MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

With the elimination of the Los Angeles Lakers from the NBA playoffs, LeBron James, at some point in his career having been known as King James, LBJ, Chosen One, Bron-Bron, The Little Emperor, The Akron Hammer, L-Train and Benjamin Buckets, hinted that he just might retire after 19 seasons, or at least give the matter the most serious thought he has ever given it to this point.

Certainly, having been playing virtually every position in the NBA since he was a rookie at age 19, retirement seems to be a logical and understandable consideration for James (and, no, I have no idea how he ever could have been called The Little Emperor either), even though he is still at least a couple of years away from realizing his dream of being NBA teammates with this son Bronny, who will be a freshman at Southern California in the fall.

LeBron has said a lot of things since he exploded onto the world scene as just a high school player, but, really, he has never been one to sensationalize with his words; he’s pretty much done that with his play on the court and with his advocacy off the court. So even though I have never been a LeBronologist, I consider his thoughts on retirement to be sincere, particularly on the heels of what had to be one of the most exhausting seasons of his Hall of Fame career.

Naturally, when a great athlete and star even hints at retirement, talking heads, other media and social-media users put themselves in a rush to air, post and voice silly judgements about where said great athlete and star will eventually stand in the history of the particular sport he or she is, perhaps, stepping away from.

As a sports-watching society, we have come to be in too big of a rush to pronounce the latest greatest to be the greatest of all time, regardless of who it is; and it’s just asinine that we continue to do so, because, other than Ali, there is no such thing as the greatest anything of all time in sports. There just isn’t.

Certainly, LeBron James has proven himself to be one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived, so why isn’t that ever good enough? I understand athletes compete to win and to be the best, but winning and being the best at something at a given time can actually be determined on the court and on the field. Determining who is the greatest of all time, which encompasses all times since Adam and Eve were chasing each other around the garden, is impossible.

To even attempt to do so is futile, because all players, all times and all eras have been and continue to be so different. It’s nothing but speculation because nobody amongst us in these times has been around for all times.

I have personally always considered Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to have been the greatest NBA players of all time, not because Russell’s teams won 11 NBA titles and Jordan’s teams and Abdul-Jabbar’s teams both won six NBA titles, but because all three were the most magnificent players of their times (in college and in the Olympics, too) and their teams won all of those titles (in college and in the Olympics, too) because Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were on their respective teams.

Yes, those Celtics teams of Russell’s time had eight players who earned at least seven rings as well, and Scottie Pippen also has six championship rings; but they would not have most of those rings – or at least the same ones – without Bill Russell or without Michael Jordan. We saw Pippen prove that front and center when Jordan was away doing the “baseball” thing.

And even though Magic Johnson is one of the greatest players in history as well, he never won a title without Kareem (though he won Game 6 of the 1980 Finals playing center when Kareem was out), but Kareem won a title without Magic. In fact, Kareem helped the great Oscar Robertson win his only title.

That holds true for LeBron as well in the instance of the championship he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers to win. That title, one of four for LeBron teams, doesn’t happen if LeBron had stayed in Miami or had taken his talents elsewhere. Fact.

It works the other way as well. Just because Elgin Baylor, Chris Paul, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Adrian Dantley, Reggie Miller and now Carmelo Anthony, and we can go on and on, never won a single NBA title does not exclude them from having been some of the greatest NBA players of all time. In fact, I just read somewhere that in the history of the NBA, only 10% of players and 11% head coaches (out of all of them) played on or coached a league championship team.

Just because I go with Russell, Jordan and/or Kareem doesn’t mean it’s not Wilt (who has a stronger-than-most case), Magic, Bird or even LeBron James. Except it isn’t. Truthfully, it’s none of them, because it’s nobody. Because it is impossible to determine.

Don’t believe me? Ask Adam and Eve the next time you happen to see them.

Either way, let’s just hope LeBron sticks around for a little while longer so we don’t have to be bothered with it.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT