Now that the 2016 NBA Finals is over and the Cleveland Cavaliers completed one of the greatest comebacks of all time against the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry, we can appreciate seeing one of the greatest basketball players of all time add another championship ring to his mantle and give the city of Cleveland, its first championship. Despite James’s impressive performance with a triple-double in Game 7 and his back to back 41 point performances in Game 5 and 6, respectively, people are still reluctant to put LeBron in the rarified air of basketball’s elites. With the winning of his third NBA ring, James definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
The debate on LeBron James has always polarized since his entry into the NBA at the age of eighteen. Long been touted as The Chosen One and the next big thing, he was already adorning the covers of magazines such as Slam and ESPN as a freshman in high school. When Cleveland won the first pick of the NBA Draft, the city rejoiced because they believed they would one day win a championship. LeBron wasted little time, as he immediately led the team in scoring. James was living up to the hype he had prior to playing in the NBA, and that is why he does not get the respect he sorely deserves.
Many people felt LeBron has had the success he’s had because he is a physically gifted athlete. LeBron is built like a middle linebacker and gifted with the speed of a sprinter and the power of a weightlifter, but physicality means nothing without skill that comes through practice. People who discredit him, do so on the basis of his physical tools that were genetic. People tend to forget that LeBron had to practice to become good, and that his mid-range jumper and 3 point shooting improved as the years went by – a byproduct of long hours practicing.
People also tend to feel that LeBron didn’t “earn” his championship rings. In his first championship with Miami, James had players such as Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to assist him. This year, LeBron was paired with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. However, all great players had a good supporting cast around him. Take a look at Michael Jordan, who had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Steve Kerr. Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry, Derrek Fisher, Pau Gasol, and Ron Artest. The idea that LeBron should have done it all by himself is absurd.
Despite critics faulting LeBron for having four other players on the floor at the same time with him, he proved to be more than capable of willing his team to a win. During the 2015 NBA Finals, Cleveland’s offense ran through LeBron. This year with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving healthy, LeBron still needed to score 40 points to keep his team in contention. So yes, LeBron did do most of the winning on his own.
Make of all this what you will, but the beauty of this debate are the conversations that will arise. It does not matter who the best athlete of all time is, or who can jump higher, or run faster – they all matter minimalistically in our lives. The good conversations over coffee or a beer that arise over this comparison will be priceless. But in my opinion, LeBron James deserves to be named amongst the greatest basketball players of all time, even though he isn’t the greatest!
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