Lebron James was phenomenal this playoffs but his Cavs fell short of dethroning the Warriors from the top. Is it right to compare him to the likes of Jordan, Kareem, Bird, Russell, Magic or Kobe?
Lebron revives MJ debate with brilliant play against Eastern Rivals
Will James ever catch or surpass Michael Jordan as the Greatest of All-time became again the hottest debate topic because of the way Lebron demolished the Celtics in the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals series.
With the count 2-3 in favor of the Men-in-Green, James came up with brilliant performances to push the Cavs back to the finals.
His final stat line: Game 6, 46 pts, 11 rebs, 9 asts, 3 stls, and 1 blk, including 5 three pointers; Game 7, 35 pts, 15 rebs, 9 asts, and 2 blks, along with 3 three point shot conversions.
More than these, he delivered when the Cavs needed something to seal the game.
In game six, he scored two triples inside three minutes of the fourth to send the series back to Boston.
In game seven, after he was dunked on by Jayson Tatum and the Celtics held a 72-71lead, he responded by blocking a Terry Rozier shot and knocking in a triple to spearhead a 15-2 Cavalier run and finish off the Celtics.
This finals trip is his eight straight, ninth overall. The only knock on this line is he just won three of them, losing the remaining six.
He became Jordan-like to me in this instance. If you are a fan of the opposing team, he now gives you fears if the ball finds his hands in the dying seconds of the game in a close contest.
Before this year’s performance, Kyrie Irving getting the ball at crunch time gives me more butterflies than he did.
Warriors expose Lebron’s True Legacy
When the American media commentaries reopen debate topics on James’ ability to catch or surpass Michael Jordan as the Greatest of All-time right after the Boston series, I thought rightfully so.
The sight of refusing to go into the night quietly after facing a 2-3 deficits during the Indiana and Boston series impressed me given the fact that former Cavs closer Kyrie Irving worked his way to depart Cleveland.
And James, now definitely the only available option at crunch time, being at the forefront of this resistance from being permanently eliminated this season is giving me enough reason to reconsider how he would be viewed if placed side by side with Jordan.
The finals, however, exposed how the Boston series was an outlier for Lebron James in as far as carrying a team to success is concern.
A video on the huddle of the Cavs right after the mishandling of JR Smith of the possession he got after an offensive rebound showed Lebron to be disengaged with the team and not rally them for the overtime period.
The demoralization the Cavs got on that bungled play seem to affect them a lot in overtime as the Warriors give them the boot in the extra period.
This is the old Lebron.
This is the one who demanded a lot from his teammates by involving them in crucial plays but, naturally, can put the blame on them if the play doesn’t pan out.
And that’s why I believe he has attained success when he had Dwayne Wade and Irving as teammates cause these two where deadly during the clutch.
The problem was this attitude carried throughout the entire series as the Cavs got swept. One can see Lebron practically giving up after that miscue, as if the series was over because of it.
Worse, it rub off to his teammates. They followed suit. (In the video, one can see Kyle Korver trying to rally the guys instead of Lebron.)
Worst, the effect carried over through the entire series, as if they could not come back from this supposed to be temporary debacle. As if they gave the title to the Warriors on a silver platter instead of going down swinging.
This is another knock on Lebron. His leadership skills and his ability to rally troops whenever disaster strikes are really highly questionable.
As a longtime fan of Boston sports teams, this is why I couldn’t put Lebron over Larry Bird among the greatest forwards of the game. He is the direct opposite of David Ortiz.
I agree Lebron is way better than Bird in terms of abilities. His physical gifts are way higher than Bird. If I were to rank them based on abilities and statistics, It will be Lebron over Larry.
But ranking greats are not just about accumulative stats stats to me. It is more than that.
I like to consider per game stats, efficiency, team awareness, leadership and overall impact on how the team one is playing with has performed against the opposition.
Bird was way up in the leadership and team impact roles aspect than Lebron.
The 80s Celtics knew that when the chips are down, they can count on Bird for production. If the prime Bird was in that scenario instead of James, I could see him demanding the ball and take out the Warriors by himself in overtime.
That might be selfish and playing hero ball.
But Bird’s action would usually see his team always trying to win the game at all times or go down trying.
Bird also rub off on his teammates when they are playing poorly.
Remember the Kevin Mchale clothesline on Kurt Rambis during the 1984 NBA championship? That basically happened because Bird made a speech about the Celtics playing like sissies. The rest of the Celtics were just responding to their leader’s challenge, coming off their worst playoffs lost to that date.
Bird is also among the ultimate team-first guy. He could have been one of the few who ever registered a quadruple double in league history, he was one steal shy, but refused to reenter the game because “he already did enough damage”.
And that’s the beauty of sports! We also get to see personalities that thrives to come out victors in all sorts of manner in the toughest field of competition.
In the 2013 Red Sox World Series run, the Red Sox were down in the series 1-2 going to game four. The game was tied, 1-1, after the fifth inning when Ortiz decided to give his “you don’t get to the world series everyday” speech to his teammates in the dugout.
What does that do to the other Red Sox, we do not really knew.
But we knew the team went on to win that game, 4-2, held in Saint Louis to tie the series and also bag the next two to take home that year’s World Series title over the Cardinals.
Ortiz is not as talented as Lebron in his sport. Not close to Bird. He is not even a surefire baseball hall of famer if some American writers are to be believed. They he doesn’t play defense. (I don’t think that’s his fault because he plays the role of being the designated hitter of the Red Sox, which he did better that anybody else in the league during his time)
But whatever Big Papi lacked in talent, he fully makes it up in the leadership department.
And this aspect is not reflected in the stat sheet.
That’s what separates the all-time greatest amongst themselves.
This is what separates the truly great ones from the just talented ones!
It’s basically how the individual performed and how his team performed during his time with them.
A lot of Lebron James apologists would say Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman so Lebron can have a pass on the cases when he was with Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami as well as Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland. This is the main argument for them in defending their case of putting Lebron at par with MJ.
And I don’t have a problem with it.
Because it is Lebron, the supposed leader of the bunch, who is supposed make the mix work.
That’s why I think Lebron is still the main reason why the Cavs won the crown in 2016 even though it was Irving made that clutch three when they overturned a 1-3 series deficit. He was also the main reason why the Heat won the crown in 2013 even though it was Ray Allen who made the clutch corner three to keep them alive in Game Six and force a deciding game against the Spurs.
But he is also the main reason why they lost Game One of this year’s finals, not JR Smith, not George Hill who missed one of his two free throws.
It doesn’t matter if Lebron is not involved in the play because he should demand the ball and do whatever he want with it as part of his role of being their leader.
If Lebron wishes to pass the ball and defer to teammates the taking of a crucial play or shot in the dying seconds of a close game because he is making the right basketball play, then it is what it is.
But he has to take responsibility if the play doesn’t work.
His failure to rally his team in overtime of Game One despite the crucial miscue, knowing he had to rely on them as he always does, resonates on his legacy.
He wants his teammates to play the role of clutch shot maker, he has to take the blame if they don’t deliver on them.
Just like say when Jordan, as well as Kobe Bryant and Bird takes the fall when they demand they take last shot and miss.
These three leaders want themselves to make the crucial play and should be held responsible for the results.
Lebron wants others to take on the crucial play, then he should be blamed if it fails or be credited if it succeeds.
Just like Jordan still got credit for the crucial shot that Steve Kerr made against the Utah Jazz in 1997 or the John Paxson game winning three against the Phoenix Suns in 1993.
Just like Bird got credit for the shot Dennis Johnson connected against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Semis.
Add to the fact that, for today’s Cavaliers team, he actually had a lot to do why Kevin Love, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Kyle Korver are with the team.
If these are the teammates he wish to have, then he should make this unit work to win the championship.
I wonder why he left Miami when Wade and Bosh were still good to go. I wonder why Irving desperately orchestrated his exit from Cleveland. He knew these were to become his teammates and he leaves them dry.
Lebron is truly a piece that a team can build around to win a championship. The difference is he is a distributor, a playmaker, rather than a scorer.
He prefers to involve his teammates in crucial plays more than demanding to take the shot.
He’s not Jordan, not Kobe, not Bird in this regard, for these three demanded possession of the ball at crunch time and normally take matters in their own hands by delivering the shot when the result of the game comes to the finals possessions of the dying minutes.
He should still be fully credited as the main reason for the three championships and nine finals appearances his teams achieved while he was in the roster.
But he should also be held accountable for the six championship losses his team suffered while he was also in the line-up;
Regardless of who his teammates were at that time and who bungled the play that might have lead to their downfall;
Losses which may ultimately prevent him from overtaking the legends of the past in the all-time leaderboard.
To me, Lebron is ultra-talented and gifted, probably the most gifted ever to hold a basketball and did not disappoint when showing off that talent on the court.
He’s just not great as the two I mentioned because he needed others to lift him. Not the other way around.
Just my two cents.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS