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The Best Athlete To Ever Play In The NBA Is…

By 08.08.11
LeBron James

LeBron James (photo. Jonathan Mannion)


The best arguments are the ones you can’t prove. And today on First Take, Skip Bayless called Deion Sanders – the man who recently suited up his new Hall of Fame bust with his signature bandana – the best athlete of all-time. Neon Deion was by far the best cornerback of all-time, maybe the best return man, a great baseball player and in high school, he was an all-state basketball player in Florida which is like being the smartest kid at an Ivy.

Sanders was so fast that it almost seemed like he wasn’t. It was effortless. He was so fast that he hardly ever showed it. I remember a few interception returns when he was on San Francisco where the dude was high-stepping in traffic 40 yards from the end zone.

(The return at :24 seconds is absurd athleticism…)

When we think of the best athlete in basketball, one name always comes up: LeBron James. He’s an athletic freak (he jumps so high that he was probably the first player to ever win a high school dunk contest without having the best dunks), is an absolutely massive human being, is considered by many to be the best player in the world (which has to count for something in this argument) and was himself an all-state football player in high school before giving it up. But is he the best straight-up athlete to ever play in the NBA?

When we think athletes in the league, it always comes back to dunking. And that’s cool. In football, people argue over 40 times. In basketball, it’s verticals. But what about guys like Leandro Barbosa, Allen Iverson & Earl Boykins? Or someone like Charlie Ward, who won a Heisman and started in the NBA? Is Michael Jordan the best athlete because he was the best player? Does David Robinson get extra points for being a seven footer who can run like a guard? There’s no definitive answer for best athlete ever in the NBA. It won’t ever be decided either. But there are cases for a number of guys…

David Thompson
Was every bit as athletic as any wing ever, but off-the-court issues held him back after just a few quick seasons…reported 48-inch vertical (although I don’t believe this)

Michael Jordan
One of the most explosive players to ever play…reported 43-inch vertical…at least showed a LITTLE potential as a minor league baseball player (he was starting to come around just before the lockout ended his run and helped drive him back to the NBA)…speed and acceleration were virtually unmatched during his day…if he played today, would still be one of the very best athletes…doesn’t hurt that he’s considered the GOAT hoops player

Vince Carter
Best dunker of all-time…reported 43-inch vertical…in-air creativity was stupid good

Shaquille O’Neal
Quick story: my father went to the same high school as Bennett Salvatore and one day a few years ago, they got into talking about Shaq. Salvatore said Shaq was INSANELY athletic, like something you had to consistently see up close to really appreciate. To be 7-1, 300 pounds, and have light feet, coordination, quickness, fluidity and strength is pretty ridiculous.

David Robinson
Look at his body…now look at his quickness and speed…now look at how tall he is…now tell me he wasn’t one of the best athletes ever

Hakeem Olajuwon
Probably the quickest big man ever…grew up playing soccer so you know his feet must be incredible…fluid and agile like the very best point guards

Wilt Chamberlain
Dominated a sport physically like nearly no one ever has…in high school, he was a track and field standout, setting Pennsylvania records in shot put and 110-meter hurdles and won titles in track at Kansas as well…had offers to professionally play football or box

Allen Iverson
In the conversation for fastest NBA player ever…as a high school kid, was nearly as good in football as basketball…watching him move, you get the feeling he would be unreal in just about any sport…fluidity was off the charts

Nate Robinson
Could be the best little-man dunker in NBA history…started some of this conversation this summer by declaring the NFL as a viable option

I could go on and on…the point being: if we ARE going to have a lengthy lockout, we could really use an NBA Olympics.

Who do you think is the best athlete ever in the NBA and why?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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TOPICS#LeBron James
TAGSALLEN IVERSONBennett SalvatoreDAVID ROBINSONDavid ThompsonDEION SANDERSDimeMagfeatureHAKEEM OLAJUWONMichael JordanNATE ROBINSONShaquille O'NealVINCE CARTERWILT CHAMBERLAIN

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