The Miami Heat have made it to the 2014 NBA Finals, which marks their fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and could be their third straight NBA championship. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have already created quite the legacy in the NBA, with Wade having three titles and James having two — which is why winning this one would make them the best in the modern era.
We have to sneak that “modern era” in there because there were some truly dominant Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics teams back in the 1960′s, when the Celtics won eight consecutive titles and the Lakers appeared in five of those series. We’ll define the modern era as post-merger, which would be the 1976-77 season until today.
HISTORICALLY DOMINANT TEAMS
Since then we’ve had some tremendous teams that have imposed their will on the world of basketball. The Boston Celtics teams headed by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won three titles (1981, 1984, 1986). The Los Angeles Laker teams with Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five titles (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988). Later Laker teams headlined by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three titles in a row (2000, 2001, 2002) and then when Shaq left town, Kobe headlined two more wins (2009, 2010).
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the San Antonio Spurs, who have won four titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) and lost in last year’s finals to Ray Allen‘s heroics and a healthy dose of Game 7 LeBron. They’ve got a chance to make the finals this year, which would be their sixth trip in 15 years. Tim Duncan is generally thought of as one of (if not the) best power forward in NBA history and combined with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they can stake their claim to the best dynasties in the modern era.
However, the gold standard when we talk about dominant players and a dominant dynasty would be the Chicago Bulls in the 1990′s. Michael Jordan led them to three straight championships two different times (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996, 1997, 1998). As with any dominant squad, Jordan had his Hall-of-Fame sidekick in Scottie Pippen and a litany of valuable role players to step up and do their jobs when asked.
WHERE DO THE HEAT STAND
As of this very moment, it would be difficult to put the Heat ahead of those Magic Johnson Lakers teams or the Spurs squads and there’s no way we can put them ahead of those Michael Jordan-led Bulls teams. With that said, even Jordan never made four consecutive Finals appearances (though his baseball sabbatical probably prevented it).
With that said, if the Heat are able to defeat either the Western Conference Champions, they’ll be able to boast about their accomplishment of winning three straight titles (done by just two franchises in modern era) and consider this for a second — LeBron is still just 29 years old and has plenty of time to continue his chase to be the best player of all-time.
STATS AND SUCH
James has four league MVP awards and two Finals MVP’s. If he were to win the Finals MVP in a third straight season, he’d join Jordan and Shaq as the only players to win three in a row. Jordan has SIX of them to his credit, which is something Bulls faithful lean on when talking about who the best player to ever play is.
As far as looking at specific stats, it’s really difficult to compare Jordan and James because they’re two completely different players. However, we’ll go ahead and satiate your thirst for numbers by showing you what each player has done through their 11th season (James is 29, Jordan was 32). These are regular season averages.
Now, let’s take a look at their playoff numbers per game.
Those paint interesting pictures. It’s obviously slanted in Jordan’s favor, but is it a landslide like some make it seem? The bottom line here is that James is near Jordan’s level, but he’s not on it nor past it just yet.
James falls short statistically, he falls short with his team accomplishments and he falls short with his individual accolades. With that said, he’s also three years younger than Jordan was with these numbers. He’s got a healthy portion of his career left and could approach Jordan’s six Finals MVP’s and six championships.
A win this season would put James in heady company (as if he isn’t already), but it doesn’t make him the best of our era. He’s the best of THIS era if you want to consider the 2000′s as a new generation, but with the player-friendly rule changes and the lack of true superstars in the league, it’s too hard to call James anything but slightly under Jordan at this time.
Get back to me when he wins two more championships.