan, he is often not respected in the same breath despite having an overall resumé that is equal to or greater than Kobe and Jordan. The one category that is used as the lynchpin in the argument against LeBron as the GOAT, is NBA Finals Rings. LeBron has 4 Rings to Kobe’s 5 and Jordan’s 6.

If the caveat for being the GOAT was a combination of rings and individual accolades, the GOAT would then be Bill Russell, who amassed 11 Championships on top of a legendary individual playing career. But Russell is a Big Man, and Big Men are not respected in the GOAT argument the same way that wing players like LeBron, Kobe, and Jordan are. Many in James’ defense argue, if Russell’s 11 Championships aren’t enough to make him the GOAT, why is the degree of separation of 1 and 2 Rings between LeBron, Kobe, and Jordan so heavily weighed? Each players fanbase has objective and statistical evidence to back up their argument. They equally have conditional and subjective reasoning to further their narrative. Unfortunately, the GOAT argument is completely subjective and will never be a conclusive and objective statement. But this is the beauty of sports.

Over the past two weeks, I polled students at College of the Desert and others around the Coachella Valley and questioned, “Who is the GOAT between Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron?”. The results came back with Jordan as the GOAT at 53%, Kobe at 29%, and LeBron at 18%.

Basketball is a game rooted in history and narrative, so Jordan being the leader is no surprise here. The lore of a player like Jordan puts him in a category that makes him untouchable on a world scale for athletes. With the results for Kobe, we can relate it to a generation of basketball fans who group up with Kobe being the face of the sport, along with a regional bias between the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles. LeBron has always been the outcast and black sheep in this conversation, as he was of the newer generation and played primarily in the relatively smaller Cleveland market and was stylistically much different than Jordan and Kobe.

Among those polled, the main argument against James was the number of rings compared to Jordan and Kobe, along with the fact that he had to go to the Miami Heat to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win his first Championships. The next big argue was that Jordan was able to win all 6 of his Rings withe Bulls, and Kobe 5 all with the Lakers. LeBron won 2 with the heat and 1 each with the Cavaliers and Lakers.

So I will leave the question up to you, Who is your GOAT and why?