Top 50: LeBron James, no. 1

by Myles Brown/@mdotbrownLeBron James

The ballots were cast, counted, and a victor has been decided.

LeBron Raymone James is now the best player in basketball.

There, that was easy. Or was it?

It certainly appears to be a concise and declarative statement. But as with almost all other things regarding the great debate, this too is subject to interpretation.

What exactly is now? Just this very moment, as in right now? These present times and the foreseeable future, as in nowadays? Perhaps something tentative or undefined, as in now and again?

Time is of the essence in this industry. The past was once now and the future soon will be. Those who’ve aren’t willing to wait any longer believe their time is now. Those who aren’t ready to leave believe their time is still now. Problem is, no one knows how long now will last.

It’s no secret that each time we compile one of these lists much ado is made of the criteria. Is it based on last year, next year or an entire career? The answer would seem to lie in another concise and declarative statement: Rankings are based solely on projected 09-10 performance. But it’s not always easy to separate the three. Anything a player is deemed capable of doing in the future is based entirely on what they’ve done in the past. Being the best is not a proclamation, it’s a journey and destination.

And what is it to be the best anyway? Is it the most advantageous player, the most suitable player or the most desirable? We were spoiled for a decade by the unquestionable legacy of Michael Jordan, because he was all three. He was the most advantageous player because he was the most talented and fundamentally sound. Coupling those advantages with a keen intellect and an indomitable will made him the most suitable player to lead a team. The dynasty that ensued made it downright silly to desire anyone else.

Since he’s left us, these titles have been fragmented. But LeBron James could unify them and put all the semantics to rest if he’d just win a championship.

He holds a very special place in both the current and historical hierarchy. He’s the most ready made prep to pro player ever, who somehow managed to exceed the hype in leading his hometown team from the doldrums of irrelevance. He’s an unprecedented package of size, skill and athleticism, as close to a one man team as we’ve ever seen. While Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have seemingly recaptured the essence of what made Jordan great, LeBron has redirected the collective consciousness to what is possible beyond that lengthy shadow. Triple double averages, Defensive Player of the Year, leading the league in scoring and assists, you name it. Nothing is unquestionably beyond his grasp.

Which is why it’s so maddening to see him fall short. He still hasn’t found the consistency with his midrange jumper. He has yet to shoot 80% from the line. His footwork is pedestrian and his post game is underdeveloped. These shouldn’t be the flaws of a seven year vet. Yet in spite of them, there still isn’t a team in the league that can truly stop him. Only four teams would even dare say they can contain him. But those four teams are what stand between him and indisputable greatness.

We’ve been at this for years. The awe, the anticipation, the inevitability of it all. For years he’s accelerated our expectations by exceeding them so easily, but the conversation has shifted from potential to production. He’s shown us he can do all but one thing. Every other year that it didn’t happen was nothing more than an inconvenience. This year if it doesn’t happen, it’s not only failure but possibly one of catastrophic proportions. In putting such pressure on the Cavaliers to build a contender he also put pressure on himself to produce a title. If he can’t achieve that in Cleveland, then he’s put pressure on himself to find somewhere he can.

LeBron Raymone James is the best player in basketball. But he has to win.


• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.