Following LeBron’s passive performance in Game 3 against the Spurs, critics everywhere took the opportunity to take a swipe at LeBron and how his legacy was at stake once again. If LeBron didn’t put up a triple-double with at least 30 points, then his legacy was tainted forever. If LeBron didn’t drop over 40 in a win, he wasn’t an all-time great. If LeBron… Okay, you get the point. We’ve heard this nonsense before and frankly, it’s getting old. Maybe it’s a sign of just how good LeBron is that his standard is so ridiculously high. LeBron-haters will exist for eternity, ever since The Decision and his disappearing act in the 2011 Finals against the Mavs. We get it. You don’t want LeBron to be mentioned in the same breath as Bird, Magic, Russell, and Oscar Robertson. And HEAVEN FORBID you put him in the same breath as Michael Jordan. We get it. I too was once a LeBron-hater, eager to call Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose the best player in the league. Eventually, after LeBron reached another gear, and showed how much better he is than Durant, I conceded and began to embrace LeBron. To all the haters though: just remember that LeBron is already one of the 10 greatest players to ever play the game, and he’s only 28 years old.
Before you lose your cool, let me acknowledge he’ll never surpass Jordan, but he does have a chance to be better than Bird or Magic. In fact, it’s been said before but needs to be repeated: Magic Johnson 2.0 is a much more fair and accurate comparison for LeBron. Michael Jordan was a completely different player than LeBron, both physically and mentally. To begin with the obvious differences, Jordan was 6’6 218 pounds. LeBron is closer to 6’9 and is said to weigh 250 pounds, but anyone who’s watched him play before knows he certainly weights more. Many speculate he could weight somewhere around 275-300 pounds, more than most centers, though he’s faster than most point guards. So to put it gently, LeBron and MJ are completely different physically. Now in their approach to the game, we all know what kind of cold-blooded killer Jordan was on the floor. Jordan won 10 scoring titles in his career, including seven in a row at one point. LeBron only has one to his name so far, though his name is always near the top. And in LeBron’s view, he could win the scoring title every year if he wanted, but he’d rather play a more complete game, getting his teammates involved and grabbing rebounds. Even LeBron’s coach backed that claim without hesitation, claiming LeBron could probably average 37 points per game. THIRTY-SEVEN. Then again, Spoeslstra knows the only reason he has a job is LeBron. Anyway, the point is that Jordan was a lethal scorer who made his imprint on the game through his scoring. That’s not to say he didn’t impact the game in other ways.
He was one of the best defenders ever, but primarily, he was a deadly scorer. LeBron is a more complete player. He’s the first player ever to play every single position. He can bring the ball up, score from the wing, or play on the block. LeBron can be a playmaker, scorer, defensive-stopper, rebounder, or just about anything else the team needs from him. Rob Mahoney of SI recently wrote an article detailing how different LeBron and MJ’s game were, and why such comparisons do a disservice to both players. LeBron is more similar to Magic because of his size. LeBron is an elite passer, though no Magic. He is though a far superior scorer and shooter to Magic. In a way, he’s a more athletic, better scoring version of Magic Johnson. LeBron is one of the most unique players in the history of the league. Sometimes he looks like Jordan, putting up 25 points in a row against the top seed in the playoffs. Other times, he looks like Magic, eager to get his teammates involved and find the best shot, rather than imposing his will on the game scoring the ball. He’s something of a changeling, but the problem is he doesn’t have enough of MJ’s killer instinct or Magic’s flash to ward off the critics. He has a little of both, to go along with his brute power that is unique to himself.
Unfortunately, LeBron can put up 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, as he’s done in the Finals thus far, and still be called out for disappearing in the big moment. Critics want to see him put up over 30 a game, even if his shooting percentage plummets, and his overall effectiveness and efficiency wanes. Critics would rather see LeBron lose on his own terms, than by deferring to Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. This makes sense, but the idea that LeBron’s legacy is somehow so malleable, and that his legacy teeters game-by-game is absurd and false. To date, LeBron has nine consecutive All Star appearances, four MVP’s, and one Finals MVP. There’s a good chance he’ll break Kareem’s record six MVP’s, and he may break Kobe’s streak of 15 straight All Star appearances. And you can’t say he hasn’t won either. The problem is people want many more titles out of him. If he is to be in the same breath as Magic as Bird, and be considered as 1A to Michael Jordan, he’ll need to win four or five rings. People are frustrated that LeBron isn’t dominating the Spurs the way he dominated the Thunder last year in the Finals. Just when they thought we had officially entered the LeBron Age, where he’d reel off five titles in a row, the Spurs pushed back.
With the dawn of social media, players’ legacies are more susceptible to game-by-game fluctuations more than ever before. If LeBron puts up tame 20-10-10 triple-doubles, he’s disappearing in the clutch. But the second, he leads the Heat to victory and scores 30+ points, he’s back to being the greatest player in the post-Jordan era. People need to realize LeBron is going to go down as one of the greatest players ever, and just because he has one off game on a big stage doesn’t mean his legacy will change. Legacies take far longer to shift. Look at Dwight Howard. His legacy slowly shifted after whining for an entire year in Orlando and then flopping in LA. Look at LeBron even. It took an entire year, dominating the NBA from start to finish, winning a title, and leading Team USA to Gold, before his legacy shifted from being someone who shrank in the clutch. Point is that LeBron’s legacy is only going to grow from here on out. The unnecessary comparisons across generations are fun but ultimately useless. LeBron’s legacy will be complex, muddled with moments of Jordan, Magic, and others. Unless he winds up with exactly six rings like Jordan, the verdict will be clear and decided by championships. For now though, people need to sit back and watch the show. Because for most people, LeBron is the closest thing to Michael Jordan that they will ever see.