Lebron James is appearing in his 8th consecutive NBA Finals this year and 9th Finals appearance overall as his Cavilers team goes up against the Warriors for a fourth straight season. The Cavaliers came into this playoff series as one of the largest underdogs in the history of an NBA Finals. Vegas opened up the odds for the Cavaliers as 6/1 to win the title while the heavily favorited Warriors were listed at 1/10. For James, this is not uncharted territory being the underdog. In his nine NBA Finals appearances, he has been the underdog in seven of those playoff series. Many people have been saying that another NBA Finals loss will hurt the legacy of Lebron and he may not be able to surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time in the NBA. Let’s look into the numbers and see why another loss should not impact the King’s quest to becoming the greatest NBA player of all time.
People are considering this to be the greatest playoff run of James’ career as he has had to carry his team to this stage. He is leading the postseason with 34.6 points per game, which is the second highest of his playoff career. He is averaging 7.8 rebounds per game, which is good for second best on his team. He is averaging 9 assists per game, which leads his team and is the third most amongst players who participated in the playoffs. He is also averaging the second most minutes played during the postseason with 41.7 minutes per game. However, his minutes have become even more excruciating since the Eastern Conference Finals started as we have seen him play all 48 minutes of the game multiple times. He now faces one of the tallest tasks of his career when he takes on a team that has 4 All-Stars and many quality role players.
James vs Jordan Debate
James’ name is always tossed around in the debate against Michael Jordan as to who is the greatest basketball players of all time. Some of the key stats that people point too when choosing Jordan over James is that Jordan is 6-0 in NBA Finals and he has never even been to a game 7 in any of those series. The counter-argument to that is in all six of Jordan’s Finals appearances not once was his team the underdog. People look at James’ 3-5 NBA Finals record and immediately say he can’t be the best if he does not win as many rings as Jordan. If you look at it from that perspective than Bill Russell should be considered the GOAT because he won 11 NBA championships during his time in the NBA.
If you look at some of the teams James faced when in the Finals you can see why he has a few blemishes on his Finals resume. In his first appearance, he lost to the Spurs in the middle of their dynasty with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili in their primes. He then again lost to the Spurs eight years later against the same 3 Spurs players and many of their talented roles players like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Patty Mills. He then has two losses to the Warriors with the first one coming in 2015, with his two other major contributors Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving both being injured and not playing in most or all of the series. He then was able to defeat that same Warriors team when his teammates were healthy again and that led the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant because they knew they needed another piece if they wanted to get past Lebron once more. That is what occurred when the odds were stacked against the King once again when the Warriors were able to win another NBA Championship in 2017. His only bad loss came to the Mavericks in 2011 when James did not have a great series and looked a little puzzled out on the floor.
Let’s look at their numbers when playing in the NBA Finals. Jordan played in 35 Finals games while averaging 33.6 points, 6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 43 minutes played per game. James has played in 45 Finals game while averaging 27.7 points, 10.1 rebound, 7.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 42.7 minutes per game. James averages a double-double during the NBA finals which is an incredible feat. Jordan did average more points per game but Lebron has the better all-around numbers because he has more of an impact at the defensive end by grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. He is also a facilitator for his team as he is the primary ball handler running the offense. Jordan was a great all-around player as well, but besides scoring, Lebron’s freakish athletic abilities make him a better rebounder and defender while also being a very willing passer. He is also a very good scorer in his own right so from a player standpoint James should be considered the better all-around player than Jordan.
Why Another Loss Won’t Affect James’ Legacy
Lebron James is on a mission to try to add another ring to his legacy. However, a super team stands in his way from getting that elusive fourth championship. It is going to be especially tough to get it this time around as his team does not have the talent to stack up and play against the Warriors. It also does not help that his team is already down 2-0 in the series after losing a close Game 1 and a blowout in Game 2. So what would another loss to his Finals resume to do his legacy and his status in the GOAT debate? It shouldn’t affect it at all. Lebron is the best player that the NBA has seen for the past decade and he is only getting smarter and wiser the longer he plays. Yes, his Finals record would look ugly at 3-6 but if you dig deep into that you see that most of the time his team was the underdog so the odds were stacked against him. His numbers do not lie either. James has 59 career playoff games where he has scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished 5 assists. Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade combined have 58 career games like that.
Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, even acknowledged that James is playing at an unreal level. He said, “They have a guy who’s playing basketball at a level I’m not sure anyone has ever seen before.” Kerr played with Jordan on three NBA championship teams. He witnessed first hand the greatness of Jordan, but even he can’t hold back from complimenting James and saying that he is playing like the greatest player to ever play. If James continues to play like he did against Boston then people would have to at least give them a chance for him to capture his fourth ring. Winning this championship specifically would put James over the top in this debate by being able to take down a super team. However, another loss shouldn’t affect his legacy but it probably will as many people will revert back to that Finals record and when it is all said and done Lebron’s record won’t be perfect like Jordan’s is. 15 years from now people are going to look back on this debate and realize that they were not appreciating the greatness that they are witnessing from Lebron James because they were to worried about debating if he was the GOAT or not.