There was a lot of hate for LeBron James after he left Cleveland (not “abandoned Cleveland” or “jilted Cleveland”) as a free agent. Like Chris Bosh, James saw greener pastures in Miami and used his rights, as collectively bargained by his union, to move to another team.
The haters loved it last season, when everything came together for Dallas, and James and the Heat lost in the NBA Finals. They talked about LeBron choking, and about how he couldn’t play in crunch time. What they conveniently left out of the conversation was the fact that he had carried two different teams to the Finals. He hadn’t won, but if you make the championship series, don’t you have to play in some big games and make some big baskets to simply get there?
Hopefully, this season will end that. Sure, there will be the stragglers who will say there must be an asterisk next to this one because it was only a 66-game season. And that’s fine. As long as we put an asterisk next to David Robinson’s championship with San Antonio in 1999, which came after a 50-game season.
Here’s the fact: James has been the best all-around player in the game since he entered the NBA. Has he been the best closer? No. Has he been the best defender? No. Has he been the best at driving the lane? Arguable. But nobody puts together a game that includes power and finesse, hustle and ability, determination and defense, better than LeBron.
Let’s use these playoffs as an example. He shot just over 27 percent from three-point land, so he had that deficiency. But he also scored in the post, including a half-dozen buckets in the paint in the clinching Game 5 against Oklahoma City. When it became clear that the Heat needed an inside presence offensively against the Thunder, LeBron became that man. When they needed someone to defend Kevin Durant, it was James. When Erik Spoelstra needed a player to hit a big three-pointer to break a tie in Game 4, James took – and made – the shot.
The haters have nothing to fall back on now. You can’t say he doesn’t do it at crunch time. Can’t say he isn’t a playoff winner. Can’t say he won’t do whatever it takes to win. Can’t say he never won a championship.
With a routine 26-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist night in the clincher, James passed Stockton and Malone, Barkley and Ewing, Elgin Baylor and Pete Maravich, all of whom never won a ring. LeBron is the greatest player that’s played during his career, with three MVP awards in nine seasons.
The haters will still be out there, but only because they hate. The facts don’t back them up at all. James moved, unequivocally, into elite status by winning Finals MVP in the win over Oklahoma City. He’s one of the greatest of all time, one of the best to play, one of the best to watch. It’s too bad some people won’t be able to enjoy it.