Usually around this time of the NBA season, the topic of “LeBron James vs. (insert the name of another great)” as best all-time player comes up for debate. No doubt, someone somewhere is considering that question now.
One of the angles debaters often take is, “Player X had to beat so many better players than Player Y en route to his titles.”
We asked the Elias Sports Bureau to look at the postseason careers of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and determine how many Hall of Famers each of them eliminated from the playoffs. They used the guideline that the Hall of Famer in question must have played at least one postseason game that season.
Also, players could count multiple times. For example, Jordan eliminated Karl Malone and John Stockton in both the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals, so that counts as four Hall of Famers eliminated, not two.
Here’s how Bird, Magic and Jordan compare with one another:
• Bird played an average of almost exactly one Hall of Fame player per series, and every time he eliminated an opponent, that opponent averaged almost 1.5 Hall of Famers.
• Johnson won more series than Bird or Jordan and eliminated more Hall of Famers than either of them, and for every series he won, he eliminated a little more than one Hall of Famer on average.
• Jordan won more titles than either Bird or Johnson, but he faced far fewer Hall of Famers en route to these wins. His 30 series wins eliminated 27 Hall of Famers, an average of less than one per series win.
How does LeBron stack up?
Now let’s bring James into the discussion. It is obviously murkier because the opponents he is playing against aren’t eligible for the Hall of Fame, much less in it. Here’s where he stands:
For the purposes of this debate, how do we figure out how many Hall of Famers James has eliminated?
We conducted a highly nonscientific poll within ESPN’s Production Research department on whether the players James has eliminated are bound for the Hall of Fame based on their current career track.
Understandably, a lot of liberties were taken. For instance, we assigned Kawhi Leonard as a Hall of Famer based on his current career track. We were liberal with these assessments rather than strict, just to give benefit of the doubt to James.
We in Production Research came up with 26 Hall of Famers eliminated by James, a number that obviously can grow (and that can differ from what you come up with).
So, based on the voting by Production Research, here’s what an updated list comparing these NBA greats could look like: