All-Time #NBArank has reached the cream of the crop.
To create All-Time #NBArank, we put together a ballot with the 150 greatest players ever. Then our ESPN expert panel voted on thousands of head-to-head matchups, with voting based on both peak performance and career value. The result is our all-time NBA Top 100.
All-Time #NBArank: No. 4
Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1991, 1995-1996)
Three-time MVP (1986-87, 1988-89, 1989-90), three-time Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, Hall of Fame
Five (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, .520 FG%
All-Time #NBArank has cracked the top 10 -- the cream of the crop.
To create All-Time #NBArank, we put together a ballot with the 150 greatest players ever. Then our ESPN expert panel voted on thousands of head-to-head matchups, with voting based on both peak performance and career value. The result is our all-time NBA Top 100, which concludes Wednesday.
All-Time #NBArank: No. 5
Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors (1959-1965), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-1968), Los Angeles Lakers (1968-1973)
Four-time MVP (1959-60, 1965-66, 1966-67, 1967-68), Finals MVP (1972), 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-D selection, Rookie of the Year (1959-60), Hall of Fame
Two (1967, 1972)
30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, .540 FG%
Wilt the Stilt, The Big Dipper
Their matchup over the years has been one of cross-conference shadow boxing; injury and circumstance have prevented them from having an epic playoff showdown. One or the other played in every NBA Finals from 2007 to 2015, but never against each other.
There is another piece of history the two share, one mostly hidden until now. According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the event, the Lakers once contacted the Cavs to investigate whether Cleveland would make James available in a possible Bryant trade.
In the summer of 2007, Bryant was 28 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged 32 points per game and shot 46 percent from the field. He had three rings and would win his first Most Valuable Player award the following season.
Bryant was under contract for two more seasons, but he was frustrated with the Lakers after three consecutive subpar seasons following the Shaquille O'Neal trade.
"At that time, the Lakers had to do something. I was just losing faith in what they were trying to do. It was like I was a meal ticket," Bryant told ESPN's Baxter Holmes this week. "You come out and score 40, 50 points, fill the seats, we're going to keep the payroll at a minimum, generate revenue. It's like, look, listen, I am not with that, dude. I have to win without Shaq. I've got to do it. We've got to do something."
Bryant famously agitated for change, and as the rhetoric reached a fever pitch in the media, some kind of blockbuster trade seemed almost likely.