As the last of the confetti trickled down onto the floor of the American Airlines Arena, LeBron James held the trophy that appeases our obsession with greatness in professional basketball. It was a goosebump worthy image for everyone that cares too much about athletic achievements by individuals who are paid handsomely to play a sport.
It might seem silly to consider the feat that LeBron just completed as a tremendous feat in the history of humanity; after all he just won a trophy for playing basketball. Twelve year-old kids receive the same item for winning their local basketball league.
For some reason though, we can’t get enough of someone when the G-word gets put in the same sentence as the player of our affection. It’s the reason why we feel the need to rank players on all-time lists, when really those lists don’t mean shit. Everyone has an opinion, so each of the lists is going to be different in some way. I’m not saying the idea of ranking players should go away, but I do think it’s a flawed measurement in how we grade players as a whole over time. There’s no right way to rank players as their playing days move further and further into the past.
When you think about it ranking players is somewhat like debating how we got onto this planet in the first place. No one knows. There is no right or wrong answer. You and I might value different functions of a player’s game and therefore I would rank Player A above Player B and you look at it the exact opposite. It’s a never ending cycle.
What we can agree on is that the collection of players who don’t fulfill our expectations, tremendously exceeds the amount of players who quench our thirst for excellence. The final game of this years’ epic NBA Finals was a coronation of James’ success through the mind-boggling amount of scrutiny he’s faced since he was anointed as the next face of the NBA.
There is a certain sense of satisfaction (at least for people who support LeBron) that James is no longer the prince that has to find the keys to the kingdom under the doormat when he goes out. The chancellor, David Stern, handed them over to LeBron for good last night. It was an iconic moment. The legendary commissioner who created the original blueprint for making the NBA a household item of entertainment handing the Larry O’ Brien trophy to the foundation of Pat Riley’s blueprint.
I lost count of how many times the blueprint was questioned in the last month. Seven franchises have never had the opportunity to play for a championship. Five more haven’t made the finals since the 50s-70s. Yet, the idea of making three straight finals but only winning one would have been a failure of epic proportions.
The Heat absorbed the scrutiny, put it in a blender and gulped it down as Manu Ginobili turned the ball over late in Game 7 (It what seemed like it was the 800th time during the Finals that a Ginobili pass missed its intended target.) As the Spurs congratulated the Heat after the series ended it was hard not to wonder if we were witnessing a changing of the guard. The NBA is full of impressive young talent, but this version of the Spurs was a constant. Their mental toughness and chemistry is just wonderful to watch. Home teams are basically a lock in Game 7’s, but the Spurs would not die. It’s basically the opposite of the 2012-13 version of Dwight Howard.
I thought this column was supposed to be about LeBron!
Game 7 of the NBA Finals was a demonstration of LeBron’s evolution. The Spurs dared James to show off his redefined jump shot and the King obliged. When Dwyane Wade felt the need to control the offense, LeBron backed off and let the ghost of Wade’s future dominate the ball. Don’t underrate this aspect of LeBron’s game, his mental abilities are just as important as his physical ones. He understood that if Wade didn’t touch the ball in crucial moments of the series it could send ripple effects throughout the team. As much as Wade has sacrificed since LeBron took his talents to South Beach, it’s impossible to let those feelings of being the best player on a championship team go. We can scream NOOOOOOO!!!! at our televisions while Wade plays hero-ball, or takes awful jump shots with more than 15 seconds left on the shot clock, but without those moments (and this is going to sound kind of twisted) the chemistry of the team isn’t the same.
The sacrifice of Wade and Chris Bosh is often talked about, but not enough time is spent looking at the sacrifice LeBron makes to satisfy Wade’s need to feel like the second best offensive option on the team. There were multiple times throughout the series when I wondered if Erik Spoelstra would pull the hook on Wade and play him in a sixth man type role. It seemed like the logical answer right? Both James and Wade looked much better when they were on the court separately. The spacing was better. The Chalmers-Allen-Miller-Andersen lineup surrounding LeBron was tailored to his passing ability, which in turn opened up the lane for LeBron to get to the rim (until Pop deployed Boris Diaw to shut down James, BORIS DIAW!).
All of the offensive/defensive rating stats when Wade and James are on the floor together can now be locked away until Skip Bayless pulls them out when the Heat lose two games in a row next season. It’s certainly possible for Riley to make a major roster change in the offseason (Bosh!!!!!), but there’s a better chance of Andrew Bynum being the center on the All-NBA First Team next year than something like that happening.
The Heat do need to get bigger inside and maybe a former number one overall pick that was once asked how the Civil War was, could be a perfect fit due to the amount of minutes the backup big is allotted in Spo’s small ball offensive sets. Who knows, maybe Greg Oden, yes that Greg Oden, could start a couple games.
Or Riley could roll the dice and keep the lineup relatively the same and let the best player in the world continue his ascension into the Pantheon of all-time greats. I always use this argument when a LeBron vs. (insert player) arises: James is 28 years old. He’s won four MVPs in five years (one of the best five year stretches in NBA history), he’s improved facets of his game every offseason, he now has two championships and two Finals MVPs. Barring a serious injury, James could reasonably play six to seven more seasons at this level (possibly eight or nine, this guy is a freak Leon Sandcastle!). At some point Durant is going to win an MVP. It’s just inevitable. The media will get tired of voting for James and give the trophy to KD, but LeBron could EASILY win eight or nine most valuable player trophies. Hell, double digits are in play here.
Sadly the general public is wired by the media to base arguments around the number of team championships a player has won. Yes that sentence is warped, but it’s also the reason why Kobe believed he needed the help of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. In his mind, his career will be a failure if he doesn’t win a sixth ring, but if LeBron wins 10 MVPs and five rings, will we look at him the same way we now look at Kobe? Sadly I think some will.
When LeBron sat next to Magic Johnson during the postgame of Game 7, Johnson gushed like someone who just met a famous person for the first time. The man with the million dollar smile told “The Chosen One” that he has the ability to be the greatest player of all-time. He could also have statues in two different cities.
No one knows where LeBron and the Miami Heat will go from here. The last team to reach four straight Finals was the ’84-’85 Lakers, which was led by a 25 year-old Magic Johnson. What we do know is that this is officially LeBron’s league now. He has the keys to the kingdom, we should be thankful that they’re in his hands.
Follow me on Twitter @Scottdargis.