Listen, I’ll level with you: It’s a pretty boring time in the NBA content game right now. The year-long news cycle that the NBA usually has is taking a little bit of a break right now. On Wednesday, we did get some news regarding LeBron James‘ future, as the Los Angeles Lakers star inked a 2-year extension to keep him with the team going forward.
Is it a surprise that James signed an extension in L.A.? Probably not, but for a guy who is known for using his contract situation as a form of leverage, it was perhaps surprising that James agreed to a deal before the Lakers made any major moves to improve the roster this summer by packaging Russell Westbrook and a pair of future first-round draft picks. But still, it was news, baby, and in mid-August, we love ourselves some news.
Know who else loves news? The fine folks over at First Take, because news means things to talk about. On Friday’s episode of the show, professional sports yeller Chris “Mad Dog” Russo and professional person who I cannot fathom ever sleeps Stephen A. Smith got to talking about the extension, and after Mad Dog gave some takes about whether or not James should have taken less to give the Lakers more financial flexibility, Smith dropped one line that led to some sensational television. (Head to the 2:45 mark for the fireworks)
“In terms of where he’s gonna be at, I’ll tell you where he’s easily gonna be,” Smith said. “LeBron James is a top-3 player in the history of basketball.”
“No he’s not,” an unusually quiet Mad Dog retorted. “No he’s not.”
With that, the game began. Smith, perhaps understanding the potential for this to be some Good Ass Television, repeated Mad Dog’s claim back to him, and when Mad Dog tried to get cute by playing an old favorite game of his — “here are basketball players” — Smith knew exactly what to do.
“Better than Kareem?” Mad Dog asked.
“Kareem, Jordan, and LeBron,” Smith immediately replied.
“Russell,” Mad Dog said, still quietly, the pot simmering as it prepared to get to a full boil. “Russell. Bill. Russell.”
“Russell was a great champion, but he was not the player that LeBron James is,” Smith fired back while Molly Qerim — who has seen some sh*t and knew exactly what was coming — laughed. “LeBron James is a top-3 talent in the history of basketball. Top-3 player in the history of basketball.”
The word “talent” did what it was meant to do, as Mad Dog screamed that Smith needed to clarify talent or player. But Smith was not backing down, as he screamed “BOTH” right back with conviction. More yelling ensued, and as Mad Dog raised his voice, Smith lowered his, all while putting his head in his hand. While Mad Dog was adamant that James is not better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Smith said that despite his impeccable resume, he has an issue.
“When I think of centers and needing guards to get you the ball, but that’s a different subject for another day,” Smith said, his focus on the topic at hand and not little side quests. “You wanna debate, is between LeBron and Kareem as 2 and 3, but there’s no question that LeBron James at the worst is a top-3 player in the history of basketball, since the game was invented. I don’t wanna hear that. It’s blasphemous, it’s just blasphemous.” (You can, and should, read the words that you think should have been written with caps lock on as such.)
“LET ME FINISH,” Mad Dog screamed, furious that Smith is in control of this parlay.
“Let you finish, I let you talk!” Smith said before pointing out that this is supposed to be his time to speak.
“I’m gonna give you the TWO GUYS THAT I’D TAKE OVER LEBRON IN A BIG GAME: MAGIC AND BIRD,” Mad Dog exclaimed. “SO MAKE HIM FIFTH.”
This genre of conversation happens every now and then when these two go head-to-head on First Take, most notably when both guys seemed to get actually mad during a debate about where Steph Curry ranked all time. I would like to see them really challenge themselves and debate where, like, Kyle Korver or Mo Williams is all time, but that is for another day.