By Micheal Chen
Built like Karl Malone, passes like Bird, jumps like Michael and surveys the court like Magic. He’s faster than the strongest and stronger than the fastest, it’s fair to say that when it comes to basketball, Lebron James has the full package. Lebron James has arguably been the best player in the NBA since about 2008 or 2009. He’s been top 5 in MVP voting in all but 3 of his 17 seasons, he’s a 16x all-star and has 13 all NBA first-team selections (1st all-time), not to mention 8 consecutive finals appearances between 2011-2018 as well as more total finals appearances (10) than every NBA team except for the Los Angeles Lakers (32), Boston Celtics (21), and the Golden State Warriors (11). At age 35 in his 17th season, he can still do everything on offense and guard every position 1 through 5 on defense. It’s an unrealistic hypothetical but I think it serves my point to say that a team of 5 Lebrons would beat a team of 5 of anybody else.
There is the argument by some that Lebron is ‘not clutch’ and doesn’t have the killer instinct to win close games in the final minutes. This argument is objectively wrong. There are stats that show Lebron is clutch, games that show Lebron is clutch, entire playoff series that show Lebron is clutch. The statistic Cutch Win Probability Added (Clutch WPA) is defined as the amount of win probability a player adds above or below a “normal” play. Lebron has a Clutch WPA of 2.35, second among active players only behind Anthony Davis at 3.03.
In game 5 of the 2007 eastern conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and defending champion Detroit Pistons, with 3 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter and the Cavs down 7, Lebron hopped in his bag and at age 22 put together one of the most impressive stretches of basketball ever played. He scored 29 of the Cavs final 30 points (including 25 in a row) as well as the game-winning layup to beat the Pistons in double overtime. After dragging the terrible Cavs past the Pistons and into the finals he was matched up against the Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich San Antonio Spurs, the most successful NBA franchise since the Jordan Bulls, where he lost. Over his career, Lebron has lived in the playoffs and thrived under the brightest of lights despite all the doubt and criticism thrown his way. And as you’ll see, the hallmark of a Lebron-led team is that they always have a shot at going to the finals.
In the 2015 finals against the Warriors, after Kevin Love got his arm pulled out by Kelly Olynyk in the first round, and Kyrie Irving hurt his ankle in game 1 of the finals, Lebron was so dominant that the Cavs actually had a chance of winning the series, and Lebron went on to average 35.7 PPG, 13.3 RPG and 8.8 APG. Even though he lost that year, his supreme play garnered him finals MVP votes, and as a bench player Warriors forward Andre Iguodala won the award specifically because he kept Lebron from doing more damage.
In 2018 after losing Kyrie Irving in a trade, the 4th seed Cavaliers beat the Indiana Pacers in 7 games, swept the 1 seed Raptors, and took down the Boston Celtics in 7 games, leading them to the Steph, Klay, Draymond, KD Golden State Warriors. In game 1 Lebron erupted for 51 points and gave the Cavs a chance to go up 1-0 in the Warriors home arena. Unfortunately, George Hill missed a free throw, J.R. Smith forgot the score, and the Cavaliers went on to lose the game in overtime, and the series in 4 games.
All of these amazing playoff performances and miraculous finals appearances are a testament to the longevity and winning capabilities of Lebron James. However, in my opinion, none are as impressive as the 2016 NBA Finals. What other player would have been able to do what Lebron did? He didn’t try to will his team to victory by jacking up 50 shots a game. He picked his spots perfectly, got his teammates involved and inspired a belief that they could win against all odds.
In an interview with Colin Cowherd, Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson said that after going down 3-1, Lebron sent a text to the team saying ‘If you don’t think we can win the series, don’t get on the f***ing plane to San Francisco’. No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals, especially against the record-breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors led by the first-ever unanimous MVP Stephen Curry. If the Warriors win the title, they undoubtedly go down in history as the best team of all time. In game 5, Lebron James and Kyrie Irving each scored 41 points in a close win. In game 6, Lebron again scored 41 points along with 8 rebounds and 11 assists in a blowout win. Lebron fundamentally changed the momentum of the series and forced a legendary game 7. The clutch three from Kyrie Irving, the chasedown block on Andre Iguodala. In the eyes of many, coming back from 3-1 is the single most significant feat that any player has ever achieved. Lebron ended the 52 year Cleveland championship drought and brought the Cavaliers their first ever NBA title.
Fast forward to 2020, he did it again. Before the playoffs, they said that the Western conference was too tough for him. The Clippers, Celtics, Rockets, Bucks would be too much for him and he would never win a championship in Los Angeles. Now they’re saying this was the easiest path to the finals and that the ring doesn’t count. My response to that is you play the hand you’re dealt. If Lebron gets matched up against the young Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals and the 5th seed Miami Heat in the finals then that’s who he’s going to play. With that being said, the Miami Heat are not pushovers and they took down some very tough teams to earn their spot in the finals. The ‘what if’ game can always be fun but at the end of the day you play who’s in front of you and Lebron got it done.
Any coach, any teammates, by Lebron’s basketball genius alone your team is now a title contender. I don’t have to make the argument that 4 rings are better than 5 or 6 because they aren’t, and that’s not how we evaluate basketball players. Basketball is a team sport and the question in the GOAT debate is not to ask ‘did they win championships’, the better question to ask is which player gave their teams the best chance to win. Who meant the most to their teams. And the undisputed answer to that question is Lebron James.
- 2004 ROTY
- 4x Champion
- 4x Finals MVP
- 4x MVP
- 16x All Star
- 3x All Star Game MVP
- 16x All NBA Selections (13x 1st team)
- 6x All NBA Defensive Team
- 2008 Scoring Leader
- 2020 Assist Leader
- 3x Minutes Leader
- 8 Consecutive finals appearances
- Top 5 of MVP voting in all but 3 of his 17 seasons
- Most Wins
- Most Minutes
- Most Points
- Most 10 Point Games
- Most 20 Point Games
- Most 30 Point Games
- Most Free throws made
- Most Steals
- First player to Average a Triple Double in the Finals
- 10 Finals Appearances
High School Accolades
- Cover of Sports Illustrated at 16
- 3x Ohio State Basketball Champion
- 3x Ohio Mr. Basketball
- 2x Gatorade National Player of the Year
- 3x USA Today All USA First Team
- First Team All-State Football
- Sports Illustrated NBA All-Decade First Team
- 2x Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year
- AP Athlete of the Decade 2010s
- LeBron James Family Foundation Charity