Five straight NBA Finals appearances and two championships for LeBron James is beginning to heat up the discussion for greatest player of all time, a conversation that usually includes Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Jordan, with his six rings, is still widely considered at the top, with Bryant and James slowly making a case for second or third best with their impressive careers.
Future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was the latest to dish on the player comparison, having watched both James and Bryant up close. Shaq and Kobe were one of the better tandems of the early 2000s, delivering a rare "three-peat" to the Los Angeles Lakers. After leaving the Lakers, Shaq added another title before moving on in a sort of mercenary big man role for championship contenders, including James’ Cleveland Cavaliers squad in 2009.
During an appearance on "The Dan Patrick Show," Shaq was asked to compare James and Bryant. His answer was intriguing given his history with the player he picked. "I played with both of them," Shaq said. "Kobe has that killer instinct. I'll probably have to go with Kobe. That's not a knock against LeBron."
O'Neal explained his choice by comparing LeBron’s mentality to that of another Laker legend, Magic Johnson. He explained that LeBron achieves his success by relying on others to deliver the win, whereas the five-time champion Bryant's "killer instinct" allows him to take over a game. Shaq also clarified some unfounded tales of his relationship with Bryant, dating back to their days as teammates. He said there was no truth to the story that he once threatened Bryant’s life during a heated argument. He even went on to describe his time with Bryant as “greatest enigmatic 1-2 punch in Laker history.”
With James about to embark on his sixth Finals appearance -- and pursue a possible third championship -- the talk has been increasingly about the four-time MVP’s killer instinct and if he will be able to deliver a championship without two other superstars flanking him. With Cleveland's Kevin Love out with an injury and Kyrie Irving still nursing knee tendinitis, it appears that question will be laid to rest if Cleveland prevails over the heavily favored Golden State Warriors.
Incidentally, Bryant believes James should not be required to prove his excellence any further when the Lakers superstar opined in a tweet that even he, Jordan, and Johnson all had help in becoming the last team standing in June.
Lbj doesn't need to prove that @PaulBrahan I had Shaq + Pau Mj had Pip Magic had Worthy + Kareem etc AND we all had great teammates
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 14, 2015