BOSTON — For the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday was about a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. But for LeBron James, Game 7 against the Boston Celtics was about clarity.
Not for him, but for everyone who has witnessed his 15 years of unparalleled greatness.
One day, maybe when James no longer is putting up near triple-doubles in elimination games with ease, people will be able to admit what they watched was something they’d never seen before. They will see what became clear Sunday night at TD Garden when James put up 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while hauling a collection of role players to the NBA Finals.
LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all-time.
This is no disrespect to Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or any of the other greats throughout the history of the game. But there’s no reason to shy away from the obvious any longer.
Much like the debate around Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus that took place in the early 2000s, it should be painfully obvious to anyone actually watching the game of basketball without the romanticism of the Jordan era clouding their vision that James is doing something that even His Airness didn’t do.
With a win Sunday, James stretched his personal NBA Finals run to eight straight. That gives him nine appearances in the championship round, which ranks tied for third among NBA franchises with the Golden State Warriors, trailing only the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
In his 15th NBA season, at age 33, James has played in 100 games. He led the NBA in minutes during the regular season and in the postseason. He now has won six Game 7s in a row and is averaging 34.9 points per game in those contests.
He is 3-4 in seven-game series in which he has trailed 2-0. In the other 295 instances of a team going down 0-2, only 17 of those teams won the series.
James just took a team who’s second and third best players were Jeff Green — a player on his fourth team in four years — and J.R. Smith — who the New York Knicks couldn’t run away from fast enough three seasons ago.
There was no Kevin Love, no Kyrie Irving and no Dwyane Wade. There was no player of Scottie Pippen’s caliber or even Steve Kerr’s.
There was only James, playing all 48 minutes to overcome a young, well-coached Celtics team that had more collective talent than Cleveland did. And it wasn’t close.
With the win, the Cavs became the first team since the NBA started keeping track of turnovers to reach the NBA Finals while finishing in the bottom three of the league defensively. The Cavs ranked 29th.
“He’ s unbelievable,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “I think we’ve played now until May 25th and May 27th the last two years and we started on September 25th. That’s every day. Every day you’re totally focused on this, and he’s gone past that eight straight times. It’s ridiculous and he does it at this level and with the pressure, and with the scrutiny — doesn’t matter. It’s just unbelievable.”
Those who worship at the altar of Jordan will cite MJ’s impeccable 6-0 record in the Finals. James is 3-5 currently and likely will fall to 3-6 unless the Cavs can pull off an upset for the ages against either the Warriors or the Houston Rockets.
Jordan didn’t beat Russell’s mark of 11 championships or John Havlicek’s mark of eight. But people still put Jordan on ahead of them because, as it turns out, titles aren’t everything.
James is a more complete basketball player than Jordan ever was.
Those who have bashed James will stay in their caves long after he’s played his final game, still ignoring the greatness they witnessed.
But for the rest of us, it’s time to bend the knee.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images