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Point/Counterpoint: Is LeBron James' legacy tainted with his third NBA Finals loss of his career?

BY DI STAFF | JUNE 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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No

The past four years have been the most successful in Miami’s history and one of the most dominant runs of any team ever in the NBA. Yet many people view it as a disappointment and a failure on the part of LeBron James. Four trips to the finals in as many years and two championships is apparently not enough for basketball fans to recognize the greatness of four-time MVP James.

Sunday night’s series-ending loss to San Antonio unfortunately brings his legacy into question in the minds of many. Basic logic and statistics would beg to differ.

No player on a contending team has more weight on his shoulders than LeBron. The Heat lack an effective, facilitating point guard — except for LeBron. They also lack a legitimate offensive post presence — except for LeBron. He’s the team’s best passer, scorer, rebounder, defender, and easily the most well-rounded player in the league.

His career numbers (27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game) prove he is a threat for a triple-double every time he steps on the court. He can play every position on the court, but he cannot do it all at once.

The Spurs had seven players who outplayed everyone on the Heat not named LeBron. Basketball is a team sport, and it takes a team effort to win championships.

On Sunday, LeBron scored 31 points; the next leading scorer was Chris Bosh with 13.

The one constant has been LeBron, and to win two league titles and four Eastern Conference titles in four years is pretty special for a 29-year-old guy who is constantly relied upon to do it all. At this point, it is completely fathomable that James could still go down as the best to ever play the game.

— Charles Green

Yes

The answer is a resounding yes. This is not to say that LeBron James isn’t an incredible player. Quite the contrary. If he retired today, his body of work as it stands would easily garner a top-10 ranking in NBA history. However, because of his virtually unparalleled athletic gifts, James’ legacy has been and will remain inextricably linked to the standard-bearer of basketball greatness — Michael Jordan.

If Jordan is used as the sole benchmark for appraising James’ NBA success, the impact of the Miami star’s failure in San Antonio on his legacy is profound. Jordan boasted a 6-0 record in the NBA Finals. James’ 2-3 record pales in comparison.

When individual Finals games are accounted for, the discrepancy is even more pronounced, Jordan holding the advantage with 24 victories against 12 losses versus James’ 9 wins to 12 losses. Keep in mind that had Manu Ginóbili made either one of his two late-game free throws in Game 6 of last year’s Finals, LeBron’s pedestrian finals record would have fallen further below .500. 

Though Jordan comparisons are certainly helpful, there is a contingent of fans and media members who wonder why the Bulls legend’s career is seen as the lone arbiter of NBA success.

After all, win-loss profiles from some of the other faces on basketball’s proverbial Mount Rushmore present King James with attainable goals. Larry Bird was 3-2 in the Finals. Magic Johnson was 5-3.

However, no matter what past players LeBron is compared with, the real measure of his legacy is his ability to live up to his own expectations. Upon arriving to the team of virtually handpicked All-Stars in 2010, James made the infamous proclamation that he would win numerous NBA championships, specifically “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven …”

After a devastating loss in the Finals, the legacy he publicly aspired to his in disarray, and the words “not three” have taken on a significantly different meaning.

—William McDavid


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