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LeBron James has been under a microscope for the past 16 years. 14 Years in the NBA and for two years in High School, ESPN has been up LeBron’s butt. When I see old footage of LeBron even from 2009, I’m amazed at how young he was. I have had the privilege to witness his whole career and to know there will be a kick-ass finals every June for the past 7 Junes thanks to him. I have been watching the NBA since the *1991-92 Season*, and in fact, I have been blessed to have been a witness to now going on 10 straight finals which I viewed as must see TV, since I have always been a Kobe Bryant fan, too, and Kobe lead the Lakers to the Finals in 08,09, and 2010. And guess who was in the Finals in 07? That’s right! Young LeBron. Although, 07 Finals btw – was my least favorite Finals since 1995 when Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston swept Orlando with Young Shaq and Penny. Go figure that my two least favorite Finals since I have been watching them in 92, have been the two that have ended in *Sweeps.
(*Editor’s Note –>there were actually 3 finals Sweeps since 1992; I totally forgot about the 2002 poo-poo platter where the Lakers demolished the NJ Nets in 4 games. I actually don’t count this series as low as the other two for the mere fact that nobody had any expectations of this series. This is also due in part to the fact that the 2002 WCF between the Lakers and Kings was the de-facto finals series. It really was such an epic series, even though the Kings were totally jobbed out of that Series. Just watch this video of the crucial Game 6 breakdown to see. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjRcTiwVEwo )
Anyhow, let us go back to the 91-92 NBA Season. I was 10, and Michael Jordan just came off of winning his first title. The Dream Team was being formed, Magic Johnson just retired from the League for contracting the HIV Virus. Larry Bird was still in the league! The Knicks were led by Pat Riley and Patrick Ewing! Charles Barkley was still on the 76ers, and the Utah Jazz were already going on for years with the “Stockton to Malone” Pick N Roll! Like, I really picked a golden age to start following basketball. Even College Basketball was fantastic then, with Duke on the verge of winning their 2nd straight title! I mean who can forget the most iconic shot in college history!? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo3G2MfOYeA
I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty details about why one is more worthy of a basketball player than the other, but I will say that I was 10 years old and in 4th grade, and we all wanted to “Be Like Mike” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0AGiq9j_Ak . All of us! And Basketball ruled. We all shot hoops and we all said we wanted to go to the NBA. During LeBron’s time, there have been other players more popular. A lot of people preferred Kobe Bryant (as I mentioned before). Michael Jordan was the guy!
I look at his Championships and every single one of them seemed pre-ordained. Well, except this one! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqt85FXv5Zg. The 1993 Series was the wildest Finals I can ever remember watching! Far and away!
In fact if I were to rank my favorite Finals Series from 1992 on I’d rank them like this:
1st place – 1993 Bulls v. Suns (Bulls won in 6, winning all 3 of their Road games and only 1 of 3 home games…like I said, weird series)
2nd place – 2013 Heat v. Spurs (just a hard fought 7 Games series with 2 incredible games at the end)
3rd place – 1998 Bulls V. Jazz (Michael Jordan’s last shining moment)
4th place – 1997- Bulls V. Jazz (Flu Game all day every day)
5th Place – 2016 – Cavs v. Warriors (Maybe it should be higher, but honestly – aside from Game 7, no game was close)
6th Place – 2010 – Lakers v. Celtics ( An incredible 7 Game Series/Rock fight)
And My favorite Finals Games:
1st place – 2016 Game 7 Cavs v. Warriors (the Block and the shot)
2nd place – 2013 Game 6 Heat v. Spurs (Ray Allen, Hello!)
3rd place – 1992 Game 1 Bulls v. Blazers (Michael Jordan blew me away in this game)
4th place – 1998 Game 6 Bulls v. Jazz (MJ’s last shot! Until he f-ks up the narrative and joins the Wizards)
5th Place – 1997 Game 5 Bulls v. Jazz (The Flu/hangover game?)
6th Place – 2013 Game 7 Heat v. Spurs (Just a Wow! Game)
7th Place – 2010 Game 7 Lakers v. Celtics (The Ultimate Rock fight, with some of the most unlikely of heroes). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYYGnGuQ4Sc
8th place – 1993 Game 3 Bulls v. Suns (this was a triple over-time game that the Suns absolutely had to win to stay alive in this series). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX06sf53eHM
What do all the series and games have in common? They all have Michael Jordan or LeBron James in them, with the exception of the 2010 series which has Kobe Bryant featured and two of the most historic franchises in the league. But, truthfully 1993 was I believe the most challenging of all of MJs 6 titles. They were fortunate to take the Knicks in 6 Games, thanks in large part to this sequence of plays in Game 5 that all but decided the series. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRFKhpMKX0E
That and it was during the Knicks series that all these dark clouds about Jordan’s gambling problems were surfacing. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/27/sports/sports-of-the-times-jordan-s-atlantic-city-caper.html
And this video is 7 minutes long but totally worth it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6ltUeTR4y0
Bill Simmons actually even spoke about it as well with Chuck Klosterman, on his recent podcast. Check it at he 1:09:47 mark. (MJ’s first retirement is actually one of Bill Simmons’ favorite conspiracies) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E28MkU8mBY4
It’s really funny that to a casual outside observer, Michael Jordan is considered to be the better guy. That LeBron still has not live down The Decision – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTeCc8jy7FI. Yet, Michael was able to avoid the 24/7 glare of the media b/c he came of age before the internet. And this is where it’s hard to compare generational players! But, maybe not so much. LeBron could not have done what he did if not for Jordan. LeBron saw what to do, but did it smarter and better.
Yet, LeBron never vanquished his opponents. How he’s only been favored in 2 out of 7 Finals is insane!
Fivethirtyeight Ranks LeBron’s Teams Chances of winning the first 6 finals he was in. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/lebrons-finals-record-isnt-really-a-disappointment/
Ranking this year’s Finals odds for LeBron’s Team. https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/betting/here-are-the-nba-finals-odds-and-prop-bets/
Michael Jordan and his Bulls were favored in every single one of his Finals appearances. If you go to the fivethirtyeight link above, it will say the Bulls actually should have only won 4 titles. Not sure when they were under-dogs, could not find anything conclusive on it.
MJ on Mental Toughness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjRbobUjAt8
MJ First learn to fail – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrcB8Lwm_8k
LeBron James Career Highlights – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFLPW4mbw5c
Well Renown NBA Writer Adrian Woj’s take on LeBron (watch the video for him). https://www.yahoo.com/sports/news/lebron-james-chance-eclipse-michael-jordan-upon-us-160755813.html
If LeBron wins his coveted 4th Title against this Talented (more talented than the last two years) Warriors Team – I will put LeBron as 1B to MJs 1A. Right now, I see LeBron as the clear #2. At the end of last year’s Title Run I vacillated with LeBron being 3rd or 4th, having him behind MJ and Bill Russell, and right there with Kareem. Given LeBron’s remarkable regular season and even more magnificent playoff run I see him as the #2 guy.
Speaking of which here is my list of TOP 26 NBA Players, ever.
2- LeBron James
3- Bill Russell
4- Kareem Abdul Jabbar
5- Magic Johnson
6- Larry Bird
7 – Tim Duncan
8- Wilt Chamberlain
9- Kobe Bryant
10 – Jerry West
11- Oscar Robertson
12 – Shaquille O’Neal
13 – Hakeem Olajuwon
14 – Moses Malone
15 – John Havelichik
16 – Elgin Baylor
17 – Dr. J
18 – Bob Pettit
19 – Kevin Garnett
20 – Karl Malone
21 –Charles Barkley Barkley
22- Dirk Nowitzki
24 – Scottie Pippen
25- John Stockton
26 – Dwyane Wade
(Lurking, and soon to be in the Top 25, if not “Higher” – Steph Curry and Kevin Durant)
For LeBron to beat Two Top 25 guys (future Top 25 Guys at least) in the Championship Series this year, two guys he already beat in separate finals mind you, would be impressive! But, I still can’t shake the fact that MJ winning the title seemed pre-ordained; his last 3 seasons at least!
LeBron has only once gone into a Season as the Defending Champion where it seemed like they were destined to win the Title that year, and that was 2012-13, and truthfully if not for Ray Allen, he wouldn’t have gotten another one, then!
When I think of comparing great athletes in other sports, some names come off the top of my head. When thinking of the greatest Tennis Players ever, right away I think of Serena Williams and Roger Feder. Two players still active and winning tournaments today. For these two are the best, and I don’t question this. Soccer, I honestly don’t know. But, I’m sure people can make really good arguments for a lot of different people. Hockey! I think Wayne Gretzky is the greatest. You can’t dissuade me from this one. And I think most die-hard hockey fans would agree. Football. Well, there are so many positions, hard to say. I’d argue that Jerry Rice is the greatest Wide Receiver ever, even though Randy Moss was probably the most talented one ever. I’d say indisputably that Lawrence Taylor is the greatest outside linebacker ever. So great in fact that the offensive left tackle is now one of the highest paid positions in football. (Michael Lewis’ Book “The Blind Side” captured this really well, and while the movie was entertaining…it did not capture this premise as well). But, for football we think QB, before anything else. The raging Debate is Tom Brady or Joe Montana. I’d give it to Brady, however I have no emotional attachment to Montana as he was essentially just before my time. And no, I don’t like Brady either, but I still am comfortable calling him the GOAT of all QBs.
The best analogy of Greatest Basketball Players and comparing them along generational lines, I would say is to Baseball players. There obviously are some differences, as Baseball is such a numbers driven league. Basketball is influenced by numbers as well, obviously! But there is more to it. When I think of the comparison between LeBron and MJ it makes me think of Babe Ruth and Willy Mays. Now, here me out on this one. Babe Ruth to this day is still the face of Baseball. Yet, for everything I heard and read and saw of highlights – Willy Mays was the greatest and mot complete baseball player ever. And to that, what I will say is – there would be no Mays if not for Ruth.
Now, there would be no LeBron if not for Michael Jordan. As Jordan set the blue-print for all these guys to market themselves as a brand, and to do lots of thing. The fact that Michael Jordan is not only the first basketball player to be a billionaire but the first athlete, WOW! http://www.cnbc.com/id/32798277. LeBron might very well be a billionaire in a quicker period of time than it took Jordan, but LeBron followed Michael’s footsteps. The guy wears Michael’s number.
You just can’t dispute it!
I leave it at this for now, since history is still being written! Also, as I mentioned I have LeBron as a clear #2 on my list behind Michael Jordan. If he does win his 4th title this year, I will happily move him up to 1B behind Jordan. Obviously that means he’s still #2. But, still, as LeBron continues to build up his resume, the argument that MJ is/was better does get fainter and fainter. I’m just not ready to relinquish it yet, even if for sentimental reasons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3zZ2OUVgPQ
BTW – here is my Pick for the Cavs V. Warriors Part III.
I like the Cavs in 7
I think the Basketball Gods want to give these Warriors some Adversity, much like they did with the 2010-2011 Heat. That, and LeBron is not just playing to catch up with Jordan on Championships or reaching basketball greatness, but it’s about the Mythology of LeBron! That’s the story that resonates with me, and even if this is the sentimental pick, I don’t care! Plus I really do think the Cavs are going to get it done!
PS -If you enjoyed this NBA Post of mine, you might like this one, as well https://joshoffthepress.com/2017/04/14/my-pick-for-nba-mvp-as-well-as-other-nba-honors-and-awards-im-giving-out/
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good stuff, josh. thought-provoking list!
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Enjoyable read Brother. I almost tuned out when I didn’t see Melo on your Greatest ever list….:D
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LOL! Well, greatest and favorite don’t always mix.