LeBron James is well on his way toward making a highly credible case to be considered the greatest individual basketball player of all time. Just last year, aligned and opposing coaches alike deemed him as such, including pronouncements from former Jazz and Lakers coaches, Quinn Snyder, David Fizdale, and Frank Vogel.
However, with his recent activity at the Lakers’ El Segundo practice facility along with his two sons, Bronny and Bryce, along with his open desire to play with the elder of the pair, it seems as though the King may have his heart set on a broader throne — that of the GOAT basketball family.
Though none of the legitimate candidates for the greatest to ever play the sport have spawned quality NBA players — Michael Jordan’s kids failed to transcend the collegiate level and Bill Russell’s progeny eschewed the sport altogether — a number of ex-pros have produced children who have ultimately found their own success in the league.
Since any list like this is inherently arbitrary and unscientific, I’ll at least try to lay out some ground rules to explain how I’ve attempted to rank these families.
First, with apologies to the Antetokounmpos, Balls, Holidays, Lopezes, Gasols, and Morii, only multigenerational units will be considered on this list. And with all due respect to the Colangelos, Unselds, and Jerry West’s kin, I’m considering on-court performance only, rendering those NBA families with just one player or fewer ineligible for my evaluative processes.
Finally, instead of tallying up each family’s collective accolades, I’m taking each player from the family and aggregating their values from their approximate total value over a replacement level player — kind of like an eyeballed basketball WAR total. And that includes play from all leagues, not just the NBA.
That means the individuals with higher, longer peaks do the best, and families with more bodies get a slight boost, even if the lesser members didn’t do much. For example, a group of four starting-caliber pros would likely surpass one consisting of an all-time great and a benchwarmer.
Also, before firing off my highly subjective top five, it’s worth mentioning a few family names that just missed the cut.
The Thompsons — Mychal, Mychel, and Klay — were probably my closest cut on the list, coming just a hair short of my selection at number five.
Dominique, Damien, and Gerald Wilkins could merit recognition, but the latter pair’s contributions were ultimately too minimal to help the Human Highlight Reel crack the top five.
And brothers Horace and Harvey Grant, whose sons Jerami and Jerian both play(ed) in the league could easily take one of these spots if you count both elder brothers as well as Harvey’s sons.
The Waltons — Bill and Luke — also deserve acknowledgement, but didn’t make the list due to the writer’s initial negligence and retrospective subjectivity.
Additionally, I’d like to briefly consider Joe, Kobe, and Gianna Bryant, the last of which seemed destined to carry the family name towards one of the top few spots on this list.
So without further ado, here is a conjectural look at the five families LeBron’s spawn will need to outshine in order to hold the title of the greatest basketball family ever:
5. The McGees
Though most basketball fans first knew JaVale for his comic on-court blunders early on in his career, he’s since redefined himself as an elite rim-running 5 heading into a highly respectable 15th NBA season. After a couple of productive years in Golden State, McGee joined the Lakers, establishing himself as their regular season starting center for all 68 games in which he played en route to the 2020 NBA Championship. Since then, he proved to be a key cog in the Suns’ regular season death machine last season, won a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and just earned himself a three-year, $17 million contract to become Luka Doncic’s starting center for the Mavericks.
However, it’s JaVale’s mom who buoys their average value. Pam, the first WNBA player with a son drafted to the NBA, was one of the most consistent winners in the sport’s history. After two state championships in high school, she won two more NCAA chips at the University of Southern California alongside three other pros (her twin sister Paula, Cheryl Miller, and Cynthia Cooper), and went on to win the USA’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s basketball at the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
A Hall of Famer despite having access to even fewer well-paying professional basketball leagues for women than there are today, Pam’s international dominance carries JaVale with her towards a total of two All-Star-caliber players on the aggregate.
4. Gary Payton I and II
While “The Glove” was arguably the greatest defensive guard of his generation, some have argued that “The Young Glove” is even more disruptive on that end of the floor. Regardless of how they compare to each other, there’s no questioning that the two of them have combined for more than two decades of turning opposing backcourts’ evenings into living nightmares, each perhaps the most staunch guard defender of his respective generation.
And while both were known in particular for their incredible ball-stopping skills on defense, Gary Payton, the father, was one of the best all-around guards of the 1990s. Named nine times to All-Defensive teams, All-Star teams, and All-NBA teams, Payton led his Sonics (RIP) to two Western Conference Finals appearances, eliminating Karl Malone’s Jazz and Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets twice each along the way.
Once, Payton took Seattle to the NBA Finals, though he fell to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in six games to conclude their 72-10 1995-96 campaign for the first ring in their second three-peat. As his career was winding down, Payton was able to run the point for a pair of Finals teams, losing the ‘04 series with the Lakers before finally winning one in ‘06 with the Heat.
Although Gary Payton II isn’t an All-Star, he’s a mighty productive player due to his outsized one-way impact. Taken with his pops’ NBA 75 membership and status as one of the truly great guards to ever play the game, it’s hard to argue that their composite peak would be lower than that of a pair of surefire All-Stars, considering how great GPI was, and how good GPII still is.
3. The Sabonises
Between Walton and Jokic, when it comes to the best passing big men of all time, there was Arvydas Sabonis. It’s hard to evaluate Arvydas considering how short his NBA career was and how late it came in his athletic life. Sabonis senior’s prime was spent entirely in Europe, becoming one of the most decorated basketball players ever in his decade before finally entering the NBA at age 30.
When he did enter the league, it was after myriad injuries to his lower extremities, highlighted by an Achilles tendon tear. Despite still being a Basketball Hall of Famer, Arvydas would likely have benefitted greatly from contemporary medicine’s ability to prevent and rehabilitate injuries, in addition to the way the modern game’s spaced floor would have opened up lanes for his all-time great passing vision.
However, his legacy is carried on into the present by arguably the second greatest son on this list, Domantas. Though he’s earned two more NBA All-Star selections than his father did, by all accounts it was Arvydas who was the superior player at his peak.
Taken together, the Sabonises are one of the strongest father-son duos in NBA history.
Each was at least an All-Star-level talent in his own right, while reports of the father’s European exploits suggest he may have been one of the game’s truly great centers had the medicine and international politics of his era been more conducive to allowing his star to shine.
2. The (many) Barrys
With five professional basketball-playing sons, Rick Barry and co. would certainly rank first on this list had I chosen to grade families with a greater weight on quantity over quality.
Beyond the Barry patriarch’s 12 All-Star nominations and 10 all-league nods (six NBA, four ABA), Barry’s greatest achievement was bringing home the Warriors’ first franchise title in 1975, along with the series MVP award. However, his general reputation as a jerk has sullied a mostly unimpeachable career as a pure hooper.
His three eldest sons, Jon, Drew, and Brent played a combined 31 seasons in the NBA while the younger pair, Canyon and Scooter, each had successful amateur careers. Scooter won a National Championship with Kansas in 1988 before a multi-decade professional run overseas, and Canyon Barry has carried on Rick’s granny-style free-throw legacy, playing for the Timberwolves’ G League team as recently as last season.
Although Rick is probably one of the more underrated legends in NBA history, his inconsistent attitude — including a Finals game where he pulled a Kobe Bryant in the 2006 playoffs 30 years before Bean did it — and middling youngest sons leave the Barrys stuck at second, despite having two more members than any other gang on the list.
1. The Currys
With a trio of at minimum better-than-average NBA players, the Currys are the clear favorites to lead any list regarding multi-generational basketball legacies. However, they also have the absolute best player on the list in their midst, driving a wedge between themselves and their competition.
Obviously, after winning his fourth NBA Championship (and his first Finals MVP), Stephen Curry has established himself as one of the undeniably greatest talents the sport has ever seen. With all-time ranks placing him around the top 15 on the low-end and plenty left in the tank, Steph will conclude his career as a consensus all-time great even if it remains to be seen just how high he’ll ultimately climb.
And while Stephen is far and away the best of the bunch, Dell and Seth are no slouches in their own right. The sharpshooting Dell lasted 16 years in the league as one of the game’s most feared marksmen, winning the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 1994.
Seth has evolved from a fringe player in the league to a desired role player, punishing teams who give him room to fire away from beyond the arc with the highest career 3-point percentage among all active players. At 44.0% Seth has the third-highest 3-point percentage in NBA history, besting his big bro Steph by nine spots, with his pops all the way down at 40th.
Although two role players in the family pale in comparison to the singular greatness of Stephen Curry, it’s hard to argue that their addition to the only MVP on the list leaves them anywhere short of the top spot. With the best first, second, and third bananas on the list, the Currys lap the competition without so much as breaking a sweat.
Looking ahead to the future, neither of LeBron’s sons project to be high-end lottery picks, though the 15-year-old Bryce, having shot up to 6’6’’, may have a greater chance than does the 17-year-old, 6’2’’ Bronny. But still, with at least a couple of years to go before the first of the pair becomes draft eligible, it’d be foolish to write either of them off considering their apparently unmatched pedigree, ambition, and work ethic.
And with their father already ranking ahead of any player on the list above, they wouldn’t have to do a ton to take their family’s stock above the Currys. If one becomes a rotation player and the other merely makes the league at all, the Jameses would already match, if not exceed what the Currys have done in the league.
Regardless, their eventual ascendance to the professional level with LeBron’s seemingly neverending prime and desire to play alongside them will make for a unique partnership and incredible drama, no matter how great the younger Jameses end up being.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can hear him on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.
Correction: An earlier version of this article neglected to or incorrectly mentioned a few deserving families, including the Grants, Wilkinses, Waltons, and Bryants.