The Cavs are not done yet, and LeBron can still the the next step to being the GOAT
By Cam Giangrande
It’s sometimes tough to live up to the expectations that others put on someone. It’s even tougher when a player puts those expectations on himself. “The Chosen One”, was the headliner of Sports Illustrated in a 2002 edition, introducing then 17 year-old LeBron James to the world. Following a legend is never easy. Only the greats can do it. Mickey Mantle had to follow Joe DiMaggio, and Carl Yastrzemski had to follow Ted Williams. Didi Gregorius is currently doing it in the Bronx. Those are all examples of players on the same team having to follow legends at the same position.
Lebron’s task has been much more difficult. He’s been told he was the next “Michael” from the age of 17 years old. He wasn’t ask to replace World B Free on the Cavaliers, he was tasked to be the face of the NBA and expected to compete for the title of greatest of all time. The best comparison for what James has endured over the past 17 years is Tiger Woods. Tiger, like James, entered the sports world with the weight of having to be better than Jack, and beat his record of 18 Majors. That type of pressure is reserved for only the best of the best.
For the record, I hate LeBron James. But considering what this man is doing to the rest of the league, I respect him more and more every day. I didn’t always hate him; when I saw that cover, I started to follow him and rooted for him. I was amazed at his size and strength at such a young age. It was obvious he was destined to be one of the all-time greats. But something funny happened along the way: personality outside the lines, and that began to offset the greatness. I’m an old school fan, when players stayed on teams for their entire careers: Larry was a Celtic and Magic was a Laker. Isaiah was a Piston and Michael was a Bull. Those players didn’t chase titles jumping from city to city, they tried to bring titles to the teams they were on, for better or worse.
The day James made his “decision”, he turned me and millions of others off. When he proclaimed, “not one, not two, not three…championships”, he completely lost me. I went from an admirer and fan, to someone who hoped he lost every game possible. No loss was big enough. I reveled in every failure along the way.
It's time to admit LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan pic.twitter.com/XP7OXW7aC3
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) May 12, 2018
After four seasons in Miami, where he did go to four straight Finals, winning two of them, he returned to Cleveland. That began the thaw. Going back to the city he was from and the team he started with showed me something; that he wasn’t just a hired gun, or mercenary, and did want to bring a title back home.
Fast forward four seasons: he’s been to three more consecutive Finals, winning one more championship, and giving Cleveland the title they were so craving. I used to always say that LeBron was no Bird. As the years passed, I begrudgingly had to give up that argument. Bird, for all his greatness, we too injured to be in the discussion. He was only in five Finals, going 3-2. The next argument was with Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. They each made it to six Finals. Shaq was 4-2, and Duncan was 5-1. But James has now gone to eight Finals, with seven in a row. He’s ahead of each of them on anyone’s list. The next player up is Kobe Bryant. He went to seven Finals and had a 5-2 record, but he went to a few of them with Shaq, so James gets the nod over Bryant too. Next on the list before we get to the ultimate comparison to Jordan, is Magic. He went to nine Finals, going 5-4. For all his greatness, and with a terrific supporting cast, he still lost four Finals.
If James can lead a comeback against the Celtics, he’ll have nine Finals on his resume too, with eight in a row. And although the best his record in those Finals can be is 4-5, his teammates have never been anywhere near as good as Magic’s were. The nod definitely goes to James over Magic.
So now we are at the mountaintop, where Sports Illustrated thought we’d be 16 years ago, comparing LeBron James with Michael Jordan, accurately calling James, “The Chosen One”. This now becomes a similar argument to Brady vs Montana in football. Was Montana’s 4-0 record in the Super Bowl better than Brady’s eight appearances, and five victories? The fact that Brady has been to twice as many and won one more Super Bowl puts him alone at the top.
The James vs Jordan argument may always be murky, but if James gets to this year’s Finals, I think the debate is closer than ever. He’ll have been to 50% more Finals, nine compared to Jordan’s six. If he can win, he’ll be up to four titles, compared to Jordan’s six. The reality is he’s never had a second player as good as Scottie Pippen. And although Jordan probably would have a couple more championships if he didn’t run off to play baseball, the fact is he did…so the numbers are the numbers. He’s been to six with six titles. James will potentially have gone to nine, with possibly four titles…and a few years left before he hangs them up. And he’s nowhere near slowing down. He appears to be more driven today than I can ever remember seeing him. Maybe he needs this motivation, with people questioning him, especially being down 2-0.
As I said, it’s tough to live up to expectations. Maybe James has finally learned that and is now ready to take the mantle as the greatest basketball player of all time. If he can spur a revival vs. Boston he’s closer than ever to overtaking No. 23.