LeBron James is poised awkwardly on the precipice of NBA history, where a championship may do more to tarnish his legacy than it will to burnish his mythical status amongst roundball intelligentsia and Scottie Pippen, but that is the hyper-opinionated 24×7 world of sports opinions we live in. If Miami’s Big Three is able to tame its schizophrenic fourth quarter behavior, dash the hopes of Dirk and his supporting cast to win an NBA title, will we recognize this as the moment LeBron James became Pau Gasol to Dwayne Wade’s Kobe Bryant?
After the Heat failed to nail down a Game 4 victory against the “just die motherfucker” Mavericks, which was achieved by the James Gang scoring all of 14 points in the decisive fourth quarter, all eyes turned to LeBron James and the 8 points he scored in Game 4.
This is the same LeBron James who Scottie Pippen had christened – as better than Michael Jordan – after his virtuoso performance versus the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. We, the drooling masses, eagerly lapped up Pippen’s fawning praise of LeBron, because we desperately want to believe that another Michael Jordan will exist in our lifetime. One Michael Jordan wasn’t enough – we want a bigger and better model than the original MJ prototype.
Lebron’s Game 4 performance (8 points, 3-of-11 from the field, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 4 turnovers) has stifled the better than Jordan chatter, but why did a superb performance in one playoff series and a dubious comment from Scottie Pippen unleash a maelstrom of support for LeBron James as the greatest player in basketball history?
A generation of fans yearns to anoint LeBron as better than His Airness. This is a nouveau hoops generation who never saw Jordan play in his prime, who write blog pieces that herald King James as an enlightened Jordan who deigns to pass the rock, and neglects to acknowledge that LeBron hasn’t won a title. We are now so enamored by PER, Effective Field Goal Percentage, Defensive Efficiency Rating, Offensive Efficiency Rating, Offensive Win Shares, Defensive Win Shares and Win Shares that we tend to overlook what the end goal is: The goal is to win a championship.
Michael Jordan achieved that six times, and would have possibly accrued two more rings if he hadn’t taken a minor league baseball sabbatical with the Birmingham Barons. At the age of 26, LeBron has zero rings but one is dangling at the edge of his fingertips. At the same age, Michael Jordan had zero rings. Jordan won his first NBA title at the age of 27.
With all of the metrics at our disposal, we have started to decrease the value of winning an NBA championship. On Chasing 23’s own NBA Forum, the NBA Realist writes this under the thread “Shaquille O’Neal Announces His Retirement”:
But I disagree that Bill Russell is #1 or even top 3. You are right. I hate ring counting. Russell played with 5 other Hall of Famers, was part of the best organization in basketball, and had the best coach in basketball. He offensive game was extremely limited and his shooting percentage (44% career) was easily one of the lowest amongst HOF Centers. Moreover, his rebounding average (22.5) was really more the byproduct of pace during that era, and the fact that there were more rebounds to be had (Russell played during an era where there were 65-70 rebounds to be had while todays game only consists of 40-45) Everyone had high rebounding totals.
I often hear the argument that Russell figured out how to win, but that is easy to do when you you’re supporting cast is loaded with Hall of Famers. Or in other words, Russell had to perform at a lower level to achieve the same results of winning than players such as Hakeem and Kareem.
Its just my opinion, but I grossly feel that Russell is overrated.
I respect the NBA Realist. I consider him a bright guy, but this is absolute bullshit, where we are employing metrics to define something that is intangible. The NBA Realist hates ring counting, but isn’t that the true measure of NBA superstars? If Michael Jordan was unable to acquire a ring, because his supporting cast was too weak, would Jordan have been named ESPN’s Athlete of the Century or would we look at MJ the same way we now view Vince Carter? The ability and hunger to win championships is an intangible quality that can’t be measured by any stats at our disposal. No one has yet to devise a metric that can accurately gauge a person’s hunger or thirst for victory.
Bill Russell is overrated: how much more could Russell have accomplished than winning 11 NBA championships? In the 1960s, Russell’s Celtics won every NBA title, except for the 1967 championship, where the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the San Francisco Warriors. (We now throw out the word dynasty when a team wins back-to-back titles.) Russell even player-coached his team to the 1969 NBA title. In head-to-head matchups, Russell’s Celtics teams lost one playoff series to a Wilt Chamberlain-led squad, which was the 1967 Eastern Conference Finals.
Does that leave Russell as the greatest center in NBA history? In my book, it does. But let’s leave it that Russell is the greatest winner in NBA history.
Reclaiming The Legacy
How does the Russell tangent relate to LeBron’s abysmal Game 4 performance? Allow me to explain.
No player in NBA history has played under a greater media microscope, and endured more intense pressure, then what has transpired with LeBron James throughout the 2010-11 season. The Heat are now viewed as LeBron James’ team. LeBron joined D Wade in South Beach, but the concept of Miami’s Big Three has been overtaken by the LeBron James media machine. Nearly every story about the Heat relates to LeBron James.
In large part, LeBron James has no one to blame for these problems but himself. It was James and Maverick Carter’s marketing mafia that devised “The Decision”, which possessed all the refinement and savoir faire of the Washington Wizards’ Andray Blatche hosting “Lap Dance Tuesday” at a Miami strip club, but it is also our insatiable quest to find the next teenage Jordan that has allowed LeBron James a cultural relevancy that is beyond his accomplishments. Better than Jordan?
LeBron James cannot control the Wordwide Leader, who has made his every move fodder for the rotating cast of talking heads that populate their expanding empire of channels, but when do the rest of us stop and realize we are talking about a 26-year-old? Skip Bayless refuses to acknowledge that LeBron James is a human being, and attaches a level of soulless manipulation to James, which is at odds with a player who is dedicated to his craft.
A 26-year-old who has generally conducted himself with more professionalism than most of us would under the same demanding circumstances (i.e. Skip Bayless). And if Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert publicly insulted every aspect of your character, would you utter some banal p.r. statement or attempt to blow up his car in the take-no-prisoners tradition of a Cleveland 1970s’ mafioso don?
LeBron James may not be the next MJ, but where is it mandated that James has to be the next anything? LeBron is a transcendent talent – who has such a unique skill set – that we probably lack the proper vocabulary to describe his absurd level of talent. How many players, in the game’s history, have possessed the tools to effectively guard a Derrick Rose and a Dirk Nowitzki? Physically, LeBron James is the ultimate bad ass. Mentally, it’s apparent LeBron understands the game. LeBron is the real deal.
Say what you will, tweet what you want, blog till your finger tips bleed – LeBron has proven himself to be a winner. When the 2010-11 season started, LeBron carried the Heat. Dwyane Wade had spent most of training camp dealing with an ugly child custody battle in Chicago, returned to the team in less than peak conditoning, and Wade’s game suffered because of it. LeBron was ready to roll. And based on the scrutiny he was under, how could he not be ready?
Conversely, the 2011 NBA Finals have been Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki’s time to shine. With D Wade playing scintillating basketball, Chasing 23’s Brown Mamba introduces us to the “The Dwyane Wade Dilemma” where LeBron James is watching his legacy reduced to D Wade’s ball boy. As Brown Mamba penned:
However, it now throws into question how you can be called the Greatest of All Time when you haven’t even been the greatest player on your team on basketball’s greatest stage. Furthermore, it would be a potential dent in the Lebron championship resume (i.e., Jordan won 6 Finals MVPs in 6 tries; Lebron would have won zero in 2 tries).
No Win Situation
LeBron can’t win. If the Heat lose to the Mavericks as the Brown Mamba pointed out, LeBron will be 0-for-2 in NBA Finals, and that is not worthy of a comparison to MJ or Bill Russell. If the Heat wins, LeBron will be accorded Scottie Pippen status, which isn’t completely accurate.
The 2011 NBA playoffs have brought us comparisons that are ill-fitting and often illogical, but they are easy. Dirk Nowitzki has been compared to Larry Bird, which probably has more to do with each player being blond and white, and little to do with their respective games. Bird was a tenacious rebounder, and Dirk grabs rebounds that fall into his hands. As discussed, LeBron is better than MJ. And, in the most apt comparison, D Wade has been compared to Kobe.
We can wrap our heads around these comparisons, but there has never been anything on this planet that remotely compares to LeBron James. He displays superhuman physical gifts, an affinity to get lost in big games, a desire to be one of the guys and not the alpha male, and he lacks Michael Jordan’s bloodlust for victory. This description may indicate that LeBron isn’t fueled by the personal demons that drove Jordan to six NBA championships – LeBron may even be a nicer guy – but he isn’t hardwired like MJ. LeBron likely will never give a Hall of Fame speech, where he catalogues each of the slights he endured on his way to the top. LeBron probably won’t leave the NBA to pursue a career in the NFL. And none of us have heard mention of LeBron’s insatiable desire to gamble.
I won’t be rooting for the Heat to beat the Mavericks, but I will be rooting for LeBron James to reclaim his legacy. That is – his own legacy.