As the NBA Finals are now underway, the debate will continue on the greatness of Miami Heat forward LeBron James. But he is facing off against a familiar foe in the San Antonio Spurs, as well as their All-World forward Tim Duncan. The Spurs took the first Finals matchup against “the best player in basketball” in 2007 (while with the Cleveland Cavaliers). LeBron achieved his redemption, as the Heat grasped victory from the jaws of defeat in the 2013 Finals.
Now this debate is “Who is the greater All-Time Player” between James and Duncan. Both have multiple titles and various awards throughout their careers, so the argument must be complex. Barry will take on LeBron’s side of the debate, while Brett tries to prove Duncan’s place in history.
LeBron James By: Barry Kamen
I have a lot of respect for Tim Duncan, there is no debating who is the better player of all time. LeBron is the most physically gifted, well-rounded player in the NBA today. When the pride of Akron made his “decision” to sign with the Miami Heat, fans (myself included) were quick to turn their backs on the superstar for how he handled the free agent process. However, LeBron did what he had to do in order to win championships. There are three main categories where LeBron James holds a clear advantage over Tim Duncan.
As a Cavalier, James’ most talented teammate was Ricky Davis, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas as a close second. Neither of those players come close to the talent level of David Robinson, Tony Parker, or Manu Ginobili that surrounded Duncan for the majority of his career in San Antonio. James legitimately carried the Cavaliers all the way to the finals in 2007, only to be swept by Duncan’s Spurs. For the postseason, James averaged 25-8-8, a stat line that has never been seen before. Every year, the Spurs remind us that it takes a team to go deep into the playoffs and win championships. The reason that the Miami Heat are in the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year is because of the supporting cast surrounding LeBron. Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, and Rashard Lewis are all seasoned veterans who have played important roles for the Heat during their streak.
Perhaps the biggest disparity between James and Duncan is versatility. At 6’8″ and roughly 255 lbs, James has the frame to post up and play power forward, and the dribbling and vision necessary to play point guard. James has guarded every position on the floor in his career, sometimes in the same game. While Duncan has been named to the NBA All-Defensive Team eight times in his career, LeBron has been named to five at a position that requires more athleticism. In last year’s Finals, LeBron’s versatility was on full display, as coach Erik Spoelstra often played him at power forward, with Chris Bosh shifting to center in an effort to spread San Antonio’s defense out and limit the opportunity for rebounds. Duncan is versatile for his size, but there is not another player in the NBA that can do what LeBron can on a nightly basis.
The debate between Duncan vs. LeBron really lies in the supporting cast. What if Tim Duncan didn’t have David Robinson at the beginning of his career? If Cleveland had any depth surrounding LeBron, would we be discussing a dynasty in Cleveland? Two great careers. Uber amount of championships. Both top ten players of all time.
Tim Duncan By: Brett Dickinson
First off, Tim Duncan in no way gets the credit he deserves as a player because honestly, he is the most boring superstar in NBA history. He does not have the outgoing personality, does not give reporters bulletin board quotes, does not have off-court transgressions grabbing headlines. Let alone he plays for a small market in the middle of the country for a former ABA franchise in the San Antonio Spurs.
But the realization is HE IS THE GREATEST POWER FORWARD in NBA history, period! Karl Malone and Charles Barkley never won a ring, and the likes of Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki only have one, after getting beat up by Duncan for years. The Spurs big man has played in an era where a vast majority of the great players in the league play the power forward position. And he is head and shoulders above them all. His two MVPs are equal to the combined total for his peers: Garnett, Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Pau Gasol. He also has the same total amount of championship rings as that entire group as well (Duncan-4, Garnett-1, Nowitzki-1, Gasol-2).
So it is easily established his standing amongst the power forwards, but comparing him to players of other positions is much tougher. He has all the accolades, including multiple titles and MVPs, 14 time All-NBA and All-Defensive teams honors, three NBA Finals MVPs and a Rookie of the Year. But LeBron’s career will likely stack up equally to all those fancy trophies as well.
So what sets Duncan apart? Well he plays a position where the ball is not in his hands; he has to be fed the ball down low. He does not dribble up the court like James, yet he has put up the same dominant numbers. Add in the amount of double teams and physical play that is involved on the block, its just that more impressive to control a game from the low post.
While Duncan has also done all this while sticking with the San Antonio Spurs for the entirety of his career. He didn’t have to team up with other superstars, the organization built around their big-man with key role players. Though Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are really good, they are significantly better by developing next to Duncan. He was always the ire of defenses attention (and still is to this day), making life much easier out on the wing and in space.
Let’s just say if he finishes with a 2-1 record against LeBron in the Finals, finishes with a 5-1 record overall, there is no way that the Miami forward could catch him as an all-time talent. But this series will play a major role if both players’ legacy.