Lebron James recent playoff run has once again stoked the debate of whether he belongs in the same conversation as Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. A year ago he was down 3-1 in the Finals, on the verge of being 2-5 in the Finals, and now the media is ready to dip his body in a vat of bronze and entrench him on the roof of the Hall of Fame.
If Lebron wins this years title, he is 4-4 in the Finals, which looks downright pathetic next to Jordan’s 6-0 record. People who defend James’s career will point to various factors such as ‘weak teammates, he faced better teams, his groin was hurting, he had diarrhea,’… ya da ya da. Some of these points are true, however if you have to bring all these factors up, how great is the person you are arguing on behalf of? You don’t hear people arguing that Pele is not one of the best two soccer player ever. A great career speaks for itself. You wouldn’t have to give reasons for a 3-4 record if Lebron just balled up and won more games.
Lebron’s weakness as I see it is when he faces a high end defensive challenge he often fails. All great players have had a player or two in the league who gave them trouble. Larry Bird had Rodman and Michael Cooper, Jordan had Gerald Wilkins, Joe Dumars and Gary Payton. If you look at Lebron’s current run through the East, toppling teams by a 12-1 margin, only one team had a player that could guard Lebron – Indiana. Indiana arguably gave Cleveland the toughest series of the three they played this year. Indiana had the ball in game one for a shot to win in Cleveland, but tossed up a cinder block. Indiana also had a 26 point lead in game 3 before deciding to wrap their mouth around the tailpipe and leave the engine running. Indiana has a player who can guard Lebron. Paul George is a 3 time first or second all NBA defensive team player. Toronto and Boston have no one who can stay with Lebron James, so the entire series looked like Lebron James was playing on a Nerf rim.
Briefly running through Lebron’s career we can see the same trend. He loses quite often in the Finals when the opponent has a forward and or center that can at least make Lebron work for points. The same can’t be said for Jordan, he beat all his nemesis. (For the record I hate Jordan. When I heard the news that Kobe had committed rape, my first wish was that Jordan was on the receiving end). Back to the argument: Lebron and the Heat lost in the Finals to the Mavs, who had a 3 time all Defensive Teamer in Tyson Chandler loitering near the rim. The Mavs also had Shawn Marion, the best defender to never make an all NBA defensive team. How bad was Lebron in that series? He averaged 3 pts in the 4th quarters of those games. He avoided the paint like it was quarantined and launched threes at a ridiculous pace. He turned the ball over more than anyone in the series.
The Spurs, who Lebron’s team beat once but also lost to twice, had Tim Duncan, (15 time all Defense) and Kawhi Leonard (3 time all Defensive). Lebron and the Cavs also lost to the Warriors who had All Defensive teamers Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. He did beat that same Warrior team when Andrew Bogut (1 time all Defensive team) went down with an injury after the Warriors ran out to a 3-1 lead. His Cavs lost to the Celtics with Kevin Garnett (12 time all defensive). And he lost to the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals to Dwight Howard (5 time all Defensive). He simply needs to do more. And I think after this series is over, his defenders will come up with more excuses. ‘He was still upset about the election, he was distracted by Lavar Ball, he thought it was a nine game series.’
Jordan was always known as a player who was great late in games. Maybe Lebron is going to be great late in his career, because the first part of it has left an oceanic gap between the two legends.