SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
It is the ultimate water cooler discussion: Where does LeBron James rank among the all-time greats? After winning his second Finals and second Finals MVP trophy Thursday, James reiterated: “I want to be, if not the greatest, one of the greatest, to ever play.”
During the playoffs, we asked eight Hall of Famers and a certain future one (Shaquille O’Neal) where they would place LeBron all time, and responses varied widely.
Shaq said he isn’t sure LeBron even belongs in the top 10, and Charles Barkley said he will never place him in the top five.
Contrast that with Scottie Pippen -- Michael Jordan’s running mate --- who called James “the most complete player” ever and asserted he’s “going to be the best player to ever play.”
In fact, Alonzo Mourning, at the opening of a Miami Microsoft store last month, said: “I’m going to tell you what Scottie said. Scottie said that LeBron would kick M.J.’s [butt]. And I said, ‘Scottie, You’re right.’”
Magic Johnson, walking out of AmericanAirlines Arena Friday morning, said: “LeBron is top 10 and moving up fast, and he can surpass Michael as the greatest who ever played. He’s the best defender, smartest player in the game. And he [plays for] the greatest organization in the world.”
Then there’s Isiah Thomas, who places James in the top three with Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “who we don’t give the credit he deserves. He dominated the NBA for two decades.”
Hall of Famers Jack Ramsay, Marv Albert and Bob McAdoo said James belongs in the top five.
“I don’t think LeBron is Jordan, but he’s in the ballpark,” Ramsay said. “Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West have to be in there. The last two seasons, LeBron finally got it together.”
And McAdoo, the Heat assistant coach, says: “For this era, LeBron is the best.”
So why does Shaq say it’s “debatable” if LeBron should even crack the top 10? “There’s a lot of great players,” he said. “I don’t put myself in the top 10. He’s a great player. However, the more championships he gets, the more you slide him up.”
Barkley’s take? “He’s top 10, no question. But I don’t think you can put anybody top five on my list: Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Jordan and Robertson. He’s never going to be Jordan. He’s not a better shooter. Nobody is a better defender than Michael.”
Jordan has the higher career field goal percentage (49.7 to 49.0), but James’ “effective field goal percentage” – factoring in three-pointers – was 60.4 this season, far better than Jordan’s best (54.7).
### A couple of eye-opening LeBron factoids: According to ESPN, over their first 10 seasons, James led his team in points, rebounds and assists in the same game 96 times; Jordan did it 43.
And ESPN announcer and Hall of Fame coach Hubie Brown mentioned to us that James has averaged at least 26 points, six rebounds and six assists nine times, whereas Robertson “did it eight. Jordan and Larry Bird did it three times.
“If he keeps doing this, he is going to pass Michael and Russell and Kareem,” Brown said. “The potential is there [to be the best ever] but he has to stay injury free.”
### Ray Allen marveled Friday how James “wanted to learn everything that I know” this season. He said they competed “toe to toe a lot this year” --- everything from three-point shooting after practice, to card games, to jogging. (After a practice this past season, James and Allen ran back from the arena to the team hotel in Washington D.C.)
### The last word from former Heat guard/NBA TV analyst Steve Smith: “I don’t think we’ve seen the best of LeBron because of the competition. He isn’t being challenged enough.”
### Even a championship didn’t silence Barkley’s Heat bashing. He told Dan Patrick on Friday that Indiana and San Antonio have better teams, but the Heat has the best player. “That team is very flawed,” Barkley said. “They’re old and slow. They’ve got to break that team up.
“Unless they do something, LeBron is not going to stay there. He’s smart enough to know if he has to play like he plays now, it’s going to shorten LeBron’s career. You think Karl Malone and I would be licking our chops playing the little Miami Heat?”
But Pat Riley insisted: “We’ve got a young team.” And James couldn't have sounded any happier to be here than he did Thursday night.
### Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press on Saturday that a lot of fluid was drained from his left knee the day before Game 7 of the Finals, and that he needed nearly eight hours of treatment on that knee on the day of Game 7. The left knee was injured in a collision with Manu Ginobili in Game 6.
Meanwhile, Wade told AP he received platelet-rich plasma therapy late in the regular season to deal with the three bone bruises in his right knee -- the injury that hampered him through much of the playoffs, but improved considerably in the Finals.
### Classy move by Riley after Game 7: When asked about putting together this team, he said “I didn’t,” then credited five of his basketball people – “they smack me in the face all the time when I start to do something stupid” – and called over senior vice president Andy Elisburg: “This man here is the one that keeps me together," Riley said. "I mean it. I get to sit there and do nothing. He’s on his computer all the time.”
### Not only did Johnson call Dwyane Wade “the most unselfish superstar I’ve ever seen in my life; no superstar would do what Dwyane did,” but Thomas mentioned this to me: “Nobody complained about their role on this team, and I give all of that credit – all of it – to Wade. What he has done is spectacular. I marvel at his intellect.”
### Random postscripts from Game 7: Great tweet from Nuggets forward Andre Iguodola: “If you still hate LeBron, you really need a life coach. And I’ll sponsor you.”… Rapper Drake argued with a security guard who wouldn’t allow him in the Heat locker-room after Game 7. “I am media!” he protested…
Most prominent active athlete lingering outside the Heat locker-room for awhile? Carolina quarterback Cam Newton…… Spurs guard Danny Green was spotted at the Heat’s postgame party at Club Story on South Beach. He later tweeted: "Got give Miami credit but don't think for one sec I was out celebrating with them. Just happened to be at the same place, wrong time."...
The Heat spent $100,000 in alcohol at the party -- including 110 bottles of Dom Perignon and more - but Club Story picked up the tab… A professional poker player paid a Heat-record $40,000 for a courtside seat for Game 7.
### Please see the last post for a look at difficult decisions facing the Heat this off-season.
### Ryan Tannehill said “what impresses me most” about Lamar Miller – the Dolphins’ first-team tailback all offseason – is “he’s picking up pass protections a lot better. Now that he’s got that, he’s going to be a great player.” Former NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, now with NFL Network, said Miller is faster and more explosive than Reggie Bush.
### Two notable recent walk-on additions at UM: 1) Three-star running back De’Andre Johnson, who was Stephen Morris’ teammate at Miami Pace High but was dismissed from the Iowa Hawkeyes last August (he averaged 4.4 yards on 18 carries) after two incidents, including – we kid not – being ticketed for “maintaining a disorderly house” and failing to pull over immediately for a motorcycle speeding violation; and 2) New York kicker Joshua Bacon, who said UM called and invited him to come compete with Matt Goudis after he mailed UM coaches a tape showing him nailing field goal after field goal. (It's now on YouTube.) “I’m automatic inside 55,” Bacon said.
### Please check out the last post for info about the four players who orally committed to UM on Saturday.
### Even beyond Marlins rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez’s golden arm, his work ethic bodes well: He said he gets to the ballpark between noon and 12:30 on days he’s not pitching – “I try to beat Juan Pierre here” – because “I want to learn, talk to other players. I ask [Marlins hitters]: If I’m 2-0 in the count, what pitch are you looking for? I come with a plan for each day. I want to be the best I can possibly be.”
Fernandez (4-4, 3.05 ERA) has 81 strikeouts in 79 innings, and batters are hitting .203 against him.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz