To say LeBron James has had a historic NBA career would be an understatement. With four MVPs, three Finals MVPs, countless First-Team All-NBA selections and career rankings in the top-5 All-Time across multiple categories, it’s no wonder he’s right up there in the GOAT conversation with the likes of Michael Jordan. The major gripe people still have with LeBron though, is his lack of titles, going 3-6 compared to Jordan’s perfect 6-0. But here we are in the 2020 NBA Finals with LeBron’s chance to get one step closer with number four. The only question now is, does it actually count toward his legacy?
Let me preface this by saying I respect LeBron as much as the next guy. The things he has been able to do over his 17-year career and will likely continue to do for at least a few more years are unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the NBA. But in terms of this season alone and the way it’s been treated so differently, I think the same should be applied to whoever wins the title. We’ve been talking since the season was first cut short about how whoever won this year would have a big asterisk over their head, and I don’t think that has changed simply because LeBron is now in the finals. This season was very circumstantial for everyone involved and in no way replicated what the actual NBA season should look like, so why treat the NBA Finals as if nothing happened?
And if for some reason we do want to treat it normally, it’s important to note that this was without a doubt the easiest path to the Finals and inevitable ring that LeBron has ever had. The King faced the 8-seeded Blazers, playoff-absent Rockets, the Nuggets who had come off back-to-back seven-game series and now a five-seeded, injury-depleted Miami Heat team in the Finals. Sure LeBron got to this point, which is more than most can say, but for me there are simply too many variables tossed into the hat for us to treat this like a normal season and a normal NBA Playoffs.
I think it is absurd to say this ring doesn’t count towards LeBron’s greatness. Shortened season, bubble, no fans, whatever; basketball is basketball, and LeBron is currently outshining nearly everyone on the highest stage of the sport. I don’t think it matters if you’re playing in front of 3 or 30,000 people, if you can lead your team to success against the best competition in the world, then that success is credible. How come we can say Paul George is a terrible playoff player but LeBron doing well in the playoffs doesn’t count?
Additionally, the argument that this has been LeBron’s easiest path to the finals may be true, but I think that stops in the Finals. Portland was simply outmatched, the Rockets are just atrocious and the Nuggets were definitely fatigued after two long series. However, this Miami Heat team is in my opinion one of the most complete teams in the bubble when they are healthy. I don’t think that Jimmy Butler can be considered a superstar, but his talent along with a solid veteran point guard in Goran Dragic and a budding young core of talent led by Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro make this Heat team an interesting and tough matchup for the Lakers. If they can continue to give the Lakers problems with their zone defense and ability to shoot outside, this could prove to be a hard-fought series that would give LeBron his fourth, well-deserved ring.
I agree that this Heat team is different. They are competitive, hungry and have what it takes to at least make this series interesting. But Adebayo and Dragic going down in Game 1, missing Games 2 and 3 and both listed as questionable for Game 4 changed everything. After Adebayo, the next big men up are Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk, who are both praised for their offensive abilities but known as borderline liabilities on the defensive end. Mix that with facing off against two of the most dominant interior presences in the game in AD and Lebron and on paper it is now an absolute cakewalk for the Lakers. As for Dragic, he was a great ball handler and scorer that was able to take a ton of pressure off Jimmy Butler, but now with him out the Lakers D has one fewer player to worry about, as Kendrick Nunn has been pretty irrelevant the entire playoffs.
The Heat was able to steal a game on the back of just the fourth 40-point triple double in NBA Finals history, a feat that is incredibly unlikely to be repeated, and the game was still close until the final few minutes. With the shortened season, huge gap in regular season play and, to be completely honest, lopsided competition throughout the playoffs, it’s tough to count this NBA Finals as we would any other. This is not LeBron’s fault at all, rather incredibly circumstantial, but those circumstances piled on top of each other have made it tough to say LeBron winning this title adds anything to his legacy as one of the greatest to ever do it.
I still think that it is hard to overlook the sheer talent that LeBron had to face in order to get to this Finals. Although the Rockets didn’t have a real cohesive unit, James Harden is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game, and Russell Westbrook one of the most explosive guards the game has ever seen. The Nuggets have an emerging stud in Jamal Murray, and arguably the most talented big in the league in Nikola Jokic. The Blazers had Damian Lillard, the seeding game’s MVP and one of the best guards in the NBA. And looking at the Lakers, with the exception of LeBron and Anthony Davis, they are not exactly oozing with talent.
James Harden is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game, and Russell Westbrook one of the most explosive guards the game has ever seen.
Rajon Rondo is playing better but is still a lesser version of himself, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looks like he belongs in LA Fitness some games and I won’t even go into Kyle Kuzma. The fact that LeBron is having this much success with him and Davis carrying much of the load just goes to show you how great he is regardless of the team he’s facing. Although it has been an unorthodox season with a lot of changes, one thing has remained the same: LeBron is continuing to dominate the game and will most likely win his fourth ring, one that should most definitely “count” towards his total.