Celtics legend Paul Pierce recently made waves when he left LeBron James out of his list of the Top 5 greatest players in NBA history. The retired 19-year NBA veteran listed Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant ahead of James.
Pierce’s argument is that the other players on his list deserve credit for “building up their organization or continuing the tradition,” which is something that James didn’t do (in his opinion).
As an ESPN analyst, Pierce’s job is to discuss the game and sometimes that means generating hot takes that elicit a reaction from fans. What’s strange is that Pierce’s take on James’ place in NBA history hasn’t been consistent.
Just two years ago, in a round-table interview with Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, Pierce said that James is “already in the top five” when discussing all-time players.
And when asked about James being the only player in NBA history with 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists, Pierce said, “[When] you talk about once-in-a-generation players, he’s definitely there.”
Over the last two years, James has only continued to put up impressive numbers and add to his legacy. James currently has the third-most points in NBA history (34,087), the eighth-most assists (9,298), the 14th-most three-pointers (1,860) and the 14th-most steals (2,011).
It’s possible that Pierce changed his mind at some point in the last two years, but it seems more likely that the 10-time All-Star is just trying to get a reaction and stir the pot with this controversial ranking.
It’s also possible that Pierce isn’t exactly being objective with his ranking of James. He had numerous playoff battles against James, as the two players had an intense rivalry for many years. In fact, James and Pierce nearly fought back in 2004 when they ran into each other in the hallway at a preseason game, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
While things have obviously simmered down, it’s possible that some bad blood has lingered.
In 30 postseason match-ups against Pierce, James averaged 29.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 46.7 percent from the field. In those 30 games, Pierce averaged 17.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.3 blocks while shooting 39.2 percent from the field. James’ teams went 17-13 in those head-to-head games.