Ethan Bachand ’22
Chief News Editor
Over the past couple of years, my friends and I have kept a group chat dedicated almost entirely to talking about sports. If anything else important is going on, we take it to a phone call rather than disrupt our continuing debates about the NFL and NBA. On Saturday night, the end of the Eastern Conference Finals kept us up talking about basketball. But we didn’t talk about the Miami Heat, who just sent the Boston Celtics packing from Orlando after winning the series 4-2. Instead, the debate immediately turned to the one of the core questions about the Association: Lebron James, or Michael Jordan?
While the question has shadowed James his entire career, the issue is amplified whenever he reaches the NBA Finals, as he has this year. With an overall record of 3-6 when the Larry O’Brien Trophy is on the line, the Los Angeles Lakers’ star has drawn criticism for his inability to win on the grandest stage. Critics then point to Jordan’s record, an unblemished 6-0 in the Finals, as the canyon that divides two generational talents. If LeBron James is committed to changing the narrative of his career, as well as the mind of many NBA experts, his success in the 2020 NBA Finals proves crucial.
For those who remain firmly entrenched in the LeBron camp, many will insist that an asterisk belongs next to the number 6 in his record. Of the teams that took down LeBron with the championship on the line, three of those losses can be credited to the Golden State Warriors. During his second stint with the Cleveland Cavilers, James made four consecutive trips to the Finals, all of which culminated in a showdown with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and for the second half those series Kevin Durant. When considering the talent he competed against (two of the greatest sharpshooters in league history and the perennial All-Pro who joined them), accompanied by the lack of All-Star support on those Cavilers teams (consisting of Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love if you’re feeling generous), the single victory should significantly outweigh the three losses.
If you go back even further to his time in South Beach, playing for the team he is now tasked with defeating, you see a similar picture unfold. As a member of the Miami Heat, James compiled a 2-2 record in the finals, losing to both the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. Both of these aforementioned opponents boasted strong lineups, with names such as Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard.
Yet what can you say in LeBron’s defense if he loses this year? Yes, Jimmy Butler and Bam Abedayo are both All-Stars. Tyler Herro and Adebayo also have not reached their respective primes. But as things stand right now, this Miami Heat team doesn’t compare to the competition James has had to overcome in the past. Not to mention the Lakers have another All-Pro on their roster in Anthony Davis, who is arguably LeBron James’ best teammate to-date. If James falls to 3-7 all time in the Finals, the book may be shut on his chance to be known as the greatest basketball player of all time.
There is, however, the other possibility: what if he wins? What if, with another ring on the line and the “cliff” age of 40 staring him in the face, the King puts on the best four to seven performances of his career? Not only will his record improve to 4-6, but he will bring a championship to a storied franchise who hasn’t tasted gold in a decade. He will have won four titles with three different teams, three different coaches, and a plethora of teammates; all of which are accomplishments Jordan will never be able to claim. When the sun sets on James’ career, whenever that may be, his legacy will not be cemented by his number of MVPs, All-Pro selections, or even where he stands on the all-time scoring list. The only number that will stand the test of time is how many rings are on his fingers. If in five years, he retires with still only three championships to his name, he will still stand as one of the greatest to ever grace the hardwood floor. If he finishes with more, which starts right here and now, then he has the chance at being remembered as the greatest basketball player ever.
Photo courtesy of the Internet.