For a long time in NBA circles, LeBron James has been nearly unanimously considered the best player in the league.
Even through James’ NBA Finals losses, there was never any debate as to his standing as the best individual player for everything he brought to a team and the way he elevated teammates.
James’ first season with the Los Angeles Lakers went about as bad as possible, however. James dealt with the first serious injury of his career, limiting him to just 55 games. Additionally, the Lakers failed to make the 2019 NBA playoffs and they struggled to deal with Anthony Davis trade rumors.
With all of that happening, Sports Illustrated did something they have never done. For the first time since it was created, their top 100 NBA players list did not feature James at the top:
Budging LeBron James from the top of this ranking—a spot he has occupied since the inception of SI’s Top 100 in 2013—required a confluence of factors.
Sports Illustrated would go into more detail about what led them to drop James to third on the list:
One of them is the unprecedented sum of minutes James has accrued in regular season, playoff, and international basketball, and the toll that takes on the 34-year-old’s body. Another is the rise of a new class of stars, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It is Giannis Antetokounmpo — the reigning MVP — who sits atop the list. Right behind him is Kawhi Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals MVP who went on one of the best playoff runs in league history. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis sits sixth on the list behind Stephen Curry and James Harden.
The arguments against James are what he’s heard all offseason. In addition to the injury and team struggles, James’ true takeover moments seemed fewer and far between last season. His numbers overall were still outstanding especially for a player at this stage of his career, but the impact fans have come to expect seemed to be missing at times.
Even still, there are those who still consider James the league’s best player and he is definitely its most visible and popular.
James wants Davis to be the focal point of the Lakers for the 2019-20 NBA season, but there is no doubt that he has been putting in the work and is ready to prove that he is still the elite of the elite in this league.