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.
LeBron James is 2-3 in the NBA Finals. In his last two Finals losses, series ended with 3 straight losses and double-digit loss in clincher.
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 16, 2014
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?
In the Finals: Jordan = 6/6 (100%) Duncan = 5/6 (83.3%) Kobe = 5/7 (71.4%) LeBron = 2/5 (40%) — Shane Young (@YoungNBA) June 16, 2014
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.
What does this mean for LeBron’s legacy!? No clue, but the Spurs are showing that a legacy isn’t over so early in life
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) June 16, 2014
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!