LeBron James still is the best player in the NBA.
With all due respect to two-time reigning league MVP Stephen Curry, no one can equal James’ all-around ability. He’s an elite scorer, a fantastic rebounder, one of the best passing forwards ever and plays exceptional defense.
By the way, he guards all five positions in most games with his unparalleled versatility.
James has had his throne challenged by Curry the last two seasons, though. The Golden State Warriors point guard beat James’ depleted Cavaliers team in last year’s NBA Finals, dropping James’ career record in championship series to 2-4 overall and 0-2 with Cleveland.
They’ll meet again with the Larry O’Brien Trophy at stake when Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals tips off Thursday night in Oakland.
For James, everything is on the line in this series.
He’s already an all-time great and likely one of the 10 best players in league history. But to be considered as one of the true champions and ultimate legends of this sport, you cannot be 2-5 in NBA Finals. It’s a mark that would include a 1-2 record against Tim Duncan, 0-1 vs. Dirk Nowitzki and 0-2 vs. Curry and Co.
Michael Jordan was 6-0 in NBA Finals. Magic Johnson was 5-4, Larry Bird was 3-2, Shaquille O’Neal was 4-2, Kobe Bryant was 5-2 and Duncan is 5-1. These are the won/loss records of notable Hall of Famers or soon-to-be Hall of Famers since 1980.
Curry is building his own legendary career, too, and a 2-0 record in NBA Finals with more possibly to come in the next five years also would threaten James’ place among the all-time greats.
James already is tied for the most NBA Finals losses of any league MVP, and he will have the most if the Cavs come up short again. Five losses in the NBA Finals also would tie him with Larry Foust for the second-most in history.
These aren’t the kinds of notes you want in your career retrospective.
Like Chamberlain, James will be remembered as an all-time great and a dominant player when he retires. But the most common storyline for Chamberlain was his teams’ NBA Finals struggles.
Going to six straight NBA Finals is a remarkable accomplishment for James, one matched only by a handful of 1960s Boston Celtics legends and James Jones. But losing four of those six NBA Finals would be the main talking point for James if the Warriors triumph again. Reaching the .500 mark should be James’ top priority for the remainder of his career.
James gave a legendary performance in last year’s NBA Finals, stepping up his game with superstar teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love missing most or all of the series because of injury. He averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists through six games and should’ve been the series MVP.
If James matches those stats or even comes close to doing so this year, he will give Cleveland its first NBA championship and greatly improve his legacy and standing among basketball’s best.
Beating a 73-win team would look pretty good on King James’ future Hall of Fame wall.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images
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