LeBron James: The Best Player Ever?

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

Overview

LeBron James has averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals this year.  Yes, you read that correctly.  He averaged 45.8 minutes per game and dragged the Cleveland Cavaliers to a respectable showing against a historically great Golden State Warriors.  The Cavs were up two games to one, but once the Warriors inserted Andre Iguodala into the lineup, and played with five perimeter players, the talent disparity of the two teams became glaring. LeBron did all he could and deserves credit not only for his jaw-dropping stats, but also for giving confidence to guys like Matthew Dellavadova, Tristan Thompson, and Timofey Mosgov.  

For the most part, both LeBron haters and LeBron apologists will excuse him for losing this finals given the circumstances, much like people have excused LeBron for the 2007 Finals loss (THE WORST supporting cast in recent memory). What the haters and apologists can’t agree on is where he stands in history, as his NBA Finals record now drops to 2-4. Let’s try to find some clarity among two extremist groups that refuse to give an inch in this debate.

The Haters

While LeBron haters will begrudgingly admit that losing to the Warriors and the Spurs (2015 and 2007 respectively) was understandable, they find ways to invalidate and belie his success.  They are quick to point to his shortcomings rather than laud his achievements. It goes something like this (using the loss to the Warriors as an example):

LeBron missed 118 shots in this series, shooting 39.8% from the field and 68.7% from the free throw line.  These are inefficient numbers for someone deemed great, if not The Greatest.  He missed two potential game winners at the end of games 1 and 2, which would have given the Cavs a 2-0 lead and potentially saved Kyrie Irving’s season (not LeBron’s fault, but the overtime injury in game 1 would have been avoided). 

On top of that, Steph Curry outplayed LeBron in the crucial moments of game 4 when this series changed in favor of the Warriors for good.  Yes, LeBron did all he could, but he still lost for the fourth time in six Finals. In the final game, with the season on the line, he kept jacking three-pointers and looked passive. It felt like a situation in which Michael Jordan would have found a way.

Finally, he stacked the deck in Miami!!!  And they went just 2-2 in the Finals!!!  LeBron teamed up with Wade and Bosh, two lethal players at that point in their careers, and while they were successful overall, a .500 record when stacking the deck is not what was promised and expected!!!!  HE’S 2-4 IN FINALS OVERALL!!!!! ENOUGH SAID!!!  BLAH BLAH BLAH.

The Apologists

 Point 1:

LeBron is the best player in the world and possibly the best player ever.  He is a 6 foot 8, 250 pound freight train who can pass, score, rebound, and shoot.  He’s made it to 5 straight finals and 6 in his 12 seasons.  Even Jordan did not make it to 5 straight finals.

Point 2:

LeBron hasn’t been blessed with competent teammates.  Even in Miami, Wade couldn’t stay consistently healthy and it took Bosh more than a season to understand his role.

Point 3:

By the numbers alone, LeBron’s stats are far more well-rounded than pure scorers like Jordan and Kobe.

Point 4:

LeBron makes ANY roster a title contender. Jordan’s Bulls went to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals the year he left for baseball, signifying they were still a contending team even without him. In LeBron’s case, both the Cavs and Heat missed the playoffs the year he left.

The Reality

Where does LeBron fall?  Are apologists correct that he is the best player ever? Or are the haters right when they say he’s an all-time-great but will never touch Michael Jordan?

I believe LeBron James is the best player ever.  No one in history could do what he does physically, and nobody—past or present—possesses the diversity and breadth of his skill set. LeBron can play all five positions and he can defend all five positions. He’s also the best defender of anyone in this conversation (though defense is shamefully overlooked in these conversations). 

And yet, unfortunately for him, he’s not the best winner ever.  You don’t have to be a stats geek or NBA junkie to understand the significance of MJ winning six titles compared to LeBron’s two. Jordan never lost in the finals.  He achieved perfection on the biggest stage.  When you watched MJ, there was no doubt he was going to get the job done. When you watch LeBron you are waiting for him to prove it.  You know he’s capable, but there have been enough letdowns and passive moments for a cloud of doubt to perpetually loom over the horizon. 

Luckily for LeBron, he has time on his side.  He is the best player ever, and barring injuries, he still has the better part of another decade to prove this. But rather than have the haters and apologists duke it out year after year, lets make it easy: win six championships and there’s absolutely no debate.