colhusker, LeBron James is the best basketball player I've seen since I began watching the sport (I was raised in a Michael Jordan household but he retired before I was old enough to understand what I was watching).
I have not closely studied every hall of famer's entire career; therefore, I'm not qualified to accurately rank the all-time greats in a specific order. However, I have a hard time putting many players above LeBron James. I feel confident that there has never been another player with his combination of physical tools, skills and intelligence in the history of the sport.
Every great player has had flaws. "Not trying hard enough" is certainly not one that disqualifies LeBron from the GOAT conversation. Does he go all-out on defense every second he's on the court? No. But nobody does. He's been in the league 14 years and has played in about 94% of his team's regular season games, which is an absurd number and doesn't even include his 211 playoff games. Add in his incredibly high usage rate and the amount of responsibility he has shouldered over that time and the fact that he is playing at as high of a level as he ever has is truly remarkable.
For whatever reason, people seem to like holding up past greats as unrealistic gold standards while putting a microscope on today's greats to prove that they just don't stack up. Saying LeBron James belongs in the discussion with Michael Jordan doesn't take away anything that Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did. They're all insanely good basketball players. A lot of very smart basketball people that get paid to write about the game think it's Michael and LeBron atop the all-time rankings right now, so it's certainly not a ridiculous conversation.
As for the defenses of different eras, the rules certainly have changed to favor the offense, but defensive schemes have come an incredibly long way as well. Assuming any great from the past could be dropped into today's game and dominate far beyond what he did in his era is just flawed thinking.