If LeBron retires, where does he rank all time? (THOUGHTS)

Item Sports Editor Joey Barrett. (Design: Sam Deeb)

I turned 24 on Monday. That means I’ve been arguing about the top five NBA players of all time for, well, a long time. And with LeBron James contemplating retirement after the Lakers’ sweeping defeat against Denver in the Western Conference finals, it got me thinking.

If The King never touched a basketball again – wow, that’s hard to imagine – where would he rank on my all-time list? But before I get there, let me just say I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with LeBron. He was one of my favorite players during his first stint in Cleveland, but “the decision” to go to Miami completely, utterly destroyed some respect I had for him as a competitor.

And, as the years went on, the GOAT debates started to bother me – because, spoiler alert, I don’t think he is – and the hype became ridiculous. So, I stopped rooting for him.

The last few weeks, however, I don’t know, my Celtics-made heart wasn’t rooting against a Lakers team led by LeBron James. There was something about an older, beat-up player trying his best against the league’s new stars like Jokic, Giannis, and Curry that won me over.

All right, my top-five list is coming up, but my last point about LeBron is that his recent defeat doesn’t really affect my ranking of him. He’s 38 years old and scored 21 points in a quarter the other night – he’s not why the Lakers lost.

As a player, family man, and ambassador of the league, he has all of my respect, but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t touch Michael Jordan. As in, I don’t even need to think about it. Seriously, how quickly people forget about Air Jordan. He could score 40 points on your best defender with his eyes closed – in some cases, like his free throw to taunt Mutombo, quite literally. He’s clutch, athletic, one of the best defenders in history, and opponents got scared when they saw Chicago on their schedule. He’s Michael Jordan.

My second best player of all time is Larry Bird. Wait, are you laughing? Go do that to him and he’ll either, punch you in the face or score 47 points on you with his left hand. Yes, he did that. Larry played just 10 healthy seasons, so, obviously, the records and numbers aren’t up to the numbers of LeBron – who has played 20 healthy seasons and never mowed his own grass. But in the end – here we go – here’s what Larry is better at than LeBron: rebounding, free throw shooting, three-point shooting, clutch shot-making, hustling, and mental toughness. He’s also just as good a passer as LeBron, so, yeah, Larry over LeBron.

Next for me is Kobe. OK, close your eyes and picture two even teams squaring off in a best-of-seven series. One team is led by LeBron James, and the other by Kobe Bryant. I’m taking the Kobe-led team seven days a week and twice on Sunday. I think his competitive nature, ferociousness, and ability to perform in the clutch puts him on top of just about every player who’s ever played. From his 81-point game to his 60-piece right before retirement, I also think he’s worlds ahead of guys like LeBron regarding an offensive arsenal. Yes, I know LeBron has the most points of all time, but give Larry and Kobe 20 healthy seasons in a shooting-dominated era, and they’d get that record, too.

My number four is Magic Johnson – a guy who went toe-to-toe with my number two pick (Bird) and beat him more often than not. He’s the best passer of all time, rarely shied away from the spotlight, and ran an offense to perfection before guys like Stockton, Nash, and Chris Paul did. If his shooting and offensive bags were just a tad more polished, he’d be flirting with my number two pick. I love Magic – who wouldn’t with that smile? But, in the end, he’s four for me.

LeBron, you’re up. I know it seems late, but I have him as the fifth best basketball player of all time – that’s pretty good. He can jump out the building, snag a triple double before halftime, and I’d say his facilitating is his biggest strength. He’s incredible, but doesn’t have the killer instinct of guys like Michael, Larry, and Kobe. To me, that’s a deal-breaker.


– The Miles O’Neill show continues. The Marblehead quarterback just received offers from Penn State and Texas A&M last week.

– Taylor Valiton of Lynnfield girls lacrosse is the region’s next big thing. She’s just a sophomore, but scored her 100th career goal Monday. Valiton ripped six goals in that game against Shawsheen Tech – not too shabby.

– If last week was the best jersey, now it’s best logo. I’m going with St. Mary’s. The blue and yellow are so complementary, and it’s not too complex like other logos. It’s just a Spartan helmet. I like that.

– It should be mandatory for coaches to dress nicely at games – no matter the sport. Call me old-fashioned, but I find cutoff sweatshirts and untucked polos off-putting.

– Congrats to Omri Merryman of St. Mary’s basketball, who committed to studying and playing basketball at Salem State this month. Just take it easy on my Endicott Gulls.

– If you haven’t watched “Air” – the Ben Affleck-directed film about Nike shoes starring Matt Damon – get on it. It’s not Good Will Hunting, but it’s one of the best sports movies in recent history.

– What Stephen Basden and company are doing with Lynn Special Olympics is incredible. I stopped by Marshall Middle School for a basketball practice back in March, and the camaraderie was everything you’d hope for. Here’s to a good summer for the program.

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