Let’s get one thing straight before diving in here: Isiah Thomas is uniquely qualified to debate the greatest basketball player of all time.
He’s a two-time NBA champion, 12-time NBA All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection and NCAA champion. His trophy shelf likely sags under the weight of his Finals MVP, two All Star Game MVP, Final Four MOP and McDonald’s All-American hardware. He went toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan time and time again throughout one of the most competitive eras in the history of the NBA and, contrary to popular belief, won more times than not.
So if Thomas thinks LeBron James is the greatest basketball player to ever live — and evidently, he does — he’s perfectly entitled to that opinion. Reasonable people might agree or disagree. But he’s entitled to it. If he thinks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is No. 2, more power to him.
And if Michael Jordan doesn’t enter his calculus… That’s well within his right as a basketball mind.
Still, Thomas has been on quite the slew since James captured his fourth NBA title. Here he is co-signing a three-minute, 47-second diatribe levied by Nick Wright against Jordan’s achievements:
Subtweets at his old rival? Only Thomas knows for sure.
But consider this quote from Thomas in a February 1999 edition of Sports Illustrated calling Jordan “definitely the best player ever.”
Yet, during the summer of “The Last Dance,” he told CBS Sports’ Bill Reiter that Jordan was the fourth-best player he ever played against — a group James wouldn’t be included in, but has now clearly transcended, in Thomas’ eyes.
What changed between then and now? Perhaps it’s competitive fire left over from his playing days. Perhaps it’s salt, exacerbated by the fissures in Thomas and Jordan’s relationship that “The Last Dance” readdressed. Perhaps he’s just appreciating James’ greatness.
Either way, it’s further fuel for a debate that will endure for years to come — especially if James continues to add to a run of NBA dominance nearly unprecedented in its duration.