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Forward thinking: Celebrating LeBron's greatness

By John Hareas, for NBA.com
Posted May 2 2010 11:31AM

How great is LeBron James? The back-to-back NBA MVPs speak volumes (LBJ joins Pettit, Bird, Mailman and Duncan as the only multiple winners in league history at the forward position) but so does the endorsement of legendary forwards as well:

"He's one guy in the league that I think he'll probably be better than all of us when it's all said and done."
-- Larry Bird

"LeBron reminds me of Oscar who controlled many facets of the game."
--Dolph Schayes

"His (basketball) IQ is one of the highest I've ever seen."
--Bernard King

"I don't know of any forward in the history of the game who has ever had his athletic skills and his attributes that he has."
-- Jerry Lucas

"His ability in the open court -- he reminds me so much when he goes to the basket of Julius Erving."
-- Billy Cunningham

"I haven't seen anybody like him. It's like Karl Malone out at the point running a team. Are you kidding? [laughs]"
-- Julius Erving

On the eve of LeBron's MVP announcement, some of the greatest forwards in NBA history -- Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, John Havlicek, Bernard King, Jerry Lucas, Kevin McHale, Scottie Pippen, Dolph Schayes and Dominique Wilkins celebrated LeBron's greatness through qualities that all winning players/MVPs must have -- leadership, physicality, basketball IQ, selflessness/sacrifice, competitive drive, versatility, dealing with pressure, will to dominate and the will to win.

LEADERSHIP

"I love his leadership. The one thing that I am so impressed with him is his focus on the team and that he is not a selfish player. That's something that I'm very high on."
-- Jerry Lucas

"LeBron has grown as a leader since his rookie year. He has a tremendous acumen of knowing exactly where all of the guys are on the floor and getting each of his teammates involved in the offense. His leadership skills are unparalleled and among the greatest who have ever played the game."
-- Bernard King

"LeBron displays the type of leadership that Oscar Robertson had. When Oscar was with Cincinnati, he took over the game. If they needed him to play forward he did. If they needed him to stop a guy on defense, he did. Oscar controlled the game, the action of his team and LeBron seems to do that as well as anybody I've ever seen.

"LeBron reminds me of Oscar who controlled many facets of the game."
-- Dolph Schayes

"He's a great leader. The thing about him and Kobe is that they show up every night. He's unselfish. He fits in the category of great players who make their teammates better."
-- Rick Barry

"He grew into a great leader."
-- John Havlicek

"He's a true leader. The floor general on the basketball court. To be as young as he is and to have everybody on the team look up to him and really to look to feed off his energy is pretty amazing.

"What impresses me the most is that LeBron wants to be the leader. He demands it. Not a lot of guys want that responsibility."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"He seems to be maturing into that leader that's going to be able to throw it out there, say this is what we got to do and then be able to do it. You have to be able to back it up but sometimes you also have to be able to say it, too. I think he's evolving into that."
-- Kevin McHale

"The attitude he brings to the game is great leadership. Watching LeBron play, you never feel like you're not getting a total effort. That's something your leader must be able to bring to the game, set a standard for everybody else.

"It looks like that there's a wonderful relationship between he and his teammates. The key is that he sets the tone for how the team is going to play and the type of effort that is going to be expected of everybody."
-- Billy Cunningham

"LeBron is the consummate leader. He was given the reins and the ball from Day 1 even though the Cavs had veterans on the team when he arrived. It's rare.

It's comparable to Magic Johnson. Magic at 19, had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, the guys who were the captains. Magic wasn't the captain but he became the vocal leader in the playoffs."
-- Julius Erving

PHYSICALITY

"He's the most unique player to enter the NBA in many, many decades. I've never seen a player who combines the power, strength, quickness and speed that he has in his game. It's simply amazing. And his ability to get from the foul line to the rim, the acceleration that he gets because of his strength and his size -- once he penetrates the paint, defenses aren't capable of handling him."
-- Bernand King

"He may be one of the most physical forwards to play the game. I don't know of any forward in history of the game who has ever had his athletic skills and his attributes that he has. There's no doubt about that."
-- Jerry Lucas

"Physically, he's a monster. He's very strong, has great athletic ability, his quickness and his ability to see the open man.

"Physically, he's one of the most gifted athletes in the history of athletes -- whether it's football, baseball or hockey."
-- Dolph Schayes

"The sky's the limit."
-- John Havlicek

"The guy is a beast. Look at his body! I would pay to have a body like that when I played."
-- Rick Barry

"Phenomenal body. He's probably one of the greatest athletes to ever play basketball. His athleticism, speed, the jumping ability. He's among the best in those categories in the game."
-- Scottie Pippen

"At 6-8, 250, he looks like a freight train coming down the floor that can handle the ball. Reminds me of a lot of the small forwards back in my era that can do three different things. They can put it on the floor, they can post up and they can shoot the ball from the outside. LeBron James is one of those guys that can do that on a consistent basis."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"He's outrageous. He's a big strong athletic guy. He's a very, very physical player. He's a unique blend of strength and athleticism, power and quickness. When that guy gets going in the hole, he's impossible to stop.

"He's very physical in an era right now that doesn't have a ton of physicality in the game with the way it's being called. On the perimeter, he's so strong that if he gets a half of step on you that there's no catching up to him."
-- Kevin McHale

"It's off the charts. It's hard for me to believe and I've never been in his company but people tell me he weighs in excess of 260 pounds. On TV, the closest I've seen, he looks like he weighs 225, maybe.

"His ability in the open court -- he reminds me so much when he goes to the basket of Julius Erving. There is just about nothing you can do once they get to a certain point in the open court."
-- Billy Cunningham

"I haven't seen anybody like him. It's like Karl Malone out at the point running a team. Are you kidding? [laughs]

"When LeBron moves around the court and attacks the hole, it's like the physicality of Malone coming at you except much more skilled."
-- Julius Erving

BASKETBALL IQ

"His basketball IQ is on the level of Bird, Magic and Jordan and their basketball IQ was off the charts. He's developed a killer instinct. You see a certain fierceness, something he's developed the last few years. His IQ is one of the highest I've ever seen."
-- Bernard King

"LeBron understands the game, he knows the game. He sees the game developing in front of him. And as a result, he takes advantage of it."
-- Jerry Lucas

"Gaining perspective year by year, game by game where he will become a great player in analyzing what needs to be done." -- John Havlicek

"Phenomenal. He knows how to win and get things done. He's observant and he knows what's going on every second of the game and what is required to win."
-- Dolph Schayes

"Fantastic. He has a great, natural feel for the game, which all of the great players really and truly have. I think he has a terrific IQ for the game of basketball."
-- Rick Barry

"Off the scale. He's so far ahead of the game. Even before the ball is taken out of bounds, he's already anticipating what his attack is going to be. He already knows what the defense is going to do.

"He'so young but he's seen a lot of things and he knows how to react to them plus he has great anticipation. He has a phenomenal mind for the game and that is on both ends of the court."
-- Scottie Pippen

"He has an amazing basketball IQ. You look at what he does outside of his scoring. He makes everyone around him better. He's a great passer, a very, very good rebounder. From that aspect, he's got a great basketball mind."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"It's getting better. Sometimes there are too many people standing around, watching LeBron. I noticed him at times now getting his teammates involved in the situation, which I think is necessary because in the playoffs, teams are able to focus and have a game plan to limit the team."
-- Billy Cunningham

"He's at the top. LeBron has that gift. Like Elgin, Oscar, West, Russell, Bird, Magic, Michael. They know before a game starts that if the game plan presented on the board isn't going to work to perfection, then they'll tweak it.

"They're ability to tweak it and tweak it quickly reflects a high basketball IQ. He has that gift."
-- Julius Erving

"He's understanding who he is, what his team does, what they need to do to win. I think he's evolving into a real high-level guy. He understands what they have to do to win, the defensive rotations, the offensive sets. He's really evolving into a real high-level category for him."
-- Kevin McHale

SELFLESSNESS AND SACRIFICE

"He's a team player and a very unselfish. He revels in the fact that his teammates are as successful as he is during the course of a game. The bottom line with LeBron is that he's all about winning. He makes sure his teammates are part of their success because it's the only way he can be successful within the team environment."
-- Bernard King

"This is paramount. It's critical to be a winner. There are players who have great talent yet selflessness is not one of the attributes that they have. If you're going to have a team that enjoys playing a team game, then your key player must have that attribute. He has it in spades."
-- Jerry Lucas

"He basically proved himself to be one who can play in this league and now that he knows he can, he's getting other people to become involved. A sign of great player is when you make everyone else on your team better and that's what he's doing."
-- John Havlicek

"I look at LeBron James the same way I looked at Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan -- he loves the game, loves to play. You can see the passion when he plays, it comes out of every one of his pores."
-- Dolph Schayes

"He's about winning. He doesn't care about how many points he scores, he just cares about how many games his team wins. That's what you want in a great player."
-- Rick Barry

"Selflessness and sacrifice sums up the way LeBron plays on both ends of the basketball court. LeBron could have been the league's leading scorer but his focus is on the bigger prize, the NBA championship.

"Winning a back-to-back MVP is predicated on his style of play. He plays the game the right way."
-- Scottie Pippen

"His 7, 8, 9, 10 assists per night speak for themselves. He is a guy who believes in making his teammates better. I've seen him play games where maybe he's taken two or three shots in the first quarter because he's trying to get everyone else involved. He surveys the floor to see where he's going to be effective on any given night."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"He's very selfless. He's a willing passer. I like the fact that late in games, he'll take on the other team's top scorer, 'Hey, give him to me. I'll shut him down."

"LeBron is not afraid to put himself out there. 'I got him, put the game on me.' More importantly, I'll make the pass, I'll make the play. He's selfless. I like that part of him a great deal."
-- Kevin McHale

"As he's gotten older, he has a better grasp of the game and what's important. He's realizing that winning is the only important thing.

"It takes a little time for a player to understand because in many cases they have their own individual goals to establish themselves and he's done all of those things. There is only one thing that is missing and that is winning and winning a championship."
-- Billy Cunningham

"He's the ultimate unselfish player. He can score 60 points or 10 points, it doesn't matter because he'll still dominate the game.

"LeBron goes end line to end line, willing to sacrifice his body. He ends up on the floor and in the stands. He's in superior condition. He never seems to get tired even though he plays the game end to end.

"Until he has it all -- a title -- he's not going to rest."
-- Julius Erving

COMPETITIVE DRIVE

"LeBron has always had the competitive drive, coming right out of high school and having the success that he did. He has a great work ethic. During the offseason, when the cameras aren't around, he's working very hard on his game, developing new assets.

"He entered the league not shooting the three point shot, now he's a three point shooter. He didn't have a strong low post game, now he does."
-- Bernard King

"Incredible. All the great forwards have competitive drive and that's what separates us from other players."
-- Jerry Lucas

"He wants to be the best. He's very close to it. In my day, we had Baylor, West, Wilt, Russell and Oscar -- there was a short list. Well, LeBron is on the short, short list.

"I guess a player comes along once every 50 years when we get someone of LeBron's skills."
-- Dolph Schayes

"Boundless. He's one of those players who won't be denied. He's fearless on the court."
-- John Havlicek

"Oh, yeah, he's a competitor. You're talking about one of the best players to ever play the game. He plays hard. He gives his best effort every time he steps out onto the court. I respect and admire that. He leads by example. He plays hard."
-- Rick Barry

"It speaks for itself. He jumped from high school, straight to the NBA and started shattering records. The rest is history."
-- Scottie Pippen

"On a scale of 1-10, it's a 10, because he loves to play. When you love to play the game at this level, that competitive edge, it's really hard to put a number on it because you would get out there and play for nothing.

"LeBron is a major force in terms of the competitive edge that he has. He's very competitive"
-- Dominique Wilkins

"I think that he's very competitive. It's a realization that no matter what happens in his career that if he doesn't win championships he'll be looked upon as a great player that couldn't win. I think he understands that."
-- Kevin McHale

"It's just wonderful to watch. It's no accident that the best players in the league have this unbelievable drive and passion for the game and they all make a lot of money -- God Bless them -- but I think they would have the same attitude if they were playing in the YMCA."
-- Billy Cunningham

"It's as good as I've seen. He shows it in his emotions. He shows it in his conversation and he shows it on the floor with his physical abilities."
-- Julius Erving

VERSATILITY

"He's not only the most versatile player in the game, he's one of the most versatile players to ever play. I look to Magic when I think of versatility. Like Magic, LeBron has the rebounding, the passing and the scoring to elevate his team."
-- Bernard King

"There's not much he can't do. There are other forwards that have shot the ball better. He's a good shooter but not a great shooter. Sometimes he's streaky but he can do so many other things that he can overcome that without a problem.

"We're talking about one of the very, very, very top players who has ever lived."
-- Jerry Lucas

"You can play him at any position -- forward, guard or center -- and he'll be outstanding and probably would make All-NBA at each one."
-- John Havlicek

"His post-up game is probably better than most but it's not the best part of his game because he doesn't post up too much. Playing at the small forward position, I give him an A+ while I give his post-up game an A. He can play all five positions, coach and sell tickets."
-- Dolph Schayes

"He can dribble, he can pass, he can score. He probably could coach if they allowed him to."
-- Rick Barry

"He's the most versatile player in the NBA. Versatile as far as his mind, his knowledge, his ability to do things on the defensive end, to defend different positions. He can play four, five positions in a game."
-- Scottie Pippen

"He's a hybrid type of player that can play multiple positions. He can basically do whatever he wants. Depending on who the Cavs are playing against, LeBron can even play a little center."
--Dominique Wilkins

"You think of left, right, forward, back, up, down -- he's got the whole package. He's a tenacious defender. He applies himself defensively, which is the biggest improvement in his game. A fierce shot blocker, who is not afraid to make the play and go for the steal.

"Offensively, he dictates to the defense how he's going to be played. They don't dictate to him. He dictates how you're going to play me on a given night.

"If I have all the pieces working -- inside-outside and my passing game, I'm unstoppable. That's LeBron."
-- Julius Erving

"He's as versatile as it gets. He can play four out of the five spots -- one, two, three, four. He probably could play five if he wanted to.

"What he's becoming is just a more athletic version of Magic."
-- Kevin McHale

"I think we're seeing more and more versatility of LeBron when I watch him. I love to watch him when he gets in the low post because I think he creates more problems for teams.

"It just reminds me of coaching against Boston when [Larry] Bird was a perimeter player then all of a sudden he went to the low post. Now, what do you do? Do you double him? Do you let him go one on one? Because they're such good passers and they make their teammates better. Whereas out on the open court, in a set offensive situation, you can take away something. You can force them to be a perimeter shooter or force them to the left, whatever it may be but when he gets to the low post with his quickness and size, either he's bigger or he's quicker or probably both whoever's playing him and it just adds a great deal more pressure into the low post."
-- Billy Cunningham

DEALING WITH PRESSURE

"If you're going to be a great player, you have to thrive on pressure and I think he does. That's what you dream of. There's no fear of failure. He wants that responsibility. You have to relish the last minute or two of a basketball game."
-- Billy Cunningham

"LeBron welcomes the pressure. He welcomes the situation when he can dominate a game when it counts the most. He takes it upon himself to carry the team himself." -- Bernard King

"It doesn't seem to bother him because he's used to taking the big shot and actually wants to take the last shot, which is a sign of a great competitor."
-- John Havlicek

"He's demonstrated that he's been able to do that. He's made key plays at the end of the game, made shots at the end. He isn't afraid to take shots at the end of the game and that's important. Some players get into those situations and they don't want the ball. LeBron wants it.

"His teammates want him to want it because they have confidence in him and they trust him."
-- Jerry Lucas

"I think he loves pressure but he also wants to control pressure by wanting to be the go-to guy."
-- Dolph Schayes

"There is no pressure for great players such as LeBron. Pressure doesn't exist. Pressure only exists when you don't have confidence in your ability to do what it is asked of you to do in critical situations.

"I never felt pressure when I played basketball because I had confidence in my ability to do what I had to do. There is no real pressure."
-- Rick Barry

"At this point in his career, I think he's dealt with pressure as good as anybody that plays the game today. When you have the love of the game, it brings out a different type of player. A guy will do anything to sacrifice himself for his team. He does that."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"Absolutely, he's a pressure player, big time. This game is not about perfection. Perfection is not to be had out there. He has shown on the big stage that he is a pressure player."
-- Julius Erving

"I think he understands that he's not going to make every shot, which you got to take them. If you miss a good shot at the end of the game, well, that's the way it goes. At first I think he was thinking that he had to be perfect and put a lot of pressure on himself in making them.

"I think he's evolving into, 'Hey, I'm going to get a good shot, I have a lot of confidence that it's going to go in.'

"The thing about him is that he'll make the play at the end of the game, too. He'll drive in there and make the pass as well as the shot. He's understanding that he even though he initiates the play, it doesn't mean he has to score. He's a great at just starting the play and let whatever happens, happens."
-- Kevin McHale

"He's a floor general on the basketball court, both on the offensive and defensive side of the court. He's able to do a lot of helping, roaming. A real good team defender."
-- Scottie Pippen

WILL TO DOMINATE

"He has a great competitive spirit. He not only wants his team to win but he wants to dominate and prove that he's the best at least for that night."
-- Billy Cunningham

"When you see LeBron run down the court, seemingly out of nowhere, to block an opponent's shot, you see his will to win right there. He'll do whatever it takes. He'll put his body on the line."
-- Bernard King

"The closer the game is, the more he wants to dominate."
-- John Havlicek

"It's a mindset to want to dominate. He imposes his will on a ballgame."
-- Bernard King

"He's got a tremendous ego, which is obvious but I think you have to have. You look at Bird, Magic, Kobe, MJ, they all do. You have to have this ego where you want to be the best."
--Dolph Schayes

"Detroit, Playoffs, 2007. Forty eight points, scored his team's last 25. Enough said."
-- Rick Barry

"He dominates every time he steps on the basketball court. He's just so far ahead of everyone else, physically and his jumping ability. He may not win every time but he dominates."
-- Scottie Pippen

"All great players want to dominate. It's in their blood. All great players want to be the guy to put that team on his shoulders and take them to the next level. He's willing to take that step to take his team to the next level. LeBron is a force. To have great athletic ability and to be a great basketball."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"You see LeBron taking over more. He wants the top guy in the fourth quarter. He wants the ball. He's going to attack."

"In the Will to Dominate, sometimes you have to incorporate everyone else and sometimes that can hurt you, too."
-- Kevin McHale

WILL TO WIN

"There are some nights the last thing you want to do is play basketball but you have to have that will. There is great responsibility on the shoulders of LeBron because people come to see him play and in many cities they only see him once a year, so there is the added responsibility of performing. And he performs. And the fans don't feel like they got cheated because he always delivers."
-- Billy Cunningham

"He doesn't expect to lose every time he walks on the floor and that's what makes him a great player."
-- John Havlicek

"He wants to win. It's about winning. When you win a lot of individual awards -- All-Star Games, MVPs, Hall of Fame, top 50 -- I equate that to the candles, icing or the cherries--all of the wonderful decorations that are on the cake. When you take those and put it on the plate, how good do they look? You need the cake. The cake is the championship and you need the title to put all of those endorsements on and LeBron is about that."
-- Rick Barry

"He will keep that hunger until he wins the championship. He has a burning desire to win. He's on the verge of a championship. He's a dominant force. The Cavs are going to rely on his shoulders.

"He knows that he will ultimately be judged by what his team does, not what he does."
-- Scottie Pippen

"He's a mix of different guys. His explosiveness and his ability to take the ball to the rim, it can be shades of myself, James Worthy or Dr. J. And the guy who can put it on the floor.

"You have certain guys who are unguardable in this league. He's one of them."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"LeBron has gone on record that he wants this. He's shows it night in and night out and he understands."
-- Julius Erving

"If LeBron wins one title, I think there's no question that he's going to say, "Hey, I have to win a couple. If they start talking about Larry, Magic and Michael -- all of these guys are multiple winners -- so I think he has a bigger goal ahead of him.

"Before you get two championships, you have to get one. I think he's got the perspective that he has to make every season count."
-- Kevin McHale

GREATEST ATTRIBUTE

"His leadership skills. His teammates love to play with him. When you're on the floor with a talent such as LeBron, you don't want to let him down. Those guys elevate their game because you're playing next to LeBron James. He doesn't have to say anything. He forces them to be better."
-- Bernard King

"His versatility. There are so many things he can do. He can do things that other players are never able to do. I don't recall a forward in history who can take the ball to the hoop and do the things that he can do physically. He's head and shoulders above others."
-- Jerry Lucas

"His athleticism. They say Dwight Howard is Superman, well, I think LeBron is more Superman because he flies through the air with the greatest of ease while Dwight jumps through the air with the greatest of ease."
-- Dolph Schayes

"He's so versatile. He's streaky with his shooting but if his shooting is going, he's impossible to cover because he can go to the basket, he can create or pass off. He sees the floor. He's just a fabulous basketball player. I'm a huge fan of his."
-- Rick Barry

"His speed and quickness and ability to get to the hoop is maybe the best I've ever seen."
-- John Havlicek

"He's good at everything. There isn't one thing that he isn't great at."
-- Scottie Pippen

"At his age, it's his knowledge of the game. You can tell that he studied the game early on and that makes him so much better than the rest. He's a student of the game."
-- Dominique Wilkins

"His body, the way he's built. He's massive. He's ambidextrous. He's fast. He's very precise in terms of his adaptability to situations. He can stop on the dime. He plays with his head up. He sees the floor. He has a playmaker's mentality."
-- Julius Erving

"Physically, he's so strong, power, strength and quickness. His size is unreal and his willingness to pass the ball, to involve his teammates. I think those are his greatest qualities."
-- Kevin McHale

"It's very simple. It's his passion for the game. Watching him play, he would be playing basketball some place and trying to knock your head off even in a pick-up game. The game is very important to him. He displays that every night he steps out on the court. The effort and passion he shows. You never hear someone say that he never gives his best effort on a particular night."
-- Billy Cunningham

"LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world."
-- Charles Barkley

"When I watch LeBron James, a lot of times I think he's just out there teasing with the teams. He's getting other people involved early. Now, he can make the shots. He's awesome to watch.

"He's one guy in the league that I think he'll probably be better than all of us when it's all said and done."
-- Larry Bird

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