LeBron’s legacy shouldn’t be defined by another playoffs loss

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers faced an uphill battle to beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals even before Kyrie Irving suffered a season-ending knee injury in Golden State’s 108-100 Game 1 victory.

    Now, it is extremely unlikely that the Cavaliers will prevail.

    How will this series affect LeBron James’ legacy? If the Cavaliers lose, James will drop to 2-4 in the NBA Finals, a far cry from the Finals records posted by Bill Russell (11-1), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6-4), Magic Johnson (5-4), Michael Jordan (6-0), Tim Duncan (5-1) and Kobe Bryant (5-2).

    NBA Finals records do not mean everything. They are affected by the quality of one’s teammates, the quality of the opposition, injuries and other factors beyond the control of any one player.

    NBA Finals records should not be completely dismissed, either. A great player is defined by winning championships or, at the very least, performing well in championship level play. Jerry West ‘only’ won one championship but he performed at a high level in the NBA Finals for teams that just were not good enough to beat Russell’s Celtics in the 1960s and the New York Knicks in the early 1970s.

    Some people think that West would be considered a loser and not ‘Mr Clutch’ if he played in the current era but I hope that in any era most people would have enough sense to realise that the Lakers’ losses were not West’s fault. West is still the only player from the losing squad to win the Finals MVP (1969).

    Some great players never played for a team that was good enough to win a championship. It would not be fair to define their careers solely by the absence of a championship ring on their resumes.

    That said, none of the players who failed to win a championship are typically mentioned in the greatest player of all-time conversation. Are they not in that conversation because they never won or did they not win because, at least in part, they were not quite good enough to belong in that conversation?

    That is a question for another day. James owns two rings and he is in the greatest player of all-time conversation. It is fair to consider his Finals record but that record should be placed in context and no one particular game, series or playoff run should be given disproportionate weight.

    A few years ago, a writer asserted that one particular upcoming playoff game would be the defining moment of Kobe Bryant’s career. Bryant had already won three championships by that time. Bryant’s Lakers won that particular game convincingly and went on to win two more championships.

    After Bryant’s Lakers won that game, the writer dismissed the game as unimportant.

    Let us not make that same mistake with James now. One game, series or season should not be hyped up out of proportion to fit some preconceived storyline, only to be diminished or magnified after the fact depending on whether or not the outcome suits the commentator’s biases.

    If the Cavaliers beat the Warriors, that will not automatically make James the greatest player of all-time. If the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, that will not preclude James from being considered for that mythical title.

    During his first five finals appearances, we have seen James have dominant performances in championship runs (2012 and 2013), we have seen teams exploit James’ passivity (2007, 2011) and we have seen James play reasonably well in defeat but yet not assert himself as the best player on the court (2014).

    Whatever happens in the 2015 Finals will be one more chapter in that ongoing saga. It may not even be the final chapter and it will not necessarily be the defining chapter.

    However, I disagree with the notion that LeBron James is playing with “house money” just because his team has suffered injuries. He has some talented teammates and any team that is good enough to make it to the Finals should not just be happy to be there. James is the best player on the court and he has the ability to elevate his team so that each game is at least competitive.

    If the Cavaliers win and James plays well, clearly this adds to James’ already impressive legacy. If the Cavaliers lose and James plays well, this does not hurt James’ legacy but it also does not necessarily move him up in the rankings, either.

    The only way that this series should hurt James’ legacy is if he plays poorly and/or without requisite effort.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • June 7th 2015 @ 1:24pm
      Louis said | June 7th 2015 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

      Listen man, WHEN IT COMES TO GREATNESS AND THE CONVERSATION OF WHO’S THE GREATEST, THERE ARE LEVELS….yOU HAVE GREAT PLAYERS WHO MAKE IT TO THE HALL OF FAME, YOU HAVE THE GREATEST PLAYERS WHO DOMINATE THE GAME, AND THEN YOU HAVE THE GREATEST WHO DOMINATE WITH RINGS (AKA… TOP 10), AND THEN THE GREATEST PLAYERS WHO DOMINATE WITH THE MOST RINGS (AKA…TOP 5)….EACH LEVEL IS SEPERATED BY A COMMONALITY THAT THE OTHER LEVELS DON’T SHARE…There’s no excuses when it comes to greatness…. jerry west is no longer considered top 10 ever because of his losing record in the finals…. Why? because others since his retirement have come along and shown either the same level or a higher level of greatness along with winning…. and therefore history now remembers him as ONE OF THE GREATEST and not TOP TEN… wILT HAS A LOSING RECORD IN THE FINALS AND IF IT WERE NOT FOR THAT REASON HE WOULD BE CONSIDERED THE GREATEST…. BUT HE’S NOT HE’S MORE TOP 5 ONLY BECAUSE OF THAT… LEBRON JAMES IS HYPED TO BE THE GREATEST BUT AS OF RIGHT NOW HE’S NOT EVEN TOP 10….

      1. MICHAEL
      2. KOBE
      3. MAGIC
      4. WILT
      5. KAREEM
      6. BILL
      7. LARRY
      8. HAKEEM
      9. SHAQ
      10. TIMMY
      11. ISAIH
      12. LEBRON
      13. OSCAR
      14 JERRY
      15 WHO EVER YOU WANT

      • June 7th 2015 @ 2:26pm
        Bill said | June 7th 2015 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

        PLEASe STOP YELLING

        • June 8th 2015 @ 6:34pm
          pete bloor said | June 8th 2015 @ 6:34pm | ! Report

          But if he speaks at a normal volume we might figure out he’s an escapee from the asylum. It’s worked for Smith and bayless.

          I mean Kobe at 2 I’d have Kobe at 3 or 4 for all time Lakers

          • Columnist

            June 9th 2015 @ 4:19am
            David Friedman said | June 9th 2015 @ 4:19am | ! Report

            Pete:

            A few years ago, this is what Jerry West (who knows something about Laker greatness as both a player and an executive) told Dan Patrick:

            “Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker to ever play. Period. I love Magic Johnson and his contribution, but Magic Johnson had a lot more help, to be honest with you. He played, sometimes, with five All-Stars. Kobe Bryant is just a different talent. He will go down as one of the two or three greatest players of all time, I think. His ability to do things that other people can’t do, his ability to win games late, his defensive ability. He has an all-around game. When you look at him, you don’t see what’s inside. And I think that’s what really sets the great ones apart.”

      • June 7th 2015 @ 4:38pm
        Ryan said | June 7th 2015 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

        So… your whole system comes down to rings and 5 player sections with ring requirements or something?

        Yet you have man with 11 rings in the same “top 10, bottom 5” category as men with 2 (Hakeem) and 3 rings (Bird)? Yet Lebron is not allowed into this mythical section because he has…2 rings…?

        You have a “top 5 greatest who dominate with most rings” with Wilt at number 4 with 2 rings?

        You explain your system of greatness and than provide a list which is completely contradictory of your explanation.

      • June 7th 2015 @ 5:40pm
        joe said | June 7th 2015 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

        I have Keith Van Horn at #15

        • June 7th 2015 @ 7:06pm
          Internal Fixation said | June 7th 2015 @ 7:06pm | ! Report

          Great pick. Personally I had a three way tie between Bryant Reeves and Adam Morrison

        • Roar Rookie

          June 7th 2015 @ 9:34pm
          William Dalton Davis said | June 7th 2015 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

          I have Kwame Brown…

          • Columnist

            June 8th 2015 @ 2:16am
            Ronan O'Connell said | June 8th 2015 @ 2:16am | ! Report

            I was a big fan of Laimbeer, but at #6 all time?!

            • June 8th 2015 @ 3:34am
              joe said | June 8th 2015 @ 3:34am | ! Report

              LOL,love the Bill comment you made Ryan.When I saw he had Bill at #6 I thought it was Bill Cartwright

      • June 9th 2015 @ 10:19am
        astro said | June 9th 2015 @ 10:19am | ! Report

    • June 7th 2015 @ 4:43pm
      Ryan said | June 7th 2015 @ 4:43pm | ! Report

      I don’t think this playoffs will define his legacy at all. I feel most knowledgeable basketball fans have an understanding that without Irving and Love (to an extent) this series is essentially over. I think most people are surprised they made it this far, and are really only in this position due to one of the most beautiful trades you’ll ever see.

      It will be how this time performs over 2016-2018 which is going to truly shape his legacy. I feel like if Lebron can get 1 ring in Cleveland will count for plenty once all is said and done. If he cant, at least we will get to watch him play for another 6-7 years as he tries to get one for the cavs.

    • June 7th 2015 @ 8:50pm
      bangs said | June 7th 2015 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

      Sure let’s all act like 2-4 or 2/6 in the finals doesn’t affect his ranking in the all time list. /smh

    • June 8th 2015 @ 3:47am
      joe said | June 8th 2015 @ 3:47am | ! Report

      Things don’t look good for Cleveland with the multiple injuries,but the NBA has put Scott Foster on tonights game 2.
      The road teams when Scott Foster is officiating have had a lot of success this postseason.
      And you can be almost certain that Joey Crawford will be doing game 3 in Cleveland.
      Having those 2 officiate in back to back games will definitely help Lebron & the Cavs,they’ll get a few extra calls go their way.
      Not sure if will be enough for them to actually win the series but if the NBA has its way they’ll do all they can to get it to 6 games.

      • Columnist

        June 9th 2015 @ 4:24am
        David Friedman said | June 9th 2015 @ 4:24am | ! Report

        Joe:

        Cleveland indeed won game two but it hardly was the product of “extra calls.” If anything, many of the late calls went against LeBron: Iguodala hacked him multiple times and Green twice pulled his arm down during jump balls. Van Gundy said something to the effect that he has never seen a star player get less of a benefit of the doubt on calls than LeBron James. I don’t know if that is true or how to prove it but there is not much evidence supporting your specific prediction that the NBA and/or the officials would make sure that Cleveland wins game two. If that outcome were so vitally important to the NBA that it would cheat to achieve it (which is in essence what you are asserting) than why would the officials let Cleveland’s late lead in regulation completely disappear? Did that not risk the complete collapse of the alleged conspiracy? All the officials had to do was call one or two pretty obvious calls in Cleveland’s favor and we would be none the wiser.

        • June 9th 2015 @ 6:33am
          joe said | June 9th 2015 @ 6:33am | ! Report

          So far road teams in these NBA playoffs have won 11 games in a row when Scott Foster is refereeing the game.You can read into that however you want but thats a major storyline in my eyes.
          And some of those road teams were significant underdogs.Maybe its sheer coincidence,maybe not?
          All I know is Scott Foster has a shady past (good friends with Tim Donaghy) & the proof is in the pudding,the road underdog won again last night with Foster’s crew calling the shots.
          And im fairly certain Joey Crawford will be front & center tomorrow night for Game 3,& if not then absolutely he will be there for Game 4 on Thursday.

          • Roar Guru

            June 9th 2015 @ 9:34am
            Chris Kettlewell said | June 9th 2015 @ 9:34am | ! Report

            If you can analyse the game and see a way in which they affected the outcome in Cleveland’s favour then you could make that call, but I’d have to go with David on this one.

    • June 9th 2015 @ 6:41am
      joe said | June 9th 2015 @ 6:41am | ! Report

      Anyway the refereeing angle is just something I’ve always kept an eye on because they impact a game as much as the players do.
      But its nothing to do with the original topic of your article,which I agree with you on.Win or lose,in this situation Lebron’s legacy will have to be instantly diagnosed by the media which is ridiculous.
      Lebron has another 3 to 4 years of peak performance.The Cavs could lose this Finals & go on to win 3 straight titles in next 3 years for all we know.
      Wait until his career is over & then start to figure out where he stands in NBA history.Its so stupid when you see these idiots making lists with guys who’s careers aren’t even finished yet,not even close to finishing in Lebron’s case.
      The funny part is the Warriors could win this series but Lebron will end up averaging close to a triple double & should still win Finals MVP regardless

    • Roar Guru

      June 9th 2015 @ 9:38am
      Chris Kettlewell said | June 9th 2015 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      I’ve seen lots of people write-off Cleveland in this series, yet on Golden State’s home court they’ve required OT to win game 1 and then lost game 2, also in OT. And now we head back to Cleveland. Meaning that GS have to play better in Cleveland than they have so far in Oakland.

      Of course, it’s possible LeBron could just drop off a cliff at some point. Playing the sorts of minutes he’s having to play at the moment could result in him just getting more fatigued and as a result, less effective, as the series goes on. He played 50 minutes in game 2. The next most for the Cav’s was Dellavadova with 42 minutes and nobody else was more than 40. To an extent he’s carried this team way beyond where they should go based on the overall quality of the team, and that is what defines a great player.

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