LeBron James:  Can he be the greatest ever, if he’s not the best right now?

What do Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James all have in common? They’ve all been called the greatest of all time at one point in their career. While Jordan and Bryant had similar styles of play, James is considered a whole different beast all together. Some push his greatest of all-time agenda due to the overwhelming amount of times he’s made the NBA playoffs and Finals. However, there’s been a player quietly building a resume to eclipse James as the greatest now on the court, Russell Westbrook.

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Westbrook’s name continues to be all over the highlight reels and not a night goes by without hearing of yet another triple-double. He’d become the first player in 55 years to average one for a season. In fact, no player has averaged a triple-double since Oscar Robinson. That’s it, Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robinson stand alone in that class, yet everyone focuses on LeBron James. Statistically, Lebron blows Westbrook out of the water when it comes to scoring however the two play completely different roles. Lebron is expected to be a scoring leader playing the power forward and small forward positions. Both are expected to score higher than any point guard on the court. Yet somehow, Westbrook is averaging just 4.2 less points per game than James. Even with 5 years fewer than LeBron James, Russell Westbrook has 1 more scoring title than the King. Other than points, statistically they’re neck and neck when you average their regular season totals. Curiosity has to get the best of you when you wonder how much closer the two would be if not for a knee injury significantly hindering Westbrook’s 2013-2014 season.

If you’re comparing playoff success and championships then James again carries the torch. However again those numbers are inflated by longevity. It took jumping ship to the Miami Heat and through his 9th season before James would win a title, while Westbrook is in the middle of his tenth. The huge difference is the level of loyalty in which Russell Westbrook gives the Oklahoma City Thunder. He could have easily taken a max contract to build a powerhouse team and leave OKC behind. Instead, he paid the greatest sign of respect a franchise can receive, staying with the team to build a championship team. Doing so may have prolonged his eventual title, but his legacy could be propped up with a “by any means necessary” attitude towards a ring with the Thunder.

The reason Russell Westbrook isn’t recognized with the same star power as LeBron James comes down to image. The NBA highlights James’ career not only because he’s one of the game’s top stars, but because he’s more marketable. LeBron James coming out of high school, emerging as an all-star, and becoming the face of a franchise lends to the thought that hard work and determination combined with talent pays off. If not for his instant success and comparison to Michael Jordan, anti-James fans wouldn’t dislike him as much. He’s a likable guy, he does a lot for the community and the NBA, and he’s carried the success needed to be such a larger-than-life presence.

Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, is a different personality altogether. Not that he doesn’t do for his community or bring a lot to his team and the NBA. However, the NBA shies away from marketing Westbrook in the same manner. Maybe it was his mini feud with rising star Kevin Durant, or his standoff-ish Marshawn Lynch-like interaction with the press, or maybe its nothing within his control. The NBA likes to promote their stars the way Vince McMahon does the WWE. At one point they made it mandatory that players wear a suit in interviews in hopes of controlling their reputation. LeBron is the more clean-cut baby-face persona the NBA is looking for, while Russell Westbrook just wants to show up, play basketball, and win championships. LeBron James isn’t more talented, he’s just more marketable.

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