One of my best friends is not a morning person, to say the least. On the bus to school everyday, he responds to everything with grunts and mumbles, if at all (in his defense, it does come at 6:50 AM). After Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the first thing that this friend (who is not a fan of either the Celtics or the Heat) said to me on the bus was “that was unbelievable.” I just shook my head in disbelief and thought about LeBron’s performance all the way to school. It’s the type of game that you just can’t possibly forget.
I was planning on writing about something else. I had almost finished an article on the NBA offseason and who had the best chances of landing Dwight and Deron. I just needed to put the finishing touches on it before I decided to watch Heat-Celtics Game 6. After the game, I deleted that article and started writing this one. Sometimes, there are things that just have to be written about.
LeBron doesn’t receive the credit he deserves for one big reason, and it has nothing to do with The Decision. Yes, The Decision was an awful move that Cavaliers fans have every right in the world to be bitter about. Yes, the post-Decision celebration was an even worse move that turned public opinion against LeBron even more (NOT THREE, NOT FOUR, NOT FIVE, etc). The biggest reason LeBron does not receive the credit he deserves goes all the way back to before he was a pro. LeBron’s career was followed all throughout high school and he was highly touted as a blue chip prospect. Scouts said that LeBron was going to be the next Jordan. Heck, he might even be better than Jordan. People were expecting this kid to come in to the NBA, score 35 points a game, dunk on everybody’s head, and win more rings than Jordan.
Sure, he hasn’t been bad. He’s averaged 27.6 points per game for his career, not to mention seven rebounds and seven assists per game. He fills the stat sheet almost as well as Jordan did. But we couldn’t accept the fact that he didn’t have that killer instinct (by the way, every time I say “we,” I’m including myself). Michael Jordan was the most competitive athlete of his day, if not of all time. He would practically drop dead before he gave an inch. Read about the 1992 Bulls-Blazers finals sometime. Jordan took Clyde Drexler, one of the 40 best basketball players of all time, and ripped him to shreds. Clyde was never the same after that. That’s what we all wanted LeBron to have, and we were thoroughly disappointed when we found out he didn’t have it to the degree that Jordan or Larry Bird did. We hated the fact that he said his first and foremost goal was to become a “global icon” instead of winning championships. We didn’t like the fact that the league’s best basketball player didn’t want to take the last shot. We became so caught up in the player we wanted LeBron to be that we never truly accepted LeBron for the player he is. Will he ever be close to Jordan? No. But does that make him a failure in this league? Read the next paragraph and decide for yourself.
Game 6 of the NBA Finals was in Boston. The Celtics were up in the series 3-2 and had a golden opportunity to close out the Heat on their home court. Rajon Rondo had been playing brilliantly all playoffs, the big three had been playing well, and the Boston crowd was in full throat. Three hours later, the Celtics walked off the court dejected after being blown out. The crowd felt like it had been punched in the stomach, and Bill Simmons would later write in a column that “fans filed out of the stadium because we didn’t want to be there anymore. We wanted to get away from him”. What happened? LeBron happened. The first thing you noticed when he walked out on the court was the look. He usually engages his teammates, smiles, and carries himself like a little kid trapped in a freakishly athletic body. Not that night. His face was cold and expressionless, like all the joy had been sucked out of him. You could see it in his eyes. He was frustrated with all the talk of breaking the Heat up and his own shortcomings and the Celtics would have to pay for it. The game starts, and LeBron makes everything he looks at. Dunks, layups, jumpers, left, right, it didn’t matter. It was a complete and utter assassination of the Celtics. LeBron finished with 45 points and 15 rebounds, but it felt like 70 points and 30 rebounds.
In Game 7, LeBron dominated in the opposite way. He played with emotion that night, getting to the free throw line and finishing with 31 points. In the fourth quarter, the bane of LeBron’s existence for so long, there were more than a few times where he just decided “I’m scoring” and drove straight to the hoop. By the middle of the fourth, the Celtics could not have been more done.
After watching his career unfold, and especially considering what we all saw these past few nights from him, I ask you this simple question. Is LeBron historically great? Some people would say no because he doesn’t measure up to Jordan or Magic. But after watching those games, I already know my answer.