LeBron: “Because I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots then they’re going to have to find another spot up on that…”
Steve Smith: “Well, It’s just four.”
LeBron: “Well we gotta bump somebody. Somebody gotta get bumped….”
Smith: “Who you bumping?”
LeBron: “That’s not for me to decide. That’s for the architects. That’s for the architects to chisel somebody’s face out and put mine up there.” —NBA TV, 2014
See, most architects just follow orders. Follow blueprints. By design, they’re given assignments to construct something either great or greater than what was before. “Just tell us what you need done and we’ll make it happen. Make it a work of art.”
But in LeBron James’ quest to be unconditionally looked at, considered, respected as one of—or maybe, the—greatest players to ever touch a basketball, the architects (all of us—media, fans, players, former players, coaches, aficionados, so-called experts, haters, etc.—who ultimately have a say in LeBron’s legacy) who are tasked to place his face on basketball’s Mt. Rushmore are collectively so undecided that there may never be a definitive answer to the question of LeBron’s true and accurate place in basketball’s history.
Either take someone off Rushmore or give LeBron his own mountain. That’s kinda where we’re at.
We co-exist with ourselves in the era of What About-ism. “What about when he did this?” “What about when didn’t do this?” In LeBron James we live more within that paradox than with any other athlete alive. We generalize and are anal simultaneously. Macro and micro analyze. And while the Jordan/LeBron conversation may initially have been (and still is, to a certain degree) premature, the fact remains LeBron (especially over what he’s done over the last three years, including making it to the Finals seven—and counting—years in a row) has played himself into a space of perfect polarization. Without playing himself.
On LeBron’s personal Rushmore list, he had Mike, Larry, Magic and Oscar. Four legends, two he already knows he’s surpassed in gen-pop perception and one he’s on the verge of nudging out. No Bill Russell, no Wilt, no Kobe. But what would we expect from a King? Especially one that’s in the middle of his own reign?
The issue LeBron has to deal with is being judged against history as opposed to being judged solely on what he does. And when we say history, we ain’t talking about the history of the game, we’re talking about the history of one player. Him vs. Him. Unofficially-officially surpassing almost everyone into being solely judged against a single individual in the game’s history is the only natural progression of G.O.A.T.ness. Many players since the original “He” retired have asked for it, but really only two have gotten it. And LeBron just happens to be one.
His place is cemented but not concrete. As he has reached the inarguable—read again, inarguable—stage of whether he’s Top 5 all time or not, there is still room for LeBron to rise.
Because just as much has been given to and earned by LeBron, much has been and will continue to be held against him. For every right there seems to be three wrongs. The Chosen One always at fault. He: The generational epitome and paradoxical poster-child of a victim of his own come-up. That global icon life. The love that hate produced. No athlete alive has created less room for error or failure; no athlete ever has been more unjustly entitled and at the same time been judged so unfairly.
And as much as we know LeBron will remain in that argument, we also know that his greatness has been both his gift and curse. We know too that that hypocrisy won’t stop. Which we also know will play a major role in where his placement in the G.O.A.T. conversation will eventually wind up, in the end.
Because at this point, on this day, Mt. Rush for LeBron is easy. Pretty much a lock; damn near a given. Maybe. Because just as LeBron said the architects will have to chisel him in, have to make room for him to invade that mythical, make-believe space, those same architects are the ones who right now have mallets, rakes and rasps in hand, waiting to hear someone say to them right before it’s time to carve LeBron’s face into stone, “Hold up, we’re good. Leave it as is.”
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Illustration by Sinelab
Action shots via Getty