Lebron reclaims his spot as face of the NBA.
If he ever lost it in the first place. But please…….Let’s not overreact to what we saw from him these last couple of weeks. Let’s also not hate on what we saw either. How can anyone outside of the Bay Area or maybe Miami hate on this guy right now? This is the man that after the mistake of ‘The Decision’, which did yield two NBA titles in South Beach, decided it was in the best interest of his legacy and the city of Cleveland (not necessarily in that order) that he return and try to win an NBA title at home. He did just that.
However, in the aftermath of the Cleveland Cavaliers epic comeback victory in the NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors, there seems to be two different types of opinion on the current state of Lebron James. That’s overreaction and hate. The degree of separation between the two is about as wide as the separation between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. At this point, there’s little in between.
With the Cavs comeback from 3-1 down now a reality and the fact that Lebron averaged nearly a triple double (38.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 9.6 assists) in Games five through seven, there’s one side of thinking that Lebron has now cemented his legacy and that he is now clearly a top 5 player ever. That’s rational thinking. Lebron definitely cemented his legacy by returning to Cleveland and delivering a championship. It is also very easy to debate that he’s a top 5 player. However, there are some that have taken it even further by saying Lebron is now the ‘GOAT’ (Greatest of all time).
For that to happen Lebron would have to pass by guys like Magic, Kobe, and Michael. Not saying Lebron won’t ever be looked at as being better than these two Laker greats. But, catching MJ, at this point anyway is a different story. We live in a NOW society. What we see now or a few minutes ago was so much better than something we saw last week, a year ago, or ten years ago. And a lot of the time we’re comparing almost the exact same thing.
What did we see that was so different about Lebron James that we haven’t seen earlier in his career?
First, before we get into ‘Playoffs’ Lebron, let’s talk about ‘regular season’ Lebron. Trust me, they can be two totally different people at times. Which, isn’t all that uncommon. Plenty of players step it up more when the calendar hits April, May and June. It’s just that ‘regular season’ Lebron does things we haven’t seen from superstars of yesteryear. The one thing that sticks out is Lebron’s trip, in the middle of this past season, to work out with Dwyane Wade in Miami. How is working out with a player from a rival team showing leadership and dedication? Their friendship is well known. But, that’s a bit too far.
There also seems to be those two or three days out of the season where Lebron just decides he needs a break. Maybe, he’s suffering from a minor injury. Maybe, he’s not. Maybe, he needs to recharge the batteries. Which is understandable. But, it’s not something we saw from MJ, Magic, or Kobe. There’s also the weird comments to the media, or on Twitter. All of this is minor for the most part. However, they are things that make some of us question how dedicated he is.
Think about it.
As good as Cleveland showed to be in these playoffs, why didn’t they have a better regular season record? Especially, when you factor in that they played in the weaker Eastern conference. Golden State won 73 games playing in the tougher Western conference. Something was missing. It wasn’t David Blatt, who was fired after the Warriors blew out Cleveland midway through the season. The Cavs’ record (26-14) was worse under Tyronn Lue than Blatt’s (31-11). The Cavs couldn’t even get to 60 wins, let alone 70. Is that all on Lebron? No. But, when you’re the face of the franchise, guess who’s going to get the blame?
This isn’t the first season where teams that Lebron has led have been less than dominant during the regular season. We saw it couple of times in Miami as well. Michael Jordan played on that Bulls team that won 72 games. Only once did Jordan’s Bulls not secure home court advantage in the six NBA Finals he played in. That being in 1998 versus Utah. Magic, and the Lakers usually had home court because they had the best record in the game. When they didn’t, it was usually Larry Bird and Boston. A player’s legacy of course hinges more on what he does in the playoffs. But, the regular season counts too.
What about ‘playoffs’ Lebron?
Was he great? Sure. Were his numbers through the roof? Yes. Did he win his third title and Finals MVP? Of course. Did he make his teammates better the way he always has? Absolutely. If MJ, Magic, Kobe, and Lebron are your top four players ever, no one besides Magic has been better at getting teammates involved. But despite the incredible three games we as NBA fans were treated to last week, two of those games on the road at Oracle, there were four other games played in the series. As aggressive as Lebron was through most of Games five through seven, he was just as passive in most of Games one through four, which was a big reason why the Cavs dug that 3-1 hole in the first place.
Countless times early in the series, Lebron looked confused as to what he wanted to do with the ball. Early on, it was a bit more understandable. In Game one, Warriors’ center Andrew Bogut set the tone for not only the rest of that game but for Game two as well with his four first quarter blocked shots. Bogut, was a problem as the last line of defense behind Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. Lebron and Kyrie Irving really had nowhere to go in the paint. The Warriors’ game plan to make Lebron a jump shooter was working masterfully, as he shot brick after brick from the perimeter.
Another reason things were so clogged in the middle was Tyronn Lue’s reluctance to match the Warriors’ small ball lineup, and not play Tristan Thompson or Kevin Love separately. Once, that adjustment was made in Game 5, the Cavs’ offense flowed more smoothly.
Meanwhile, even though Lebron put up good numbers in Games 1 through 4, he could have been better. Countless times he was faced off with Steph Curry, or one of the Warriors’ bigs out on the perimeter and held the ball too long as the shot clock wound down and settled for a jumper or passed off to someone else who would have to throw up a desperation shot. This same scenario occurred several times in Game 7 as well.
Lebron is five inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Steph. He’s quicker than Festus Ezeli, or Anderson Varejao. The last line of defense at the rim wasn’t there. Bogut was injured in Game 5 and didn’t play in Games 6 or 7. Ezeli, was a no-show all series. So, instead of a 7-foot shot blocker at the rim, instead it was the 6’8″ Green or Iguodala. So, what was the problem? It’s those head-scratching moments where he doesn’t attack that are still very frustrating.
All three of the greats that he’s being compared to very favorably right now would make the opponent pay just about every time. Especially, if they had the kind of size that Lebron possesses. Magic would have absolutely backed down Steph into the paint and forced a double team to set up James Worthy or Byron Scott on the wing. Michael or Kobe would absolutely post him up as well and rise up over him with a mid-range jumper. Either one of these guys would have taken Ezeli or Varejao off the dribble and made the Warriors pay for their constant switching. But, at times we don’t see that from him. In Moments where Lebron should have been dominant and aggressive, he instead looked confused and hesitant.
It’s also very arguable that his Game 5 and 6 performances in which he scored 41 points in each game, weren’t as pressure packed as Game 7. A Game 7 where Lue drew up a play for Kyrie Irving to win the game, not Lebron. Does this mean James wasn’t dominant in these NBA Finals and couldn’t have delivered the game winning shot as Kyrie did? No. However, Lebron could have been better. Which by the way is very scary. But Because of that, it’s hard to justify calling him the ‘GOAT’. At least at this point in his career anyway. Is that hate? In the eyes of some, it is.
As deep as the overreaction has been, the hate is still very real when it comes to Lebron James. Some say, Kyrie Irving should have been MVP. Why? Because he hit the game winning shot? Winning finals MVP takes a lot more than hitting one shot. Was Kyrie deserving? Yes. But, let’s face it. Lebron was even better.
Who blocked Andre Iguodala’s layup that would have given Golden State the lead? Was it Kyrie? No. It was Lebron. Let’s break that play down a little. Lebron had only played 47 minutes of the game at that point. He was at that point fast enough and energized enough to run down Iggy from behind and block that shot. That’s insane when you think of how much ground Lebron had to cover. That clearly speaks to his conditioning and effort. It’s still incredible to see someone run the court like he does, at that size. There’s no one in the league today that works harder at his craft than Lebron. Which is probably the thing I respect most about Lebron and the NBA greats he’s often compared to.
Sure, Kyrie Irving had a phenomenal NBA Finals. But, he wasn’t better than Lebron. In fact, Kyrie probably played through Lebron a lot more than Lebron had to play through Kyrie.
In Miami, there are some that still give D-Wade the credit for the Heat’s two NBA titles. Wade, was of course very instrumental. But, LeBron was the leader of those teams. In his first stint in Cleveland, it was always what Lebron didn’t do instead of what he did. The Cavaliers struggled mightily before he got there. They struggled mightily after he left.
In the eyes of some, he’s just never going to be good enough. No matter how many titles or MVP’s he stacks up over the next few years. That’s a shame. Even though I think the overreaction is a bit crazy for Lebron right now, that doesn’t change the fact that I think he’s a top four player ever right now. He still trails my top 3 in rings. My top 3 you may ask? MJ, Magic, Kobe. But, I actually think he’s a better overall player than Kobe right now. Kobe, just has more rings. Kobe, was hardly ever the facilitator that Lebron is, even though he’s a slightly better scorer. Also, it’s Lebron, not Kobe, that has more 40-plus point games in the playoffs. But for some, that’s still not good enough.
That’s kinda been the story of Lebron’s career. No one has ever been scrutinized as much as him, in any sport. Ever. Part of that is his fault with the “not one, not two, not three”…. We’ll, you know the rest. He’s stood tall through all of it, though. As bad as the hate has been, can you imagine what it would have been like if the Cavs lost this series? If Lebron had gone 2-5 all-time in the Finals? Even further, can you imagine the hate if he lost and performed the way Steph Curry did? Curry, has seemingly gotten a pass. Lebron wouldn’t have.
I’m willing to bet the same people claiming Kyrie should be finals MVP, wouldn’t have blamed Kyrie one bit if the Cavs had lost. That’s the life of a superstar, I guess. The life of Lebron James anyway.