Well I still don’t want to get into the habit of anointing or damning players after every game, but obviously it’s impossible not to be impressed with what LeBron James did in the first three games against the Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals and such chatter continues. So why not?…
Despite missing potential game-winning shots at the end of both of the first two, LeBron James has lifted his undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers squad and put up ridiculous numbers as they have taken a 2-1 series lead against the Golden State Warriors.
The assists are the best proof of what he is doing and a differentiator from Michael Jordan in that Jordan didn’t have those because he had Scottie Pippen who could bring the ball up at times and also the Bulls actually ran an offense so multiple people would actually touch the ball to generate shots.
I still at this moment am sticking to both my desire to avoid proclaiming a new or old winner in the MJ-LBJ debate now and my belief LeBron couldn’t pass MJ this year regardless.
But I’ll admit if LeBron posts two more games (the minimum his team will need from him to win the series) and they win the series (even if he has a clunker or two and they end up going seven) I’ll have to reconsider.
Taking this team to the Finals with some version of Kyrie Irving was impressive but winning a series without Irving and against a much better team than the ones they faced in the East would be something else entirely.
Would carrying a team like this all the way to the top cancel out those three past losses in the Finals, including two with squads that had three future Hall of Famers? Maybe. One certainly.
Would it vault him all the way to the top? I still don’t think so, but it would at least get him back on the path, which I think he was effectively knocked off when he not only lost two winnable Finals series with the Heat but had the guy guarding him named MVP of one.
He would still only be at three titles, which you may know is still half of six. Half is not particularly close to full by definition. The past losses cancel out any notion he doesn’t need as many titles as Jordan to take the title of greatest player of all time if he wins a couple in a title-starved town, but winning this series might do something else.
It is not only a notch on the greatness belt, maybe an extra Boy Scout badge LeBron needed to wipe out past failures, it is a pretty good indicator these Cavs have the horses to go on an extended title run — so LeBron will eventually put up the numbers in the win total to take the mantle.
This series does further the idea LeBron is just a better player than Michael because he’s not only passing more but scoring as much. Could Jordan have done the things LeBron does? I believe so, but it’s not LeBron’s fault MJ didn’t have to because of the offense and later in his career the supporting cast (although until Irving went down they were more comparable than most seem to realize).
I thought after game two the Warriors were still the favorite, and the Cavs getting the first one on a wave of emotion isn’t totally shocking (leading by 20 at one point was, but big score swings are fairly common in NBA games).
The experience void for Golden State and the determination of LeBron and his crew could be a deadly mix for the favorites, but only time will tell.
Jordan never lost in the ways LeBron has, but now LeBron could win in a way Jordan never did. Obviously both have to count for something.
Either way we should at least do our best to worry less about comparing every moment of their careers in real time and more about admiring the great things one did and the great things one is doing. Michael was majestic and LeBron is amazing. Maybe — and I know this is a wild thought but it just came to me so bear with me — we could even some day decide neither is superior to the other but both stand atop the basketball world jointly.
Is that the answer given that there are so many variables? Maybe. And maybe it will be easier to come to that conclusion — as much as it violates the laws of our Internet citizenship, I know — when a little more time has passed because I know part of the defense of Jordan is just a reflex for people who think LeBron might get his due before putting in all the time Michael needed to craft his own legacy. That’s a little hard to swallow in the moment even if you want to say your generation had the best player and you got to see him all the way back to high school (as I have with LeBron).
For now, as much as some want to crown the new king and others are loathe to do so, the jury is still out. And it’s probably going to be the most fun deliberation ever.
It will of course be interesting to see as the series goes on if Cleveland has the defensive firepower to continue to stop the Warriors, or if the Warriors have just been off. Whether that was just a matter of being off because it’s something that happens from time to time or they haven’t settled into a comfort zone in the brightest lights they’ve played in.
Another reason that I’ve tried to pump the brakes on the “LeBron is better than Jordan” talk is I think there are people who want to make that declaration based in large part on their perception of the quality of the supporting cast. And I think that perception might end up being wrong for at least two reasons. LeBron has already won two titles (and lost two) with more perennial all-stars on his team than Jordan ever had.
It’s possible the only multi-title winning team that was more superior to the sum of its parts than the second Jordan three-peat squad was the first Jordan three-peat squad. I mean the perception in both cases was certainly not that anybody other than Jordan, Pippen and the power forward of the time was anything more than a role player. The best teammates aside from them thrived off the attention drawn by Michael the same way LeBron’s most productive teammates do. And even the way they did during his first stint in Cleveland.
Dennis Rodman is a Hall of Famer and Horace Grant could put up a consistent double-double, but LeBron has in all likelihood better versions of both on his team in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson at the same time.
Scottie Pippen was a first-round pick and is in the Hall of Fame, but Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 overall pick and has a good shot of joining him in Springfield. They do different things, but in both cases fit well with the greatest strengths of Jordan and James respectively.
Toni Kukoc was a very skilled player, but if he had the type of ability people thought when he signed with the Bulls he never reached that potential either with them or anyone else.
Ron Harper was a big-time scorer early in his career but mostly spent when he got to Chicago so he played the role of lockdown defender. He might be comparable to Ricky Davis.
Randy Brown was a nice defensive player off the bench but never anything more. A million Jud Buechlers have played in the NBA for a few years and in YMCAs for decades.
JR Smith and Iman Shumpert haven’t been more than role players in their careers yet, but it’s too early to close the book on how good they can be.
BJ Armstrong was a very nice player for a time. So was Mo Williams.
Steve Kerr was a great shooter but the definition of a role player.
Luc Longley vs Timofey Mozgov? Take your pick but again Mozgov might end up being better. He wasn’t drafted but just this year after he’d been in the league long enough for scouts to see him against other NBA players two teams agreed he was worth not one but two first-round draft picks. Longley was a productive guy for the role the Bulls needed. So is Mozgov — at worst.
So, if you just want to say, ‘Well LeBron is just better to me,” that’s fine. I like the eye test, but I admit it can be deceiving at times so that doesn’t do it for me alone. And as I’ve written before: It was only part of what made us think Jordan was not only the best but the greatest player whoever played…
Even if you believe the Warriors still have the better team — or at least more good players — it was possible to see the Cavaliers riding the emotion of their first home game of the series to another victory.
But for three quarters the Warriors were baffled. They reacted poorly to the Cavs being physical and were too worried about the refs, who were not giving them calls but I think were consistent with both teams as far as how much contact they were allowing to that point.
Is their fourth quarter a sign they found their mojo? If not this series is over…
AND FINALLY… It is just flat amazing the Cavs are succeeding with multiple backups and how that parallels Ohio State’s championship run. Truly unbelievable.
Again the psychology involved in guys raising their level of play when someone else goes down is fascinating.
There were Ohio State players who needed to do more with one position weakened, and they did that. The result was a team with more effective play from more positions (especially when the QB still played pretty well) and a team overall harder to beat.
The Cavs are also playing better on defense, a necessity because they don’t have as much firepower on offense. Would they have reached this level on that end of the floor without a certain feeling of desperation? It’s an interesting question.