Oscar Robertson Listed His 5 Favorite NBA Players of All Time, and LeBron James Missed the Cut: ‘It’s Difficult in Different Ages and What Not to Say This Guy Was Better Than This Player’

There is no sport that brings about more top-five lists than the NBA. Players, coaches, analysts like Charles Barkley, and fans always seem to have a top-five list of their favorite players handy. That group also includes NBA legend Oscar Robertson.

The Big O joined Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles to discuss a variety of NBA-related topics. Near the end of the hour-plus interview, Miles asked Robertson to name his five favorite NBA players of all time.

Left off Robertson’s list? LeBron James, one of the biggest stars in NBA history.

Oscar Robertson and LeBron James share a surprising number of similarities

LeBron James goes in for a handshake with Oscar Robertson as Bill Russell and Yao Ming stand to the side and observe.
Oscar Robertson (Left) and LeBron James (Right) shake hands before the NBA All-Star Game in 2016. | Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Although the sport of basketball has changed drastically in the 60 years since Robertson first took the court, he and James have multiple things in common.

Both players were number one overall picks; Robertson in 1960 and James in 2003. Oscar was a 6-foot-5 point guard, a rarity in his time, while LeBron has been running point at 6-foot-9 for the bulk of his career. Additionally, each of them received Rookie of the Year honors, earned multiple All-NBA and All-Star appearances, and won at least one NBA title.

The biggest similarity between Big O and King James, however, exists on the stat sheet.

Robertson was earning triple-doubles long before anyone else, becoming the first player in history to average a triple-double for an entire season. In fact, his 181 for a career was the all-time record until Russell Westbrook broke it in May 2021. But James is on the all-time list for most triple-doubles as well with 99, nine away from passing Jason Kidd for fourth place.

Despite their similar styles, Robertson left James off his top-five list of favorite players

When the topic of Robertson’s favorite five players came up on the Knuckleheads podcast, the first name he mentioned wasn’t a surprise.

The Big O started his list off with Michael Jordan, then followed it up with Elgin Baylor, who entered the league just two years before Robertson. He rounded out his five with “The Kid Out of Golden State” (Steph Curry), Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain.

“I know I’m going to miss a few guys,” Robertson said. “But it’s just wonderful to see great athletes perform in difficult situations.”

Robertson also mentioned Bill Russell and Shaquille O’Neal before finally getting to King James.

“I just thought about missing great basketball players, the one and only LeBron,” Robertson said with a smile. “Tremendous basketball player. But it’s difficult in different ages and what not to say this guy was better than this player, than that player.”

Even though LeBron didn’t make his top-five, Robertson wishes the two of them could’ve teamed up

Regardless of Robertson’s list, there’s no denying his affinity for James as a whole.

Shortly after LeBron left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010, Oscar told ESPN’s Mark Schwartz that as a player, “LeBron’s in a class by himself.”

Then in 2016, Robertson wrote a piece on The Undefeated praising James:

“No one has ever before seen a player quite like LeBron. He’s a five-tool player, fundamentally sound, and able to do practically anything on the court. As the NBA continues to evolve, I think he is the model other players ought to emulate.”

Oscar Robertson, The Undefeated (2016)

Robertson continued, saying, “I wish LeBron and I could have teamed up together. Who could have beaten us?”

It’s clear Robertson has plenty of love for James, even if the King didn’t make Big O’s favorite player list right away.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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