LeBron James is recognized as one of the greatest players in NBA history. James sits firmly entrenched in the GOAT debate behind his accomplishments and pure talent. However, former Los Angeles Lakers big man Mychal Thompson once doubted the star forward’s ability to play in the 1980s.
LeBron James’ illustrious NBA career
Through James‘ first 18 NBA seasons, he’s constructed a first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
The 36-year-old completely surpassed the massive hype around him entering the league as a high school phenom. James’s dedication to his craft allowed him to accomplish numerous feats, such as winning four NBA titles and four Finals MVP awards, earning four regular-season MVP awards and 17 All-Star game selections, and receiving a record 17 All NBA team nods and five All-Defensive First Team nominations.
Despite James’ continued excellence, a former Lakers big man still expressed doubt over his ability.
former Lakers two-time NBA champion Mychal Thompson Declared LeBron James ‘Couldn’t have survived’ in the 1980s
James has firmly established himself as one of the game’s greatest talents.
However, his place in the GOAT conversation often faces questions concerning how he would have fared competing in another era. In June 2016, former Lakers two-time NBA champion Mychal Thompson voiced doubt that James would have performed well in the 1980s.
“LeBron couldn’t have survived in the 80s with the physicality and the words guys said to each other back then,” Thompson said, via The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Diamond Leung. “We all respect LeBron’s ability…but man, sometimes he acts too entitled like he’s supposed to get everything he wants.”
Thompson’s comments came after Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals when his son Klay Thompson exchanged verbal barbs through the media. The Golden State Warriors star guard voiced James had his “feelings hurt” by Draymond Green’s trash talk in Game 4.
The Cleveland Cavaliers star responded by laughing at the comments and stated he’d take the high road. James and the Cavaliers got the last laugh by becoming the first team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA title in seven games. James led the way averaging a near triple-double with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per contest..
The former Lakers big man’s comments were influenced by the situation between his son and James. Although the NBA game was played much differently during the 1980s, it’s hard to envision James not excelling behind his size and strength, standing at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds.
Beyond that, his all-around skill set led by his passing and scoring would have allowed him to find plenty of success. Meanwhile, Thompson’s tone has likely changed in the years that followed the incident, especially with James now playing for the Lakers.
Continuing to add to his NBA legacy
As James heads into his 19th NBA season, it provides him another opportunity to add to his illustrious career.
The Lakers spent the offseason revamping the roster around him and Anthony Davis. The front office acquired star point guard Russell Westbrook and filled the team with proven shooters and versatile defenders. All that sets up a special 2021-22 campaign ahead as one of the NBA title favorites.
The 36-year-old is also coming off a season heavily impacted by a high ankle sprain injury, which is another motivating factor to showcase that he can still play at an elite level. James has dropped subtle hints throughout the offseason that he’s using the outside doubt to fuel his internal drive.
Meanwhile, he indicated a few months ago that he might extend his NBA career several more years. If James follows that path, it gives him a chance ahead to vie for more NBA titles while potentially becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer.
As he tacks more impressive feats onto his first-ballot Hall of Fame resume, it only further cements his status in the GOAT debate.