How can the best basketball player in the world be so maligned?
From the moment the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the spotlight was on the king from Akron, Ohio, LeBron James. While he was still in high school, James was proclaimed “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated. 14 years into his NBA career, LeBron James has not only lived up to this billing, he has exceeded it. Year after year, LeBron James showcases he is not only the most valuable player in the NBA, but also the best basketball player in the world.
Yet, after losing to one of the most talented teams ever assembled in the NBA, there are still detractors and haters out there who will continually deny LeBron the mantel of the G.O.A.T. They’ll point to his 3-5 Finals record, they’ll point to “The Decision”, they’ll say he’s no Michael Jordan. Whatever criticism you have of LeBron James now borders on insanity or pure hatred for the man.
LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 in just his fourth year in the league. The starting lineup for that Cavaliers team included Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. They’re hardly the dynastic San Antonio Spurs team they were swept by. LeBron wasn’t ready for the spotlight, and he was the only weapon on a team that would’ve won 20 games without him. You can’t hold the 2007 Finals against him.
The one year you can rightfully hold against LeBron James is 2010-2011. In the summer of 2010, LeBron exposed himself as one of the most immature, self-absorbed human beings on planet earth by broadcasting on national television his intentions of “taking his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat” in The Decision. A few days later, he and the Heat organization celebrated as if they had just won an NBA championship, where he made his infamous “not five, not six, not seven” championship remarks. James then led his Miami Heat “super team”, which included Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, to the 2011 NBA Finals. Unfortunately, LeBron pulled a disappearing act even the great magician Harry Houdini would have envied, and lost to the lesser Dallas Mavericks. It was poetic justice. A man who had spurned his hometown in a selfish pursuit of championships finally got what he deserved and acted like a sore loser in defeat.
It was at that moment LeBron James evolved into the greatest player the game has ever seen. LeBron led the Miami Heat to back to back titles in 2012 and 2013, dismantling an Oklahoma City Thunder team consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in 2012 and finally overcoming the dynastic San Antonio Spurs in 2013. Both times he was the Finals MVP. In 2012 he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game and in 2013 he averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. In 2014, he led the Heat to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, but were abused by the vengeful San Antonio Spurs in 5 games. He was, however, the best player on the court, averaging 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game.
While LeBron was off winning championships, the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose owner Dan Gilbert infamously denounced James and said the Cavaliers would win a title before LeBron would, were a perennial NBA Draft Lottery team. They had won the lottery three times, striking gold by selecting Kyrie Irving in 2011, bombing in 2013 by selecting Anthony Bennett, and trading away Andrew Wiggins in 2014 to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. This acquisition was made because LeBron James did what no other player in NBA history of his caliber had ever done, he came home.
For the last three seasons, LeBron James has led the Cavaliers to three NBA Finals appearances. In a losing effort in 2015, James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. He was without Kyrie Irving for 5 games of the series and was without Kevin Love for the entire series, as both were lost due to injury. Yet, LeBron James still took the Golden State Warriors, one of the most prolific shooting teams in NBA history, to 6 games when his starting point guard and second best player on his team was Matthew Dellavedova. In the 2016 Finals, James came back from a 3-1 series deficit against a 73 win Golden State Warriors team and won his third NBA title and Finals MVP, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game. In the deciding game 7 of the series, LeBron James had a triple double and made one of the greatest plays in NBA history when he blocked Andre Iguodala of the Warriors to keep the game tied at 89.
The Miami Heat, on the other hand, have not recovered since James left. The Heat have been in the NBA Draft lottery two out of the last three years, with their only playoff appearance coming in 2016, when James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title. LeBron James is the difference between your team winning an NBA title or your team picking in the NBA Draft Lottery. No other player in NBA history has had that kind of influence on a team. That includes Michael Jordan, as his Chicago Bulls went from winning 57 games in 1993 to winning 55 games in 1994 when Jordan retired for the first time.
This year, the best player in the world ran into the best team in the world. Anyone who tries to tarnish his legacy due to losing to a better team is blind to the greatness we have witnessed over the last seven seasons. Not even the great Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who yes, has more accomplishments in his career than LeBron to this point, made it to seven straight finals. LeBron James is the only man to do so, and keeps inventing new categories to judge players by. This past NBA finals, although losing in five games, LeBron James became the first player in NBA Finals history to average a triple-double, averaging 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. As LeBron has gotten older, his NBA Finals numbers seem to get better and better each year.
Any argument you have against LeBron James makes you look like as foolish as Skip Bayless. LeBron James may be the only man in NBA history who can seemingly do it all, yet we want to tear him down and make it seem as if he is not worthy of the G.O.A.T. label. LeBron James is more than worthy of this label, and denying him of it is an exercise in futility. I may not always be a man who hangs his hat on statistics, but by the end of his career, LeBron James will have obliterated Michael Jordan in every measurable statistical category. Yes, LeBron may not reach Jordan’s 6 titles, 6 Finals MVPs, and may not have an undefeated record in the Finals like Jordan. However, it wouldn’t take long for anyone to notice the player you’d want to build your team around is LeBron, a man among boys who can do it all as opposed to the high volume shooting and scoring Jordan.
We’re witnessing greatness before our very eyes. A once in a generation player. Father time himself has not yet caught up to LeBron James. Maybe this is why we hold LeBron James to such high expectations. We believe a player as gifted and talented as him should be perfect, despite the fact that no human being, let alone no basketball player, has a flawless resume. Fairly or unfairly, this is the plight LeBron James. A man so supremely talented, a man with many accomplishments, yet no one wants to embrace him as the greatest of all time.