Skip to content

Is LeBron James the Best First Overall Pick in NBA History?

LeBron James was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. One year later, he won the Rookie of the Year and was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

It was a thriving NBA Draft Class. In 2010, LeBron formed the “The Big Three,” along with fellow draftees Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade as members of the Miami Heat.

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James - Jason Miller/Getty Images/AFP

At 37 years old, James is heading into his 20th season; only a few players have reached this milestone as gracefully. Throughout his career, James has achieved lofty accomplishments.

Undoubtedly, he is at the top of the best players in the current NBA.

Nonetheless, is LeBron James the best first overall pick in NBA history? Well, it is a complex question. So, let’s break it down by first overall picks with the most MVP Awards, NBA Finals, and NBA Championships, which at the end of the day, is a fair measure to qualify an NBA player as the best.

First Overall Picks with Most MVP Awards

The first overall draft pick with the most won MVP awards is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with six. Second-best is James, with four.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was drafted in 1969 as the first overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, and two years later, in the 1970-71 regular season, he won the Most Valuable Player Award. In his first three years, Abdul-Jabbar became the first player to win twice the MVP award.

In that same season, he led the Bucks to the NBA Championship. Abdul-Jabbar won the Finals MVP Award by averaging 27 points per game.

Kareem played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 14 seasons and got two MVPs and his last Finals MVP Award. He became the first winner in the franchise.

On James’ side, it took him six years to win his first MVP award in 2009. The next year he was chosen as the best player in the league, again, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He won two MVPs with the Heat in 2012 and 2013 and was Finals MVP in both of those seasons. If we were to judge the best first overall pick in NBA history based on MVP awards, then LeBron James would fail in this category.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1
  • LeBron James: 0

First Overall Picks with Most Appearances in the NBA Finals

The first overall picks with the most appearances in the NBA Finals are LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with 10 trips each. Let’s break it down to examine who was the most successful in the race for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Four years after being drafted, James led the Cavs to The Finals for his first appearance in 2007. James has led every team he has played for to The Finals.

From 2011 to 2018, he had an NBA Finals eight-year streak. He led the Heat four times and four others with the Cavs. Only a handful of players share the record for most consecutive NBA Finals appearances. (James is the only player other than those on the legendary Boston Celtics team to have made it to 8 or more Finals appearances in a row).

James’ most recent trip to the NBA Finals was with the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2019-20 season, in which he averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game during the series.

Throughout his Finals appearances, LeBron James has an overall record of 22-33.

On Abdul-Jabbar’s end, he made two Finals appearances with the Milwaukee Bucks and eight with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He played in 56 Finals games, averaging 23.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Kareem had a 29-27 record in the NBA Finals.

In 1970-71, he had one of the most emblematic seasons in the Bucks’s history. They finished the regular season with 66 wins, including a then-record 20-win streak. In The Finals, Kareem was dominant, averaging 27 points per game and 18.5 rebounds.

Thus far, it’s clear that these super-athletes were at their peak in their Finals appearances. Let’s make this a tie.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1
  • LeBron James: 1

Abdul-Jabbar vs James: Who Has Won the Most NBA Championships?

The first overall pick with the most NBA titles is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with six titles. Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs won five rings. LeBron has four, the same number as Shaquille O’Neal. LeBron James is also surpassed by Magic Johnson, with five NBA Championships won with Abdul-Jabbar – Kareem-Magic is the best first-overall pick duo the NBA has seen.

Abdul-Jabbar won one championship with the Bucks. In addition, he won five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron James won back-to-back championships with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013. In 2016, he won his third ring with the Cavs and the fourth one with the Lakers in 2020.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1
  • LeBron James: 0

The Verdict

The answer is still as complex as the NBA universe but delimiting it to MVP awards, NBA Finals appearances, and championship wins is a reasonable way to get some clarity and attempt to answer the question objectively.

So, is LeBron James the best first overall pick in NBA history? No. Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best first overall pick in NBA history. Additionally, to check out more specific information about the NBA props available for the Clippers vs Grizzlies matchup. 

Undoubtedly, James is one of the best first-overall picks. Probably, he still has at least two to three seasons left in the Association. He is healthy, athletic, and driven. Would he be able to surpass the best first overall NBA picks? The clock is ticking.

Did you find this article interesting?

Comments (0)

Featured NBA Picks
Related News