LeBron James' ability to improve on his near perfect stats every season continues to confound NBA fans and pundits alike (Image | Getty)

LeBron James’ ability to improve on his near perfect stats every season continues to confound NBA fans and pundits alike (Image | Getty)

“King James” is somewhat of a fitting name for Miami Heat All-Star LeBron James given his recent string of performances. He is blowing the NBA apart, revolutionising what the people conceive possible on the basketball court.

He has always been the prodigy of the NBA – the one – in the Neo sense, but since he finally won his first title last year he has been metaphorically stopping bullets. After cruising through the opening months of the season, James has begun to turn up the heat.

Up until Thursday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James had had a record five consecutive games shooting 60% or more, only the third player in history to do so while scoring more than 30 points per game. In fact, James not scored less than 30 points since the 1st February (seven straight games).

So this begs the question; is LeBron James the greatest athlete in the world right now? Well, let’s take a look at some of the other candidates.

In order to qualify for this list one does not just have to be the greatest player in one’s sport, he also needs to be in the conversation of the greatest in one’s sport’s history. Their ability has to transcend their own sports and fans and be recognized by the world.

To us there are four such athletes, those who in years to come we will look back on and say, “Did you see them play? We were lucky to be around in a time when they competed.” There are four such athletes at the top of their game in their respective sports right now; Lionel Messi (football), Usain Bolt (athletics), Anderson Silva (MMA), and of course LeBron.

There are those out there that have once been top of their sport like these men (Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, and Roger Federer) but these four are riding the crest of that wave right now. Let us look at each athlete and see their case for and against their ‘greatest in the world’ candidacy.

The evidence is clear - two defenders won't be enough to stop Leo Messi. And unless your star defender is having the game of his life, it's not clear how you stop him at all (Image | Getty)

The evidence is clear – two defenders won’t be enough to stop Leo Messi. And unless your star defender is having the game of his life, it’s not clear how you stop him at all (Image | Getty)

The case for Lionel Messi

The evidence is clear for Messi’s inclusion in this list. His talent is undeniable, arguably the most gifted football player of the last 20 years. He is also helped considerably by being a member on what is now wildly heralded as the best club team in the history of the game. Unlike many other football stars Messi rarely disappoints. When tuning into a Barcelona or Argentina game, any spectator can sit back in awe and watch the skill and speed of the little guy as he weaves his way towards the goal. He is unstoppable.

Bringing stats into this argument seems counterproductive as each athlete plays in completely different sports. Nevertheless, Messi’s career has been one of firsts; first player to score five goals in a Champion’s League match. The 13 goals that Messi scored in the Champions League, along with the 12 goals on international duty with Argentina in 2012 gives Messi the joint record with Vivian Woodward for most international goals in a year. Messi totaled 50 goals in 35 La Liga matches last season. This eclipsed the 40 goal record which was set by Cristiano Ronaldo during 2010/11.

Furthermore, the Argentine’s image and talent transcend his own sport. Even in areas of the world that do not care about football, the US for example, Barcelona matches are specifically advertised to show Messi’s mesmerizing talent. Messi is the leading global icon on the list – but is that enough to earn him the mantle of greatest athlete on the planet right now?

The case for Usain Bolt

The fact that he is the fastest man to ever walk the face of this planet does, somewhat, qualify him as a worldwide superstar, not to mention the fact he is possibly the most charismatic of the four. In the UK 20 million people tuned in to see him electrify the 100m final (more viewers than both of England’s trips to the Rugby World Cup final combined). One can guarantee that for years to come we will see replay after replay of those 9.63 seconds (the second fastest time ever), arguably the most entrancing moment of the games.

It's become one of the most copied celebrations in world sport - and the way Usain Bolt dominates sprinting at the moment, don't expect that to change (Image | AP)

It’s become one of the most copied celebrations in world sport – and the way Usain Bolt dominates sprinting at the moment, don’t expect that to change (Image | AP)

Bolt is an athlete of the people: he ate chicken nuggets before running the fastest 100m time ever, for goodness’ sake. He is raw talent personified; a lanky, chatty, maybe slightly immodest runner whose elongated, powerful strides look effortless. After all is that not what the best do? They make what is incredibly difficult look effortless and Bolt does this every time he steps into the blocks.

He put international athletics back on the map after the shameful drug scandals that plagued the late 80s and 90s. He is up there with Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson as one of the greatest sprinters of all time. But is being able to run incredibly fast enough to qualify you as the greatest athlete on the planet?

The case for Anderson Silva

No other MMA fighter in history has made combat look more ferociously artistic than Anderson ‘the Spider’ Silva. Watching a Silva fight is like watching a world class composer; he is completely in control, dictating ever blow, peak and trough of a fight. He is a viscous counter striker with an expertise in Mauy Thai that few on the planet can rival.

The Brazilian has never lost in the UFC and the longest win streak of all time in the organization with 16. He is the most accurate striker in UFC competition connecting 67.8% of the time. He has the most title victories (11) and most title defenses (10) in UFC history. In fact he has pretty much shut down the light heavyweight division in the sport because no one has been able to challenge his dominance.

One thing is certain about Anderson Silva: if he doesn't get the nod in this poll, TAP doesn't fancy telling him? (Image | ninjasports.net)

One thing is certain about Anderson Silva: if he doesn’t get the nod in this poll, TAP doesn’t fancy telling him? (Image | ninjasports.net)

He helped bring MMA into the public arena, taking it from an often looked down upon secondary to boxing, to the most popular combat sport in the world. The 37-year-old’s poise and expertise is unrivaled and we may never see such a complete fighter again in our life time.

The case for LeBron James

James is by far the most recognizable face of global basketball. The 28 year old even appears in Nike adverts in the UK, where basketball is difficult to find on television. James is the fastest riser on the list in terms of global athletic stock. He is the Michael Jordan of the 2010s, debatably being the best player to step on the court since his Airness.

Since winning the NBA title and Olympic gold medal in 2012, the proverbial weight has been lifted from the 6’8″ forward’s shoulders. This season he is averaging better in almost every major offensive and defensive stat category than his career average. His shooting percentage, three point percentage, and rebounds are all up on his career average.

Once more in the few games leading up to the All-Star break he is doing things on the court that have not been done in a long time; becoming only the third player in the history of NBA to have 6 back-to-back games scoring 30 or more points while shooting 60% or higher.

It is fair to say that LeBron is not the greatest basketball player of all time, in fact he may not even rank in the top five, but he could be the one to bring basketball to the masses of the world, returning the NBA to its early nineties notoriety.


So the cases are in, and who swings it? Well who are we to say? What is certainly true is that this is a great time to be a sports fan as there are some historically superb athletes out there.

Who gets your nod? Let us know in the comments below…

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