LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan on Thursday night to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in playoff history. James did so in a dominant 35-point performance (on 72 percent shooting) against the Celtics in Game 5 to close out the Eastern Conference Finals and advance to a third straight Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors – and his seventh consecutive Finals appearance overall.
James’ performance in these playoffs and the fact that he’s beginning to creep up on or outright eclipse some of Jordan’s career records has reignited the debate about whether James is indeed the greatest basketball player of all-time. Most are still not willing to cede that title to James yet, usually noting Jordan’s six rings as the primary reason, but James is still only 32 and has plenty of time to build his resume. A win in this year’s NBA Finals over this Warriors team would be an extremely meaningful step in reeling in Jordan as the GOAT, and, for some, it would be enough to pass him.
Charles Barkley is not among those people that think like that. After Game 5, Barkley plead for the debate between LeBron and Jordan to stop, noting that, for him, a Finals win this year would still not move LeBron into his all-time top five, but would simply move him ahead of Kobe Bryant for sixth.
It doesn’t come as much surprise that Barkley – who reveres Jordan as much if not more than any player that played in the Jordan era and also considers him a close friend – would feel this way about the Jordan-James debate, but LeBron’s standing in his all-time list still raises eyebrows. In particular, LeBron’s place behind Kobe Bryant makes for interesting fodder.
Barkley’s top nine all-time looks like this:
1. Michael Jordan
2. Oscar Robertson
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
4. Wilt Chamberlain
5. Bill Russell
6. Kobe Bryant
7. LeBron James
8. Jerry West
9. Elgin Baylor
Curiously missing from Barkley’s list – and one of the few that tends to make it onto all-time lists ahead of James – is Magic Johnson. Earlier on Thursday, Tracy McGrady shocked Paul Pierce by putting James ahead of Magic in a pretty hilarious segment on ESPN’s The Jump.
Barkley’s reasoning for this list and his placement of James at this point in his career is more solid than some of his other opinions – like Klay Thompson being better than Steph Curry, for example. He offered the stipulations for moving James ahead of Bryant, but I’d be curious to know what it would take for LeBron to climb into the top five (and how high he can get) on Chuck’s list. My guess is that he believes Jordan is unimpeachable at the top spot, but could he ever put LeBron ahead of the Big O if James continues for four or five more seasons at this rate and climbs near the top of most significant statistical categories.