Are we judging LeBron James too harshly?
No, we aren’t talking about the Kyrie Irving situation and all of the drama surrounding that. That kind of borders on ridiculousness, which is kind of common in today’s NBA.
We are talking about James’ standing among the all time greats of the game of basketball.
When did a players legacy depend on how many championship rings they won? Really, when did it start?
Was it when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson started talking about how many titles each won to show which was the better player?
Or was it Michael Jordan, who dominated the 1990’s and didn’t let anyone else win any.
In the sixties, the Celtics won virtually every season, but somehow that didn’t make guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson, or Elgin Baylor inferior players.
Heck, West is the logo of the league, and his record in the NBA Finals was 1-8. His legacy within the game as one of the greatest players ever is without doubt.
Chamberlain was the dominant force in the game in that era, yet we would consider him the best player ever until Jordan ended his career. The Stilt won two championships.
In the seventies, we remember Rick Barry, a great scorer who may have been the best passer from the forward position before James, and people considered it a capper on his career when he broke through with the Warriors in 1975 and finally won a title.
However, in Jordan’s era, there are many truly great players that don’t get their due from many fans and media alike because they didn’t “get a ring”.
Charles Barkley was a great player. Nobody can tell us any different. The same is true with Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, and others. If you weren’t on Jordan’s team, you didn’t get one. The same as in Russell’s era.
On the other hand, Robert Horry was a part of seven title teams, Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher were on five championship squads. Does that make them great players? Of course not.
If James were to leave the Cavaliers after the 2017-18 campaign, it most likely will be because he sees a better opportunity to win more championships, which is how many will view his career in comparison with Jordan.
That’s what James means when he says he is chasing a ghost. The ghost of Michael Jordan.
But if we measure greatness in another way, let’s say by appearances in The Finals, then James has the edge, leading his team to eight conference titles, more than anyone who has played in the 21st century.
At this point, James’ legacy shouldn’t depend on how many titles he wins. If he plays into his late thirties, we could very well wind up as the NBA’s all time leading scorer.
He will also be in the top ten all time in assists. He would be the only player to rank in the top ten in both scoring and assists.
In addition, he will probably wind up in the top 40 all time in rebounding, and if the Cavs get back to The Finals this season, and they still are the favorites despite all the turnover, he would tie Magic, West, and Tommy Heinsohn with nine conference titles.
Only three players would have made more: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sam Jones, and Bill Russell.
So, if he’s the all time leading scorer, top ten in assists, top 40 in rebounding, and no one played in more Finals, how can he not be considered the greatest player ever, or at the very least in the top two?
It would be judging harshly if he were criticized for only winning three titles.