24/7-365. Basketball Lives Here.
The 2015-16 NBA season was one for the ages. We witnessed the birth of a new megastar in Stephen Curry, the first of his kind. Curry turned in a historic season, becoming the first point guard to be named back-to-back MVP since Steve Nash and led his Warriors to an even more historic achievement with their incredible 73-win season. We saw the epic and emotional exit of Kobe Bryant, a man who many current NBA players consider 1.A and 1.B along with Michael Jordan. The 15-16 season also marked the end of another one of the greatest careers in the history of professional sports, when Tim Duncan decided to hang his adidas up.
But, the most history was made in the 2016 NBA Finals. LeBron James. It wasn’t even the fact that the King fulfilled his promise by ending Cleveland’s championship drought, or by leading his Cavs to a never-before-seen 3-1 series comeback in the NBA Finals. It was the fact that on June 19, 2016, James quietly solidified himself as one of the five greatest basketball players of all-time and achieved his goal of making it onto the Mount Rushmore of the NBA.
Top five is just being safe. If you go by eye-test, LeBron James is one of the three best basketball players of all-time. Who are the other two? Michael is one for sure. The other guy in that group depends on opinion. Some will say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, older folks may say Wilt Chamberlain, and there is a passionate cult of basketball fans that will say Kobe Bryant is the greatest or second greatest basketball player ever and they’ll take that statement to the grave with them.
There will be four players we never see again: Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson. Those four players abilities and body of work make them some of the most unique athletes the game has ever seen. It is almost impossible to replicate their style of play, combined with their accolades.
Kobe Bryant successfully replicated Michael, but wasn’t as perfect. LeBron James can be built, especially in today’s day and age, but that mountain is going to be extremely tough to climb.
By going into his sixth straight NBA Finals, and winning his third NBA Championship/Finals MVP in the beastly fashion that he did it in, James not only reached top 2-5 all-time status based off his resume, but he more importantly did it based off his impact.
As far as the resume goes though, James is another title or two away from being right back in the G.O.A.T debate against Michael Jordan, despite the 3-4 NBA Finals record.
There aren’t five players that you can name better at the game of basketball than James. His combination of basketball IQ, all-world athleticism, his passing ability, his defense, patience, physical dominance and yes, ability to close a big game out, make him the most unstoppable perimeter force the game has ever seen. Through the last 13 NBA Finals games, James got to the rim at ease, he literally did whatever he wanted on the floor. The Warriors didn’t “let” LeBron have his and stop the rest of the squad, they simply matched his insane physical dominance with their insane firepower and chemistry on the offensive and defensive ends. James literally bullied the Warriors over the past two Finals and had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love not gone down in 2014, he’d have four NBA Championships and Finals MVP awards to his name.
At the age of 31, the “Chosen One” has already exceeded the nearly impossible to fulfill hype that came with his name back in 2003. The sports world takes Bron for granted. Though he may have brought it upon himself, for a good part of the first decade of his career, he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. James needed to stack up MVP awards, have success in the NBA Playoffs and Finals, along with incredible numbers and moments just to come close to fulfilling what the world had expected of him. If he didn’t, we’d talk about the myth that he was and how brutally he failed. The majority of the time that James had this pressure and was hit with the task of spicing up his “resume”, he was just a kid. Not many humans can handle this kind of pressure and even with the mistakes, he has done it so damn well.
When James physical ability was combined with his rigorous work ethic to polish his skill-set, a monster was born. Just check the stats. This man has statistically dominated the game through 13 years in the league and is on pace to shatter records and set records that are going to be very hard to even think about touching.
Men lie, woman lie, NUMBERS don’t.
James is the face of the new-age sports world. Bigger, faster and stronger. Those are and will always be his strengths. Many will argue that he isn’t even a natural basketball player. His movements are at times stiff, his feel for the game and skill-set has been questioned time and time again over the past few years. But, he more than makes up for it with his basketball mind. James knows the game inside-out and has always been a step ahead of his opponents. He has never been a selfish player, or had a run where he took questionable shots, both his perimeter counterparts (Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant) have had selfish moments in their career and chucked recklessly. Was that their game? Yes, and we loved them for it, but it drove coaches crazy because technically it wasn’t the “right way” to play the game. It created a conflict and a whole lot of questions, especially in Kobe’s case.
Outside of those cringe-worthy fourth quarters in the 2011 NBA Finals, James has never really had serious conflicts or questions about his decision making.
The life of a perimeter player is much harder than a big mans has ever been in the NBA. The impact of a guard or small forward has always been felt more and they’ve always been relied on to do more, and do it from all over the floor. It’s always been the nature of the game and is the reality now more than ever.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s resume is undeniable, he almost has to be considered one of the five greatest players of all-time. But, the golden question that nobody ever asks, how would a 230 pound big man fare in the 90’s? KAJ left right before the game had a major change in physical performance.
That change in physical performance is so overlooked when ranking the all-time greats. We’ve been trying to prove to basketball fans for years that the game of basketball is much more than just skill. This game for the most part always has been and now is absolutely 50 percent athleticism. If you put prime Larry Bird in today’s NBA, he’d likely be toast. Bird would be too slow to move laterally with the guards or wings and even if he managed to stay in front he’d get ran through due to their drastic strength advantage. Due to his athletic disadvantage, Bird would be a liability defensively and wouldn’t get the shots off over longer and quicker defenders the way that he did in his day.
Michael Jordan was ahead of his time in athleticism and while we were all caught up in his greatness, we didn’t realize it was his incredible athleticism that was one of the main reasons he had the physical advantage that he did over his opponents. Shaquille O’Neal is the most dominant force the game of basketball has ever seen and would dominate the way he did in any era, if not more in a time where he’d be matched up with much smaller bigs (pre-80’s) and especially now in the 3-point shooting NBA. Physically speaking, Kobe Bryant was basically Michael Jordan in an era which featured other Michael Jordan-type athletes in guys like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Dwyane Wade. Mambas would also have his way in any era before him because of his athleticism alone.
Then there is LeBron James; 6-foot-8, 260 pounds of muscle, speed and explosive power coming at you. There is not an era in the history of the NBA that LeBron would not terrorize with his physical ability. He’d average 80 points a night off of layups in the 50’s and 60’s and would probably eat the 70’s in a similar way.
The hand-checking argument is extremely irrelevant in James case. He was a football star in his high school days and would probably have been in the NFL had he not chosen basketball. Studies have discovered that football games can be equivalent to that of car crashes. There is a reason a 6-foot guard who once played football, went onto lead the league in scoring four-times. Imagine what a 6’8, 260 pound, super-freak athlete of James stature would do in an era where players did not seriously strength train, or watch their nutrition the way athletes do now. There is not a hand-check in the world that could stop James from getting to the rim in any era. Hell, those hand-checks may as well have been pokes to a bear, which wouldn’t turn out too nice for the defense.
Forget the peak James we saw in Miami, the current LeBron would literally EAT any era before him. His numbers would skyrocket in every decade that we go back. Nowadays, strength and conditioning is a requirement to even last in the league, so despite not having the advantage Jordan had physically over his opponents due to ignorance towards performance training in the 90’s, James still makes guys that are lifting four times a week in the offseason and working on their speed and conditioning look like boys.
As far as perimeter players go, this is the scariest specimen the league has ever seen. When he is coming at you, there is no answer for him. If you’ve watched him closely throughout his career, you’ve seen him destroy help defenses all on his own. Think about that for a second. James is not only able to make the guy in front of him feel helpless, he can make the two protectors behind feel just as bad, if not worse if he meets them at the rim.
Michael Jordan saved and transcended the game of basketball. Kobe Bryant was the face of the NBA when it truly became a global sport, and now has die-hard fans all over the world. When it comes to his impact, LeBron James is a combination of a little bit of Jordan and a little bit of Bryant.
James is and has been the face of the league longer than Kobe was. He is going to be the face of the league longer than MJ was. One of the main reasons the NBA is in it’s richest era is because James is the face of the Association.
Before the Stephen Curry phenomenon kicked in, LeBron was the undisputed poster boy for the NBA and his superhero ability, business savvy and amazing journey elevated the game to even newer heights.
The reigning Finals MVP has literally changed the sport. He did the carry-the-team thing in Cleveland for seven years and took his city as far as he could. Then, he left to Miami and won. Now, he has come back to Cleveland and won again. James has created a new blueprint for winning in the NBA, whether we like it or not and it has echoed all throughout college and high school basketball. The best players are now playing together for powerhouse high school programs in the US, then they stay teamed up for their AAU teams in the summer. Even in college, the top teams usually feature multiple NBA prospects playing together.
The thought of Kevin Durant joining the Warriors wouldn’t even exist, let alone actually happen had James not created this “super-team” era.
Players are a lot smarter with their brands now than ever and that started with their leader, LeBron James. He is dominant, professional and respects the game and those who came before him. The kid who spent his childhood moving from home-to-home in Akron, Ohio is on pace to be a billionaire before the age of 34.
His on-court impact is loaded with moments, the most recent being his biggest ever. The block of the century, which changed legacies and the complexion of the NBA.
Does all this make him a better basketball player? No. But, Magic, Kareem and even Jordan didn’t have the responsibility and pressure that James had. He came out of the gate more hyped than any pro athlete, ever, and was relied on to carry the NBA into the next era and he had to win BIG in order to be taken seriously enough to do that.
He has done it and he continues doing it.
The combination of the eye-test, resume, numbers and the most recent NBA Finals performance are more than enough to solidify him as one of the five best players of all-time and his impact alone puts him on Mouth Rushmore alongside Michael and whoever else belongs there. One thing is for sure and two things are for certain, James and Jordan are the only two sure-fire locks on basketball Rushmore.
The scariest part about all this is that James is still only 31-years-old and with the way performance training and technology are involving, he has a clean five years left to play at or close to this level.
He knows it and he feels it. The window to surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all-time hasn’t completely closed. It’ll be tough to match what MJ did, but it’ll be just as tough for the next guy to match what LBJ has done.
When James is at peace, he performs his best and heading into the 2016-17 season, at peace is exactly where he is at. With nothing left to prove and a ton of pressure off his back, a much looser James could be in for another MVP season and most likely his seventh straight NBA Finals appearance. This is his era, this is his dynasty and the only place he is going from here on out, is up.
Finally, with no more expectations left, we can sit back and simply do what we were told to do back in 2003, “WITNESS”.