Paul Pierce Explains Why LeBron James Isn't in the Top Five Greatest NBA Players Ever

ESPN's The Last Dance documentary may have refueled the debate over whom between LeBron James and Michael Jordan deserves to be acclaimed the greatest NBA player in history, but Paul Pierce believes the former shouldn't even be considered among the top five players ever.

Pierce said his rather radical stance was motivated by the fact LeBron never "build up any organization from the ground."

The former Boston Celtics star ranked Michael Jordan as his all-time No. 1, followed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant rounding out the five.

"Bill Russell built up the organization in Boston," Pierce explained on NBA Countdown on Wednesday night. "He should get way more credit than we give him, a lot of times he's left out of the conversation.

"Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], Magic [Johnson], [Michael] Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kobe [Bryant], [Larry] Bird, these guys are all top-10 players who either helped build up their organization or continued the tradition."

Pierce spent over a decade battling with James for supremacy in the Eastern Conference and the two crossed paths in the playoffs four times.

In 2008, the Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals en route to win the NBA title, with Pierce being named NBA Finals MVP.

Two years later, it took the Celtics six games to prevail over the Cavs at the same stage of the postseason in what proved to be James's last game of his first spell with Cleveland.

James moved to Miami a few months later and exacted revenge over Pierce the following season, when the Heat dispatched Boston in five games in the conference semifinals. A year later, James and Pierce met again with the Heat prevailing 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals, before defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to claim their second NBA title.

Pierce, however, suggested James had to share the credit for the two titles he won in Miami with All-Star teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Wade and Bosh had signed with the Heat as free agents a day before James—the former was a free agent for just a week before re-signing with Miami—and the James's move to Miami attracted a barrage of criticism.

The likes of Jordan and Magic were among those condemning him for joining a team already featuring two superstars, instead of attempting to lead a franchise to the title by himself.

James eventually addressed the criticism by returning to Cleveland in the summer of 2014 and leading the Cavs to their maiden title in 2016, when the franchise became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals as they defeated the Golden State Warriors in seven games.

Pierce, however, suggested even in his second spell in Cleveland, James could rely on a strong supporting cast, headlined by All-Star guard Kyrie Irving. James and Irving helped the Cavs to reach three straight NBA Finals between 2015 and 2017 against the Warriors, with the 2016 title sandwiched in between defeats.

"He went and put together a team in Miami, and in some ways, he came back to Cleveland to put that team together, and then he went to the Lakers, where a tradition is already made, and we don't know, that's to be continued," he added.

James, however, then took a relatively average Cavs team to the NBA Finals in 2018 when Irving had already departed Cleveland, only to again taste defeat against the Warriors.

LeBron James, NBA, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Staples Center on March 3 in Los Angeles, California. Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty