Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the first quarter in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James: Does NBA Finals Loss Hurt His Legacy?

No matter what happens for the rest of his career, LeBron James will go down as one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history. That much is indisputable already. With two championships, four regular season MVPs, two NBA Finals MVPs and a ton of records and accolades, James has already accomplished enough to place himself among the all-time greats, and that’s BEFORE you consider he’s only 29 years old and on pace to surpass most of his present company.

But given his latest NBA Finals defeat, where does LeBron currently stand in the “Greatest Of All Time” argument?

Before we answer that question, we need to point something out to the Twitter trolls: this latest Finals defeat is not on LeBron James. This year’s championship matchup came down to the league’s best team taking on the world’s best player. Basketball is a team game and no one, I repeat, NO ONE has ever won an NBA title without help. Even the lead member of the Heatles can’t get by without a little help from his friends.

In five games, LeBron averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 51 percent from the three-point line. Despite putting up incredible numbers, it also wasn’t the most dominant postseason series we’ve seen from LeBron. Still, he was hands down the best and most consistent player for Miami. He also didn’t get much from Dwyane Wade (15.2 PPG on 43 percent shooting), Chris Bosh (14 PPG) or the Heat bench (21.8 PPG, compared to the San Antonio Spurs reserves’ 37.6 PPG).

However, the fact remains that LeBron James now has a 2-3 record in the NBA Finals. Bringing together three of the top five picks in the 2003 NBA Draft (one of the most loaded drafts in NBA history) brought the Heat four consecutive trips to the Finals, which is something Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan can’t even boast. But it also only brought two rings in four tries, which wasn’t the goal when this super-team first joined forces.

These are LeBron’s words, not mine. These are the expectations that were set, sarcastic off-the-cuff humor though it may have been. From that moment on, LeBron James and the Miami Heat had targets on their backs more noticeable than Chris Andersen body art. And whether you viewed it as LeBron selflessly taking less money to win or “selling out” on a cheaper path to victory, it’s impossible to deny that The Decision didn’t sit well with a lot of NBA fans.

Most of those bad feelings died down when King James ascended to the throne in 2012. Life got even better for LeBron when he took over late in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals and Ray Allen drilled one of the biggest shots in basketball history. With a chance at a three-peat this year, LeBron’s popularity was at an all-time high, even with Kevin Durant winning his first regular season MVP award.

But no matter the personnel he had to work with, this year’s defeat reeks of disappointment for LeBron and the Heat. Not because they should have won, but isn’t it fair to say we were all disappointed they weren’t a little bit more competitive? The Oklahoma City Thunder were obviously a better matchup for the Spurs, but Serge Ibaka missed two games and OKC still took San Antonio to six games. Even the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks took San Antonio to seven games in the first round.

The fact of the matter is, LeBron was excellent in the 2014 NBA Finals…but other than Game 2, he wasn’t particularly dominant. He dropped 35 points and 10 boards while going 14-for-22 from the field in that game and though it was only a two-point victory, it was exactly what the Heat needed from their MVP to stay competitive. Games 3, 4 and 5 represented masterful basketball from the Spurs, but it was hard to ignore that most of LeBron’s production came in limited spurts. He was also outplayed on both ends of the floor for noticeable stretches of those games by Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

Is it fair to hold LeBron to ridiculously high standards? To say that he needed to be perfect and carry his troops against a superior team? Certainly not. But in the context of this “Greatest Of All Time” debate that eternally rages on? Possibly. None of Michael Jordan’s supporting casts on his Finals teams were as underwhelming as what LeBron had to work with in 2014. But there were also a few times Jordan’s Bulls weren’t the better team in a series and they still prevailed simply because he took over and would not be denied.

It makes little sense to expect LeBron to have the same basketball DNA as Michael Jordan. They aren’t the same kind of player, and the fact still stands that there are plenty of NBA legends to fall short in the Finals. Just ask Jerry West about that pain. Even Wilt Chamberlain, one of the most dominant individual players of his era, only won two titles. But with this latest, dominant NBA Finals defeat, LeBron James’ GOAT argument undeniably just got a little bit harder. If his career somehow ended today, could you really make the case that LeBron James is the greatest basketball player we’ve ever seen?

Holding LeBron to the Jordan/Kobe three-peat standard is foolish, especially when James has had the inferior team in two of the three Finals he’s lost. The Spurs were clearly the better team in 2007 and 2014, and looking for new ways to criticize LeBron feels like a highly overdone phenomena by now. Can’t we just sit back, enjoy this once-in-a-generation talent and wait until his time is done to start talking about legacy?

Unfortunately, no. People want to talk about these things now, so getting swept with the Cleveland Cavaliers and then losing in five this year (with a point differential of -70), certainly doesn’t help his case. And that’s before you consider the 2011 NBA Finals, when there was no excuse for shrinking from the big moment and losing as the superior team.

In the end though, this Finals loss shouldn’t really move the needle on LeBron’s legacy. He’s still the best player in basketball right now, his team just made the Finals four straight times and he’s not even 30 yet. There’s still plenty of time for him to win more championships and we shouldn’t forget Jordan’s second three-peat came past the age of 30. If the prevailing thought in your mind after Game 5 was LeBron’s legacy, and not what the Spurs had accomplished, there’s a good chance you’re not being very objective. In fact, let’s be honest: you’re more than likely a LeBron hater.

But here are the facts: LeBron was a Ray Allen miss, a Kawhi Leonard free throw or a rebound away from being 1-4 in the Finals right now. He didn’t quite play like the best player in the world in 2007 and he certainly didn’t in 2011. If he leaves Miami in free agency this summer, his reputation may be tarnished in the eyes of many once again. The man’s career is far from over, so this is simply a legacy status update. But when you think of the Greatest Of All Time, it’s hard to think of anyone other than Michael Jordan. And no matter the circumstances, LeBron James’ latest Finals defeat certainly doesn’t turn the tides of the GOAT argument in his favor.

What do you think? Is it possible to think it’s too soon for the LeBron GOAT argument without being a hater? Is it possible to ease up on this all-time great despite his unseemly Finals record? And how many times in this article did you get pissed off one way or another? Let Gerald know in the comments or on Twitter!

Tags: 2014 Nba Finals Lebron James LeBron James GOAT Argument LeBron James Legacy LeBron James Michael Jordan Comparison Miami Heat

  • Str8from973homie

    Lol. This overrated mama’s boy’s legacy is tarnished. He’s a millionaire and a socialite…. That’s all he cares about.

  • Cyril Ebarvia

    another idiot, no person wins by themselves even jordan if pippen,grant,rodman and jackson didnt come jordan would be ringless

    • http://hoopshabit.com Gerald Bourguet

      I’m assuming you’re talking about the comment above you?

    • dkc402

      Here we go with this…. Now LeBron was “by himself” in the finals. If his team was good enough to make it there and to be favored to win it all, this should not be an excuse. Just stop it already. I don’t care about these “amazing” stats LeBron so-called put up in the Finals. Anyone watching that series could see that he was not dominant. Those stats came either early in the game or when the game was so far out of reach that it didn’t matter. Stop making excuses for this guy. He simply didn’t get it done. LeBron is GREAT. Nobody denies that. He will end up a top 10 player all time…but not top 5. He is simply not in that conversation.

  • Pau Varela

    The truth is, he’s 11-16 in the finals. That’s kind of an ugly record when you are trying to build a legacy as the greatest of all time (a title some have been claiming for Lebron for some time now). The greatest players, the true legends, carry their teams through the tempest, they battle the worst and succed (MJ being the embodiment of that). Lebron has failed miserably when things don’t go his way, even with two other superstars on his team.

  • Cyril Ebarvia

    lebron has 2 superstars by his side but the question is did those 2 play like a real superstar? the truth is the series became spurs vs. lebron and jordan never in his career experienced that

    • Gregory J. Toma

      What are you talking about? This is the most laughable argument I’ve heard lately as a defense for Lebron losing. The Heat were assembled with three superstars. Dwayne Wade will be a hall of famer and Bosh has been one of the best centers in the game over the last 7 years. How can anybody try to claim that Lebron is all alone, and worse, say that Jordan never experienced being a team’s entire existence? Jordan is 100% responsible for Scottie Pippen emerging into an all star. Aside from him, the best center the bulls had while Jordan was there was Will Perdue or Cartwright. B.J. Armstrong ran the point and calling him a poor man’s Derek Fisher would be a compliment. And he is definitely no Dwayne Wade. Finally, John Paxon and Steve Kerr round out the lineup at the other guard. So would you mind telling me where this supporting cast of superstars that Jordan apparently had is at? Even without much help, Jordan went 6 for 6 in the finals.

      • dkc402

        Thank you for this!

      • Rooster Cogburn

        Most who argue that lebron has a better legacy than jordan didn’t watch the NBA before the year 1998 or they’re sore knicks fans or they’re just morons.

        • Gregory J. Toma

          Clearly. In fact, anytime you ever see an article like this making such premature comparisons between today’s stars and HOF legends, you can guarantee the author was not even alive to see a single game of the legends they so foolishly write off.

          The fact of the matter is, it makes me laugh when these kids barely old enough to drink a beer, start projecting future awards, championships, and inflated career totals on guys barely half way there, as if it’s a given and just a matter of time. They don’t realize how truly irrelevant the first half of a players career is in regards to the all time records. They don’t realize how many players throughout the league’s history have played incredibly for 7-10 seasons, before age and injury catches up and renders them obsolete in the blink of an eye. They haven’t been alive long enough to recognize how rare it is for a player to produce at an all star level for 15-20 seasons, the last third being what separates a great player (even HOF) from a legend.

          The funniest thing about these guys comparing LeBron or Durant to Jordan’s greatness, is they don’t even realize how far they are overstepping. How these bloggers dare to compare Lebron to Jordan’s legacy, when he hasn’t even gotten to Kobe’s yet amazes me. As Kobe Bryant goes into his 18th season, he will pass Jordan in scoring into third all time with nearly 32,000 points. His incredible consistency and durability for such a long career is unheard of. Add his 5 rings, scoring titles, and MVP to the mix, and HIS legend status has been strongly secured. Most of these writers were too young to even appreciate Kobe in his prime, let alone Jordan.

          I honestly feel bad that this generation wasn’t able to see the game played the way it was meant to be, by the players that invented every thing that is used today. Watching Magic Johnson and the showtime lakers invent the fast break style of play that is a staple in the game today, was a thing of beauty. His court vision and touch passing that nobody has ever come close to matching was something that every basketball fan should have the privilege to watch. A point guard with career averages of 20 ppg, 11 asst, 7 reb, 2 stl. Fucking amazing.

          Or Jordan’s crossover and separation ability, that is copied by every talented guard today as if it were a fundamental. His career average of over 30 ppg is just wrong. And along with Bird and Magic, his uncanny ability to perform in the clutch time after time after time, will never be truly matched again.

          What makes guys like Magic, Bird, Jordan, and Kobe so different from the rest, was there unflinching dedication and work ethic. One easy way to measure how hard they work, is by their career free throw pct. Something that even your high school basketball player can master with enough practice and dedication. Something that all four of the legends I mentioned were masters of. The only thing that can possibly explain why Lebron is so mediocre at free throws, is he doesn’t work very hard at improving them. That is the mentality of a player primed for an earlier than expected ending to his career. When he can no longer explode toward the basket with the effectiveness he has had thus far in his career, his conditioning and work ethic will be what determines whether or not he will remain healthy and effective as a scorer.

          Anyway, when these guys playing now hit their mid thirties and are still able to produce, then we’ll talk about their place in the sun. But until then, save your breath and your ink. Because we’ve seen it all before.

          • – J –

            I think you pretty much nailed it. But let’s throw in one other quality that Johnson, Bird, Jordan, Kobe, and even Isaiah Thomas had: LEADERSHIP ABILITY

            Not only were these guys great at basketball, but they could motivate the most mediocre player on the team to greatness.

            Jordan wasn’t totally surrounded by All Stars. He had Pippen, but he got his respect by busting his ass to make Jordan happy. Even Rodman didn’t show up till the 2nd 3-peat.

            Jordan had guys like Luc Longley, Bill Cartwright, John Paxon, BJ Armstrong… none of those guy were even a blip on the NBA radar. But Jordan forced them to up their game. He forced them to make the right plays. He forced them to hit shots. Jordan was a leader. He expected greatness out of himself and he expected greatness out of everyone else on the team.

            Lebron is no leader. He hand selected a team of All Stars, and the sports media world lost their minds and started talking about how dominating they would be, but as soon as it turned out that Lebron was incapable of being a team captain… and everything fell apart… well now poor James is “all alone”

            Bullshit. This Heat team was assembled to win championships. Those men were chosen for their excellence. But then they can’t produce and everyone acts like they were never all that good to begin with: REVISIONIST HISTORY.

            FACT: Lebron is a great player
            FACT: Lebron is not a top 10 player. Maybe top 25.
            FACT: Lebron is not a leader
            FACT: Lebron does not have what it takes to motivate a team to win. Unless he is given a hand-selected group of All-Stars, he will never be able to play basketball in the NBA at a legendary level. 35 points a game doesn’t get the job done if you can’t motivate your other teammates to score 80 amongst themselves.

          • Gregory J. Toma

            You’re right, that’s a very good point and a true statement. It’s kind of odd, but it seems as if “leadership” as a quality or personality trait, has become an increasingly rare attribute in young athletes today. Not just in basketball, but in all sports in general. If you look back at the sports dynasties of the 80′s and 90′s, they were all very disciplined and full of great leaders. From the captains to the coaches, every one of them was dedicated to hard work and team winning.

            Today’s players are an entirely different breed. If you look at this generations elite (LBJ, Durant, Carmelo, Howard), they all share a common attribute as well, but it’s definitely not leadership. These guys don’t work well with others, and have no idea how to play team basketball. They have zero trust in their teammates, and only know how to play 1 on 5 most of the time. They generally do nothing to make the players around them better, as they honestly cannot comprehend how invaluable getting their teammates involved actually is to success. And unless they get lucky like Lebron, and become a free agent at the perfect time to buy a championship, I don’t see any of these guys winning one if they can’t learn to play team basketball, and be a real team leader in something more than a stat category.

          • Raul Oviedo

            Well said, amazingly written!

  • arman23

    Well Lebron is still young, and he could still redeem himself. So I don’t think a bad finals loss is really that bad for his legacy. https://vidd.me/GkU