By: Jamie Samuelsen
As someone who works in the media and gets paid to have silly debates about silly subjects, it makes me the ultimate hypocrite to say this. But I’m going to say it anyway.
Can we please end the ridiculous debate about LeBron James?
I don’t know that any athlete has been analyzed, dissected or criticized more than James has been over the past 11 seasons since he entered the NBA. I’ll admit that he brought a lot of this onto himself with his poorly crafted “Decision” in the summer of 2010 and his preposterous claim that the Heat would win “not four, not five…not six” NBA Championships. That brings the magnifying glass in from every angle.
But it seemed like we had all moved past that. James won his elusive first title last season. He won another Olympic gold medal as well. And this season, he had one of his best seasons yet en route to another NBA MVP award. In the process, the Heat put together a 27-game winning streak and James put up a streak of six games in a row where he averaged better than 30 points a game while shooting 60 percent or better from the field. He’s the best player in the game. And he’ll go down as one of the top players ever when he’s retired.
But here we are again. The Heat are on the brink of losing in the Finals, this time to the Spurs. If that happens, James will fall to 1-3 in NBA Finals appearances and his claims of winning six or more titles in Miami will still be a long way away.
This ignores the fact that Dwyane Wade is basically playing on one knee and Chris Bosh was paid superstar money and performs more like a mid-level guy. And because of these three gargantuan salaries, the rest of the roster is made up of spot-up shooters (Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller) and a banger or two (Udonis Haslem). There’s no Danny Green who can go off and have a huge game. There’s no Kawhi Leonard who has the athleticism of an NBA star and will soon have the game to match.
Of course LeBron is supposed to overcome all of this and win the title single-handedly. After all, that’s how the NBA works, right? But didn’t you notice that Michael Jordan never won without Scottie Pippen? Magic Johnson stopped earning rings the day Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired. And Kobe Bryant needed the Lakers to go get Pau Gasol after he clumsily dispatched of Shaquille O’Neal. Wade was supposed to be that secondary player to James. But the Wade that’s on the floor now is a shadow of the player who was once called a top three talent in the game. Sure he went off for 32 points in Game 4. But that’s the exception, not the norm.
Superstars get credit for rings. And they get blame for losses. James knows this, which is why he’s so desperate to win Games 6 and 7.
But please spare me the talk that these games will somehow define his legacy, or that he’ll never be able to recover from losing this series. There is another team on the floor. And the Spurs feature Tim Duncan, perhaps the greatest power forward the game has ever seen and Gregg Popovich, perhaps the greatest coach of the last forty years.
LeBron is one of the all-time greats. He’ll finish his career with some records that will stand for decades. How many rings he has will be part of that legacy, but that fact certainly won’t define him all by itself.
And who knows, he could still grab that second one on Thursday night.