When Michael Jordan retired from the NBA for the second time in 1998, he left the game as the "greatest player of all time." The title for "best player in the NBA," however, remained and is to this day up for grabs.
Shaquille O'Neal held it for a while, as did Allen Iverson. At times, you could even make the case for Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan.
The Kobe Bryant Era
Kobe Bryant, however, separated himself from all the other names when O'Neal departed the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.
While Steve Nash won two consecutive MVP awards on a better Phoenix Suns team, Bryant was the player teams most feared and GMs and owners yearned to have on their team. Other players may have had a better "all-around" game, but the Black Mamba was by far the most deadly opponent to face and the championships he won solidified his greatness.
Bryant's ability to dominate a game and will a team to victory was unmatched at the time, which is why this author would argue that Bryant was hands down the best player in the NBA from 2003 to 2008 - when he finally won his first MVP award.
You could make the argument that he was still the best player in the league throughout 2009 and 2010, when he played through multiple injuries to win back-to-back championships; he even knocked down six game-winners during the 2009-2010 season.
The Reign of King James
Nonetheless, a player named LeBron James had fully emerged by the end of the decade and was widely considered to be the best player in the league. James' all-around game was remarkable, as he would fill up stat sheets in points, rebounds, and assists on a nightly basis.
Many would criticize James for not taking the last shot of a ballgame or not having the same kind of "killer instinct" that Jordan and Bryant possessed, but James won consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013 to silence the critics.
While other players have won MVP awards recently, James is still considered by many to be the best player in the NBA. For example, Stephen Curry had a better year than James last year, and narrowly beat out James Harden to win the regular season MVP.
The Cleveland native may have cruised throughout the season, but when he faced Curry in the 2015 NBA Finals, he proved that he was still the most dominant force in the league by averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists over the series.
A New Chef In Town
This season, however, Curry has surpassed every other player in the league – including LeBron James – as the best player in the NBA.
While he may not fill up the stat sheet like James does in terms of rebounds and assists, he's at the top of many statistical categories, and as an innovative player at the top of the NBA by playing the outside game and shooting the three, he still deserves to be respected as a leading versatile player in this author's opinion.
For instance, Curry is leading the league in points (30.7) and ranks third in three-point percentage (46.5%) and second in free throw percentage (90.6%). His field goal percentage of 51.4% also makes him part of the elusive 90-50-40 club. In addition to this, he's also tied for second in the steals category with 2.1 per game.
Recently, Bryant even declared that Curry is the toughest player to guard in the NBA due to his perpetual off-ball movement along with his ball-handling ability and deadly shooting.
All of this has Curry's PER (Player Efficiency Rating) at 32.8 to date, which is the highest the NBA has seen – ever!
That's right, this means if Curry is able to keep up his level play to end the season, he will lead the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Jordan and LeBron in the cumulative statistic that often measures who the best player in the NBA is.
The reign of King James as the league's nonpareil has been a very remarkable one, but there's a new sheriff, or rather chef, in town. And his name is Stephen Curry.