Growing up watching Michael Jordan in his prime has made rational discussions on "Who is the greatest NBA player of all time," quite difficult for me. The discussion began and ended with Jordan. Period. No question about it. He played against the best competition and was far and away the best player on the court every night. He could score, defend, distribute, and his practice regiment was legendary. I'll admit I never saw Wilt, Russell, or West, and although I loved watching Bird, Magic, and Kareem, I always believed no one ever did what Mike could do.
No one until LeBron, that is.
They are different players, making true comparisons difficult, but the talent level is undeniably similar; so is the dominance. I wasn't always a LeBron guy. Other than his passing, I didn't love his offensive game. I thought when he tried on defense he was great, but didn't always see that on the court. He had a problem disappearing late in crucial games, and seemed to be a reluctant shooter in the clutch. And "The Decision" doesn't even need discussion, other than to say we do all tend to overlook the money he raised for children.
But recently, something has changed for me. Watching the overall level of play deteriorate in the NBA, LeBron has become a breath of fresh air. His scoring is much improved, his patience is something that should be continually commended, his passing is as good as ever, and he is finally a leader. But these aren't the main reasons I'm ready to hand the torch over. What impresses me is his night in, night out, commitment to his team and his defense. He guards the best player on the court, regardless of position. He'll guard D Rose and Jimmy Butler, then switch to Gasol late if needed. Anthony Davis, check. Durant check. Westbrook check. He's guarded everyone, when it matters, and he locks people down. No one ever, could guard every position. Not Jordan, not Magic, not Rodman, not Pippen, and not Kobe.
The beauty of LeBron is that he averages roughly 25/6/7 per year while doing all this. He has played the last few years of his career with unbelievable supporting casts, and he has found a way to make them better as well. To me, there is no longer a question of who the most talented player of all time is. He doesn't yet have the total number of titles, he hasn't stuffed the scoring stats as much as Mike, but his presence as part of the team, is flat out better. He's tougher to defend, impossible to score against, and a threat both with an without the ball. For me, it's quite simple. I've never seen anyone do what LeBron can do. That's what I used to say about Mike, even before the titles, and now I realize that's my measure of the GOAT.
*Note: With only one shot to win, I still take Jordan over anyone (can't give that up yet!)