Rings Shouldn’t Define LeBron’s Greatness

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.





Legacy Of LeBron Vs. Jordan

It is almost universally recognized that Michael Jordan is the greatest professional basketball player ever because of the six titles he won with the Chicago Bulls in eight years.

There are some who consider Bill Russell because of the Celtics’ dominance in the 60’s, and others who will name Oscar Robertson’s all-around game, Wilt Chamberlain’s unbelievable numbers, and those who will talk about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as well.

Jordan’s rep comes from elevating those teams to championships without other great players on his team.  Yes, Scottie Pippen was a perfect compliment to him, but if let’s say Larry Nance replaced Pippen on those teams, would they still have won?  We would say yes.

This brings us to LeBron James.  Can James pass Jordan as the greatest player ever?

Right now, James has been in seven Finals, one more than His Airness.  The difference, of course, is that the Bulls never lost when they got that far, while James’ teams have suffered four defeats, two each with the Cavaliers and Heat.

One argument used against Jordan is he never defeated another great team in The Finals.  The Bulls first title was against a Laker team on its last legs.  They didn’t win the Western Conference again with this group, led by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

Probably the closest foe to Chicago were the Utah teams they won their last two titles against.  The Jazz were led by two all-time greats in Karl Malone and John Stockton and repeating elevates that squad.

James’ team lost twice to the Spurs dynasty team (’07 with the Cavs, ’14 with the Heat) led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.  They also defeated that same group in 2013.

And, of course, LeBron led the Cavs over the team with the all-time best regular season record this past summer, beating the 73 win Golden State team.

So, let’s say James takes the Cavaliers back to the Finals the next three seasons.  That will give him ten appearances in the championship series.  The most by any player who never played for the Celtics or Lakers (Bill Russell played in 12, Magic and Jerry West played in 9), and second most all-time.

And let’s say he wins two of those seasons, giving him five titles.  Could we then say he surpasses Jordan?  We say yes.

The main reason is the victory over the Warriors in June, and we presume one of those other wins will also come against Golden State, the 73 win team that also added another at least top 25 player of all-time in Kevin Durant.

As for Russell, the playoffs weren’t as tough then.  Basically, if the Celtics defeated Chamberlain’s team they were in the championship round.  Like Russell, James is surrounded by better talent than Jordan was with the Bulls, but getting to the title round four more times would tilt the scales in James’ direction in our opinion.

So, that’s what James is chasing now.  He’s universally recognized as a top ten player in NBA history, probably top five.

Can he get to #1?  Getting to more Finals will insure that chance, as well as moving up the lists in scoring and assists.  He may very well be the all-time leading scorer or be second by the time he hangs up his sneakers.

The fact he has help from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.