- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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As soon as Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen said that LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game, instead of Michael Jordan, who he called the greatest scorer, he created a national stir with fans and pundits analyzing his statement.
His Hall of Fame brethren are now joining the conversation, and the early results are showing that Pippen might be by himself in his claim.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar released a letter Tuesday saying he disagrees that James may be the greatest player of all time and Jordan is the greatest scorer of all time, while Isiah Thomas said the potential is there for James to match Jordan, but he's not sure that the Heat's superstar will pass Jordan.
"I have nothing but respect for you my friend as an athlete and knowledgeable basketball mind. But you are way off in your assessment of who is the greatest player of all time and the greatest scorer of all time," Abdul-Jabbar wrote on kareemabduljabbar.com. "Your comments are off because of your limited perspective."
Pippen started the firestorm of debate when he told ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on May 27: "Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play the game. I may go so far as saying LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game." He added that James is the complete package and he's unstoppable in transition.
While Pippen later tweeted that Jordan was and still is the greatest, he said that James could get to his level and called LeBron the best all-around player in the game.
Abdul-Jabbar had plenty to disagree with in his open letter on his website called "How Soon They Forget: An Open Letter to Scottie Pippen."
He challenged the notion of Jordan as the greatest scorer by saying that crown belongs to Wilt Chamberlain, citing Chamberlain's 1961-62 season when he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar, who is the league's all-time points leader, also wrote about Chamberlain's 100-point game and the smaller league size, which he said meant there was better talent in the league then compared to when Jordan played from the 1980s to the 2000s.
"So MJ has to be appraised in perspective," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "His incredible athletic ability, charisma and leadership on the court helped to make basketball popular around the world -- no question about that. But in terms of greatness MJ has to take a backseat to The Stilt."
The former Lakers and Bucks center didn't stop there, though, as he also compared Jordan to Bill Russell and his eight straight titles, as well as Russell's profound career rebounding average. He only mentioned James once in the letter.
"Bill played on a total of 11 Championship teams and as you very well know, Scottie, the ring is the thing, and everything else is just statistics. So I would advise you to do a little homework before crowning Michael or LeBron with the title of best ever," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "As dominant as he is, LeBron has yet to win a championship. I must say that it looks like Miami has finally put the team together that will change that circumstance. Its my hope that today's players get a better perspective on exactly what has been done in this league in the days of yore."
Thomas, whose Piston teams beat Jordan's Bulls three straight times before finally losing in 1991 as Jordan later claimed his first title, didn't have as firm a stance as Abdul-Jabbar, but wouldn't agree with Pippen's comments either.
"I think LeBron has a chance to eclipse Jordan if he continues to improve his game, but where they are right now, you still have to take Jordan as being the better player," Thomas said Tuesday night on "The Stephen A. Smith Show" on ESPN Radio 1050. "Now, six years from now, if LeBron continues to add different facets to his game, then maybe you can have that argument and you can have that debate.
"Right now, Jordan was such a complete player on both ends, he was a great foul shooter, he turned into a 3-point shooter, he had midrange game, he had low-post game, he was a lock-down defender and LeBron is getting to that in all those areas. Now, he hasn't gotten there yet and we don't know if he will get there. But if he does get there, he will probably only be equal to, I don't know if he can ever be better."
Matt Ehalt is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
1dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann