LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost last night to Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors won their second championship in 3 years over these Cleveland Cavaliers. And as you’d expect, Social Media erupted between two camps of people, those happy for KD finally getting his ring and those happy that LeBron lost so that the GOAT and Jordan comparisons will stop.
Well, I’m here to let you know that those comparisons won’t stop and in many ways, LeBron’s performance in these Finals has added more fuel to the fire. Even the starchiest of LeBron haters can’t say that he didn’t ball out this series as he became the first man to average a triple-double in the finals. Nonetheless, doing it against perhaps the greatest NBA team of all time.
I’ve seen haters all series long try and rationalize that LeBron’s getting old or he’s tired because of this and because of that, almost trying to wish LeBron failing phenomenally, into existence.
I’ve even seen them flat out call LeBron “sorry,” or even saying that he sucked because he decided to pass to a wide-open Kyle Korver in game 3 instead of lowering his head and barreling over 3 defenders to the hoop. Nevermind that this was a great basketball decision by James and it’s a shot that Korver normally makes. And knowing that if LeBron would have driven against 3 defenders and missed the shot or turned the ball over, the haters would have gotten on him about that and had a field day. They would have had even more to say.
Basically, if you’re LeBron James, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Which is exactly how we got here in the first place with KD teaming up with Steph in Golden State…to beat LeBron James.
Back when LeBron was with Cleveland the first time around, he realized that he wasn’t being judged like other players. Due to him being the “chosen one” he knew that his status of becoming one of the all-time greats was in jeopardy unless he began to collect some rings. This is the reason why he left. It is highly likely that if he had never left he may still be ringless and folks again would have something to say about that. Even though he would have been the only star on the team and did the “Jordan thing” which is what most people point to when making the GOAT comparisons of how Jordan never left the Bulls.
That’s why I never bought into that argument when people try to knock him down when comparing him to Jordan. He had to leave (at the time) to win, and go up against the West. But ironically because of his dominance, he himself created this year’s Warriors by having KD follow his blueprint and actually improve upon it to make it more effective.
Now I am not saying that Jordan isn’t the GOAT because he’s my GOAT, but the argument for LeBron is closer than you think. It’s a new day in the NBA and has been ever since KG and Ray Allen teamed up with Paul Pierce in Boston. We can’t overlook the fact that LeBron is the definition of “plug-and-play.” You can plug him into any lineup in the league and make that lineup become championship contenders. He’s been to the Finals seven straight times! The only man in the modern NBA who has done that.
Jordan never had to leave. if you look around the NBA landscape during Jordan’s years of playing, Superstars in their prime, for the most part, stayed with their respective teams which made it easier for someone like Jordan to stay with his and try to figure things out and find ways of beating them. Not to mention that his first All-Star caliber teammate, Scottie Pippen, came along at just the right time for him. And the rest is history.
But teams at the top of Jordan’s conference during his era rarely had two Hall of Famers playing for them. Look at the Knicks with Ewing. Although they were a great team, Ewing was the only bonafide superstar on that team that eventually became a HoFer.
The Pacers had Reggie Miller. Detroit had Isaiah and Joe Dumars, along with depth. They also had Rodman right when he began to make his ascension into becoming one of the league’s best defenders.
Boston was an anomaly as they had Bird, McHale, Parrish, and even had Walton coming off the bench. The Heat had Mourning and Hardaway. Although Hardaway isn’t in Hall of Fame yet he should eventually join Mourning. The Magic had Shaq and Penny, and yes I know that Penny won’t be a Hall of Famer but he was that type of talent at the time.
Now, look at the teams Jordan played in the Finals. the Lakers had Magic with an injured Worthy. Portland had Drexler. Phoenix had Barkley and KJ, although he’s not a HoFer, he should make it eventually. the Sonics had Gary Payton and at the time Shawn Kemp who was playing at a Hall of Fame level. Utah, of course, had Malone and Stockton.
Now I’m not even going to try to rationalize and say that LeBron’s conference was tougher than Jordan’s by any stretch of the imagination. Early on in his career, LeBron had Detroit and Boston. And that was practically it. Although LeBron did take his undermanned Cleveland team past Detroit (a team that won the finals a couple seasons prior) to make the Finals back in 2007, which should have never happened and remains one of his crowning achievements even though they weren’t able to topple the Spurs that year.
But that taste of defeat is what made LeBron realize he needed more help to win a championship if he’s going to face teams like the Spurs on the other side of the playoff bracket, which is what he’s pretty much has faced every year he has been to the Finals, except for the year that he lost to a Mavs team with an inspired and confident Dirk.
OKC had KD, Westbrook, and Harden. The Spurs juggernaut had Duncan, Kawhi, Tony Parker, Ginobili and you might as well throw Popovich in there as well. And then these Warriors with Steph, Klay, Draymond and now KD. There’s no way that you can tell me that if LeBron would have stayed with Cleveland that he would have beaten any of these teams on his own.
And that’s what’s so disheartening about even trying to argue a point for LeBron possibly being the GOAT over Jordan. It’s because people don’t look at the entire picture or differentiate between the eras to make a fair comparison. And they want LeBron to win by himself only to lose so they can knock him down even further.
To be clear, I’m also not trying to say that Jordan faced weaker teams in the Finals, although he did, but for the era, those great teams and these teams at the top was the norm. Teams like Golden State and the Cavs are the new normal. The problem is the rest of the league beneath these superteams.
LeBron’s been the underdog in his Finals trips against the Warriors. A strong argument can be made that LeBron should have run the table while with the Heat.
Jordan has always been on the better team going into the Finals, which in many ways helps define his legacy since Jordan never lost while he was on top. Upsets happen in sports all of the time but never happened with Jordan.
Basketball is a team sport and Jordan’s played on better teams than LeBron easily in regards to their respective eras of competition. There’s no disputing that.
But the league now as a whole is watered down from the bottom to the middle of the road teams. But at the top, which is where LeBron is at, those teams are superteam strong. These Warriors and Spurs the past several years would have competed in any era, and are better than many teams during the Jordan era.
And ever since LeBron’s fiasco of a performance against the Mavs, he’s stepped up each and every time in the Finals. Whether they won or lost, you can’t say they lost because of him.
LeBron could have easily folded against this Warriors team, a team who has won 12 straight games in the playoffs before their Finals matchups against the Cavs, and lost only 1 game in their last 43 or so games until they lost to Cleveland in Game 4.
Instead, he averaged a triple-double and was the best player in the series. There’s a lot to be said for that.
That is good enough of a reason why he remains The King.
But not the GOAT.