Jerry West Called LeBron James the Smartest Player He’s Ever Seen: ‘He Plays the Ultimate Team Game’

LeBron James is on a quest to become the greatest basketball player of all time.

With a loaded Los Angeles Lakers team, King James will attempt to capture ring number five next season. Another ring would tie him with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, while placing him one behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan.

Additionally, LeBron has a number of individual accolades. He is one of five players in NBA history with four or more MVPs (he has four), and trails only Kareem and Karl Malone on the all-time points list.

But for all of the physical and scoring abilities James possesses, his IQ is considered one of his defining traits. The intelligence he plays with is something that is unmatched in history, according to NBA legend Jerry West.

Jerry West praised LeBron James’ intellingence on the basketball court

Following LA’s NBA Finals victory in 2020, West went on SiriusXM NBA Radio. Speaking to hosts Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson, the Logo didn’t hold back on praise for the four-time champion James.

“Well LeBron James is just an amazing player,” said West, 82 years old at the time. “When you watch him play, he leaves nothing on the table in terms of his personal investment in the game, his work ethic. He’s maybe the smartest player I have ever seen play basketball.”

“Along with his enormous size, skill level, I’m a huge fan of his,” West continued. “And he’s someone who it’d be fun to play with because he plays the ultimate team game.”

West has always been quick to praise James, as well as defend him. When the King was criticized in 2016 for his 2-4 Finals record, Mr. Clutch said, “That’s the most ridiculous thing. If I were him, I’d want to strangle you guys.” West knows a thing or two about losing in the NBA Finals, going 1-8 in his Finals career.

Others around the league, including LeBron himself, have pointed out the King’s high IQ

A few months before West’s comments, Melissa Rohlin of Sports Illustrated did a deep dive into LeBron’s unique intelligence on the court. In the piece, several players and coaches preached the same thing West reiterated following LA’s championship.

“He [James] knows everybody,” former teammate Quinn Cook said. “He could be the last guy on the bench on the team, but he knows he’s left-handed, he’s a shooter, don’t go under him, he’s a driver, stuff like that. He pays attention to the game, he watches the game, and he studies. He helps us get prepared just with his voice.”

“There’s a lot of play calls that I don’t know,” said Avery Bradley, another former teammate. “Me and Danny [Green] look at each other like, ‘What play is that?’ And LeBron knows where every guy is supposed to be, what you’re supposed to do, the timing of everything. His IQ is just crazy.”

“There’s a lot of people in the league with LeBron’s body,” LA Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “There’s no one in the league with his brain.”

James also knows that his basketball IQ, as well as his memory, sets him apart from nearly everyone who has ever played (h/t Sports Illustrated).

“I’ve always had it. A lot of my friends when I was younger playing the game, they were like, ‘Man, how did you remember that play? Or how did you remember that? It was so long ago.’ I never thought about it. I didn’t even know what photographic memory meant when I was younger until I got older. It’s something that I was born with or blessed with.”

LeBron James

LeBron’s photographic memory also extends beyond the court. Rohlin mentioned how if someone names an actor, James can list which movies they’ve been in. He also knows the lyrics to any song teammates throw his way.

James has returned the compliments to West


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The Logo’s love for LeBron is well-documented at this point, but LeBron returned the favor on Twitter last year.

Referring to West as a “bucket getter”, James tweeted, “He [West] could play off the ball (catch and shoot) and on the ball (pull-ups), get to the basket, and make free throws. I’d say 24 to 27 points per game and eight assists.”

The numbers LeBron predicted weren’t too far off from Jerry’s career. From 1960 to 1974, Mr. Clutch averaged 27.0 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game. He led the league in 1969-70 with 31.2 points, then led with 9.7 assists two seasons later.

LeBron’s prediction for West might seem a little far-out to some. But with an IQ as high as his, maybe the King knows what he’s talking about.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.