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What NBA coaches have to say about LeBron James’ career

Lakers forward LeBron James greets Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before a game.
Lakers forward LeBron James greets Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before a game in San Antonio on Dec. 30, 2020.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
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Throughout the season as LeBron James has closed in on the NBA’s all-time scoring record, reporters have asked opposing coaches for their thoughts on James, who entered the NBA out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio, at 18 years old.

Here’s a sampling of what they’ve had to say.

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Gregg Popovich, San Antonio

“Most people who score points are just scorers. This guy rebounds and I think he enjoys passing more than he does scoring. And when he wants to win a game, he can lock somebody down, he can guard. And most scorers don’t do that. So he’s a special one.”

LeBron James smiles as he talks with Cavaliers coach Mike Brown during a game on Dec. 3, 2008, in Cleveland.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)
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Mike Brown, Sacramento

“If you look at any of my interviews back then [as coach of Cleveland], when I talked about him, I said he’s barely scratching the surface back then. And he was as about as dominant as anyone can be, especially at that age. What he’s done over his career, it has not surprised me at all. And I take it a step further, what he’s done off the floor has not surprised me at all.”

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Rick Carlisle, Indiana

“The guy just keeps evolving into a greater and greater player in just different ways. He’s a walking basketball computer and encyclopedia. His skill set is constantly getting better and more refined.”

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J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland

“I think he’s one of the greatest planners that we’ve ever seen in our game. He’s had from a young age a vision of who he wanted to become, not only as a basketball player, but as a member of a community, as a businessman. The thing that he’s been able to do with his groups of friends, put them in positions to be successful. Those aren’t things that you just trip and fall into. Those are things that you have to have incredible insight to be able to understand. I think what we’re going to see out of him and his impact is going to long outlast his NBA career.”

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Erik Spoelstra, Miami

“He constantly works at his craft so he’s going to continue to develop new skills to put in his toolkit. He doesn’t get bored with that process. You can tell he’s like a computer, so when he sees another player — and he’s a fan of the game — so when he sees another player work on something, or do something in the game, he says, ‘Oh, I want to try that.’ And then, he did that probably as quickly as anybody.”

LeBron James and coach Erik Spoelstra present President Obama with a Heat jersey.
LeBron James and coach Erik Spoelstra present President Obama with a Heat jersey during a visit to the White House on Jan. 28, 2013, to commemorate their NBA championship.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
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Nate McMillan, Atlanta

“He has the highest basketball IQ I think I’ve seen on the floor. This guy is capable of playing five positions and he will play all five positions. He is a coach, quarterback, leader out on the floor and he is a guy that he plays chess out on the floor with the opponents. He’s that intelligent as far as the feel of the game, the strategy of the game. I would compare him to a guy like Tom Brady. Those guys, they have had the type of success because of their skill and their IQ in the game that they play. And LeBron is, I don’t know if I’ve seen a player with a higher basketball IQ. A lot of people want to compare him to Jordan and I compare him to Magic. He’s a big guard that can play five spots and he wins. And he’s been successful doing it. Just an unbelievable talent.”

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Jason Kidd, Dallas

“I think when you talk about LeBron, LeBron’s in his own category. Just with the way he came into the league and he never disappointed his fans, his teammates and his owners by winning championships, by being able to help players get paid. At the end of the day, he’s about winning. He’s a competitor and he’s never talked about records. The only thing that he’s really talked about is trying to win championships and he’s done that at a very high level.”

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Doc Rivers, Philadelphia

“I think he’s going to have the greatest career of all time. I think he’s already had it. I think Michael’s the greatest of all time, but that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron’s had the greatest career. If my dad was alive, he’d be staring at me right now and yelling, ‘Bill Russell.’ You know, but I’m saying numbers and everything-wise, has anyone had a better career than LeBron? I can’t think of anyone. So, that’s impressive.”

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Tyronn Lue, Clippers

“Being available, being able to play every single night is huge. But he’s been playing the same way for 20 years. Making the right play offensively. Being able to make the right pass. I mean, he’s been averaging 28 to 30 points for I don’t know how long. So just a ride. The biggest thing is he’s been available. But he plays the game the right way. He puts the work in. It’s funny that we’re talking about LeBron being the all-time leading scorer when he’s a pass-first guy. Just what he’s done with his career, to come in from Day 1, 18 years old, to now being 38, to be on top for this long, just shows you the type of player that he is and what he’s meant to our game.”

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Willie Green, New Orleans

“It’s pretty impressive. Think about LeBron and his career, he’s not only met expectations, but he’s went over and beyond what people imagined he would be and now he’s on the brink of passing the scoring record. … When you think about his game, you don’t think that he’s a scorer, but he is. It’s impressive and he’s going to go down as one of the greatest of all time.”

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