ABOVE PHOTO: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2016. The Cavaliers won 93-89. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Instead of spending so much time in the NBA’s past with Michael Jordan, fans should allow themselves to witness the greatness that is LeBron James right now.
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
The seven-game epic that was the 2016 NBA Finals provided a kaleidoscope of highlights and tremendous plays.
But when the dust settled in Oakland on Sunday night, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers was not only bringing the NBA Championship to a long-suffering, blue collar town used to being victimized by “The Drive” (John Elway, 1987 AFC Championship), “The Shot” (Michael Jordan, 1989 Eastern Conference Championship) and “The Fumble”(1988 AFC Championship), he was solidifying his lofty status as the best basketball player in the world.
Now, don’t get it twisted, James didn’t do it all by himself. That clutch three-point bucket by Kyrie Irving with under a minute left put the Cavaliers in the lead for good. Throughout the series, Irving played well enough to make an argument for himself as the Finals MVP. Forward/center Tristan Thompson did yeoman’s work in the low post. Even Kevin Love played defense well enough to faze Steph Curry at the three-point line late in the game.
And for those who keep saying that James doesn’t have the “clutch gene”, you might want to pay attention to the last three games of the series. Or the last six seasons for that matter.
Or have you not noticed that there hasn’t been an NBA Finals in the last six years in which LeBron James wasn’t a participant?
Of course, there are going to be some folks on social media who will continue to belittle James because he will never be as great as Michael Jordan, who won six NBA championships. Thanks to the cult-like deification of Jordan, people tend to forget that he didn’t do without Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr et al.
But because I’m an irreverent knucklehead, I do have an answer to those of you who still worship at the feet of his Royal Airness because there are a few things you don’t understand when making such silly comparisons.
Basketball is still a team game. That’s a concept that seems too hard to grasp for young fans that think Jordan actually invented the game and a few older fans who are probably waiting for him to be canonized by the Vatican.
Yes, Jordan was a great clutch scorer in the Finals who knew how to close the deal. But he wouldn’t have gotten into position to make those great plays without fellow Hall-of-Famers Scottie Pippin, a great scorer in his own right, Dennis Rodman, and swingman Horace Grant.
Praising Jordan’s solid supporting cast shouldn’t be used as an attempt to diminish his greatness in the same way that Jordan’s six rings shouldn’t be used to beat James over the head. If he never wins another ring, the fact that James has led two different teams to three of the last six NBA titles is truly remarkable.
In the last two years, James has taken a Cleveland team that was in last place in 2014 to two straight NBA Finals before winning the championship this year. His mere presence made them a contender along with good players like Irving, Love and J.R. Smith.
Like Jordan, James definitely makes good players around him better. That’s the mark of a great player.
What James did in this year’s Finals was something that even Jordan didn’t accomplish in his storied career. When the Cavaliers were down 3-1 and teetering on the verge of elimination, James put the team on his back with three straight wins.
In that stretch of games, he scored 109 points—including two straight 40-point games, 29 assists, and 35 rebounds.
In Game 7, Not only did James have a triple-double with 27 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds—He accounted for 52 of the Cavaliers 93 points with a score or an assist. He scored seven of Cleveland’s last 10 points and he had a key shot block against former Philadelphia 76er Andre Iguodala with under two minutes left.
In the Finals, James supplied 52 percent of the Cavs offense with a bucket or an assist. In last year’s Finals, James was responsible for 62 percent of his team’s points.
When the series ended, James led in every statistical category, points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocked shots. No one in the history of the NBA Finals, not Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West or Larry Bird has ever done that.
That’s a clutch performance for the ages from one of the greatest all-around athletes to play the game.
Now I’m not going to say that James is greater than Jordan or vice-versa.
But I will say that you should appreciate the greatness that’s in front of you because living in the past gets old after awhile.