Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is LeBron James the Greatest Basketball Player of all time (GOAT)?

Is LeBron James the greatest basketball player of all time? Is he the GOAT? Arguably, James is The GOAT. King James brought the Cleveland Cavaliers the NBA championship after already winning an NBA championship with the Miami Heat. He’s a great team player, but as an individual he may be the greatest basketball athlete ever. Lebron James is 6’8” tall and 250 pounds, yet he has the ball handling skills and speed of a point guard.
Incredibly, Lebron James has the size and strength of many NBA centers from the days of yore. Bill Russell, the famous center for the Boston Celtics was 6’9” tall, only 1 inch taller than Lebron James. The famous center, Moses Malone was 6’10” tall, only 2 inches taller than Lebron James. Wes Unseld, who played center for the Washington bullets was only 6’6” tall, two inches shorter than Lebron James, and was an All-Star.

So, why is there any question about LeBron James being the greatest player ever? He’s as tall as many centers with all the talent of a guard. Lebron James is 2 inches taller than either Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan (and is far more muscular).

When you read Twitter, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan and many others are always argued about as being the greatest of all time (GOAT). Each has their own passionately devoted fans - and deservedly so.

Let’s ask some hard questions:

Do we want the most talented players to rise to the top?
Do we want the best athletes to win?

For the answers we will explore basketball analytics and we will give a very strong shout-out to Kurt Vonnegut who wrote “Harrison Bergeron.” Let’s imagine for a moment, that Lebron James is Harrison Bergeron in Kurt Vonnegut’s famous short story.

The Handicapper General, a Vonnegut character, has come along and seen that Lebron James is too tall, too big, too fast, too quick, and too smart.

The Handicapper General says, “This is not fair!”

To enforce equality, Lebron James must be handicapped. The Handicapper General makes Lebron James wear a head band that periodically shocks his brain to disrupt his intelligence. To compensate for his size and strength Lebron is forced to wear a vest with 40 pounds of weights on it so that he cannot jump so high or move so fast. Because he’s too good-looking, Lebron is also forced to wear a mask that minimizes his handsomeness.

This will make a great episode of television! That’s what life would be like for Lebron James in the dystopian future created by Kurt Vonnegut where everyone must be equalized.

But wait, Lebron is actually handicapped by the NBA in a different way. They are playing 5-on-5 full court, when LeBron should be playing 4-on-4, full-court. Look at the graphic below.

The graphic shows five players with 6’9” wingspans in blue, and five players with 6’9” wingspans in red. Look how crowded the court is!

Remember how Lebron James blocked a shot during the NBA finals by pinning it to the backboard? That was the most exciting game of the entire series. Arguably the most exciting play the entire NBA season. Why isn’t there constant running and gunning like that? Why don’t teams fast-break nonstop? Why aren’t there more points scored? Why aren’t there more plays that involve driving to the basket for dunks?

The basketball court has become too small for 5-on-5. Great players like Lebron James need more room. Basketball players were approximately 5’5” tall when basketball was invented. Today, even a college team like Kentucky, can average 6’9” in height.

The Kentucky Wildcats recently had these players:

1. Dakari Johnson, center – 7’0”
2. Willie Cauley-Stein, forward – 7’0” inches
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, forward – 6’11”
4. Trey Lyles, forward – 6’10”
5. Marcus Lee, forward – 6’9”
6. Charles Matthews, guard – 6’6”
7. Devon Brooker, guard – 6’6”
8. Andrew Harrison, guard – 6’6”
9. Aaron Harrison, guard – 6’6”
10. Jamaal Murray, guard – 6’4”

This means that you could have a 7-foot center, a 7-foot forward, a 6’11” forward, a 6’6” guard, and another 6’6” guard. The average height of that team would be 6’9”.

The Problem Today
The problem today is that great players like Lebron James are being handicapped. They should not be playing 5-on-5 full court, they should be playing 4-on-4, full-court.

Mathematically, 4-on-4, full-court provides a better product. Playing with fewer players will create wide open basketball. It will provide Showtime! It will create Phi Slama Jama™ like the University of Houston Cougars used to have with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. That may have been the most fun and exciting college team in history! We need Magic Time again!

Do we want players to keep getting bigger, taller, stronger faster? Or do we want to handicap people? If we want basketball players to keep getting bigger, taller, stronger, and faster we need to start playing 4-on-4, full-court.

Breaking the Monopoly
We can break the NBA monopoly. Basketball players can own teams. Basketball players can own leagues. It can all start with a television show or videos on social media.

Set LeBron free!

TV Show Treatment
This blog is a continuing treatment for a TV show, movie, game, or videos about basketball. The TV show can be scripted or unscripted, fiction or reality. This blog contains everything needed to create shows or entertainment, as well as basketball teams, leagues, and tournaments. Perhaps you could be the next television production company to take a look at this treatment for visual media.

Let’s quit handicapping the great ones.

Unleash the offense!

Set the players free!



Kurt Vonnegut. “Harrison Bergeron.”

Welcome to the Monkey House: A Collection of Short Works

University of Kansas basketball roster in 2014

University of Kansas basketball roster in 2015

Email: Dr.

This blog has been inspired by my love of logic, math, statistics, Sabermetrics, analytics, and medical statistics. The world can be improved if we use logic and mathematics to understand it. Copyright © 2016 Bradley R. Hennenfent, M.D. All rights reserved. All rights in all media reserved.

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