A Case For Why Lebron James (And Not Stephen Curry) Is Still The NBA's Best Player

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Yesterday, Panama shared a recent conversation he had with a person who said the following:

1. Stephen Curry is overrated

2. Stephen Curry is not that good

In 2016, these statements constitute basketball blasphemy. Actually, forget the basketball qualifier. Considering Steph's strong Christian faith, I'm surprised Jesus himself didn't drop out of the sky and throat smite this person for saying the light-skinned Based God's name in vain. Or maybe he would have just sent Prince to do it. (Wouldn't that be an awesome and appropriate afterlife for Prince? As Jesus's main throat smiter?) Either way, this person is clearly an idiot, clearly a troll, and clearly is the type of person who does shit like put tomatoes in the microwave and take showers with socks on.


And…I kinda, sorta, agree with them.

Now, stating that Stephen Curry is "not that good" is so ridiculous that it doesn't even merit a sincere response. He will be a repeat MVP this year, and should be a unanimous one. Considering the Warriors' record and his individual success, you could actually make the argument that he just had the best NBA season ever. There are myriad factors contributing to this, but none more vital than the fact that he's a real-life computer simulation. I won't even call him a cheat code, because cheating the code implies that there are rules he's bending. He, however, just seems to be impervious to them. Not to get all Morpheus here, but you can't bend a rule that doesn't exist.

Seriously, look at this shit and tell me this dude is not a wizard.

Also, as a person who played basketball in college and still occasionally attempts to do something called "playing basketball" today, let me share this. There is nothing — not getting dunked on, not getting bullied — more demoralizing and nerve-wracking than having to guard someone who does the things that he does. Who consistently takes and makes the types of shots YOU BEEN TAUGHT YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO FORCE PEOPLE TO TAKE!!! What usually is the best defense you can possibly play — forcing someone to take a contested 25-footer off the dribble — is the worst with him. And, when you watch people attempt to guard him during one of those 26-point quarters, you can literally see them go through each of the seven stages of grief. Shock ("What the fuck did he just do?"). Denial ("He didn't just fucking do that, did he?"). Bargaining ("Maybe if I force him left or something he'll start missing."). Guilt ("I'm letting my team, my family, and my race down."). Anger ("Man, fuck that no-line up having-ass nigga."). Depression ("Sigh. I just want to crawl underneath the scorers table."). And acceptance/hope ("The game will be over soon. And I'm still rich — and I just got a DM from Rita Ora — so there's that.")

So, how do I kinda, sorta agree with the person who claimed he's not that good and overrated? Well, because "not that good" and "overrated" are not the same thing. You can be great — the best ever, even — and still be overrated. An overration isn't an indictment on the qualities a thing possesses. It's an indictment on how that thing and those qualities are perceived by others. And when you call Stephen Curry the best player in the NBA — as many are wont to do — you are (slightly) overrating him. Because he is not that. Lebron James still is.


Now, my rationale for why Lebron James is still the NBA's best player isn't very sophisticated. Because it doesn't need to be. All I need to do is name two more names: Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.

Although the 21st century has seen many great players — Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, etc — only prime Shaq, prime Timmy, and Lebron pass the playoff test. Which is, simply, would they make any team in the league an immediate playoff team? Not a championship caliber team. But would their presence be enough to make a 25 win team a 45 win team? And the only contemporary players who'd have that type of situationally independent seismic impact are those three. Let me put it this way: If you put Steph on the 2015-2016 Sixers and kept the same coach and the same players, they wouldn't be that much better. They'd be much more entertaining. And although he'd shoot a worse percentage, he might even score more points. But I can't see him alone adding more than 10 or 15 wins to that team. But an addition of Lebron would make them immediately competitive. Not good. But not terrible anymore either. And while Steph is an amazing and singular player, I don't believe his amazing singularity would transcend context. And I can't call him the best when he's playing at the same time as someone who does.


I'm aware this was (slightly) blasphemous. So I'll be laying low for the rest of the day. It's Wednesday; far too early in the week for a throat smite.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Question basketball fans, is KD getting a huge pass for under achieving. In proportion to his talent he hasn't advanced far enough with enough frequency and he hasn't lacked teammates.