The league is in a superb place, in terms of talent.
Up-and-coming players such as Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Devin Booker, and Nikola Jokic have continued to shine brightly, thriving in what have been perceived to be less glamorous NBA markets, while the parity amongst teams provided the thrillingly unpredictable season that fans have been clamoring for.
On top of all that, as the league’s collection of stars continues to grow, the pantheon of current all-time greats does as well. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have been joined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden in recent years.
With that said, although today’s fans have a natural inclination to try to establish who the best player in the NBA is (perhaps due to what will be a never-ending ‘GOAT’ debate), what’s become clear is that the days when that was possible—if there even has been in the post-Michael Jordan era—is gone.
There’s no sole Wilt Chamberlain that’s performing athletic feats that lead to astronomical numbers that don’t look real on paper. There’s no, as previously mentioned, sole player reminiscent of a matured Jordan whose playmaking was as masterful as his aggressive play style was menacing.
These days are a lot like the ones is Jordan’s early years, where he, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Larry Bird could have been considered equal. Or like James’ early years, with he, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan vying for the title of best player in the world.
There’s no longer one king of the court, and perhaps there may not need to be.
Instead of one face of the NBA, there are now several players deserving of the title:
King James, commander of the 10th Legion (pointed Julius Caesar reference).
King KD, basketball savant (and renowned tweeter).
King Curry of the Bay, master archer (and golfer).
King Giannis the Humble, of Greece and Nigeria.
King Kawhi, the second cyborg on this list.
The five players with a right to claim the title as best player in the league due to the combination of their abilities, impact and accomplishments.
This coregency is routinely noted by fans that would rather rank players by tiers but the idea hasn’t gained enough traction among mainstream analysts and media. If it had, the mystifying debates about the best player in the league would have given way to discourse about how this quintet has succeeded in very different ways and the different groups of people each represent.
One last thing: the Hardens, Jokics and Westbrooks also deserve praise as recent MVPs. Their crowning—their coronation as kings—occurred during their award ceremony.
Without multiple championships or MVP awards (either in the Finals or regular season), they won’t be seen in the same light as the aforementioned players.
Even still, in an empire, there are multiple kings.
[Editor’s note: In this metaphor, one may still wind up wondering who the emperor—the king of kings—is (if anybody, it would likely be LeBron, who’s also known as “the Little Emperor” in China).]